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How community-driven approaches to fundraising can shift power

Updated: Apr 3

As a leader in a social impact organization, how often do you feel like you have to “follow the money” or cater to the whims of donors or funders in a way that you may not feel good about or that compromises your values? How often do you feel like you don’t have power and because of the chronic underfunding in the social services or charity sector, you have no choice but to accept the money and the terms and conditions that go along with it? Do you feel like donors don’t understand what it really takes to run your organization and the systems you’re trying to navigate?

You’re not alone. This is a very common feeling amongst people doing work in this space. What we’re talking about here is the impact of power being shifted too much into the hands of those funding the work. We are also responsible for this because of the ways we continue to perpetuate these dynamics through what we say and do. But by immersing ourselves in community-driven approaches, we can change this for the better.

Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) is a movement founded by people of colour to center racial and social justice while reducing the harm caused by widely used methods and approaches of fundraising and managing non-profits.

So maybe you’re wondering, what about all the ways that we have been raising money? Should we throw them all out? Are donors bad? Are funders the enemy? Absolutely not! We are just shifting the way we do things by taking a critical lens to our fundraising and how we work, while also moving away from telling donors that they are the hero of the story to showing them that they are part of a community of changemakers.

Here are some examples of CCF in action:

It's ok to say thanks to a donor for giving. After all, you want to encourage them to give again, and they have done something meaningful. And also:

  • Thank staff, volunteers, and community organizers who are making very important contributions to your cause (imagine nonprofits showed gratitude for staff the way many do it for donors??).

  • Thank people who have given any amount or for many years and not just those giving larger sums one-time.

  • Present it in a way that doesn't have them believing they are singlehandedly solving complex issues like affordable housing, food access, and childhood illness. Thank them for being part of the solution without being tempted to overstate it.

This candid post by Yolie Contreras speaks to donor dynamics

It's ok to share the story of someone who's been impacted by the work that you do. Stories can be powerful, provide platforms for voices, and rally us behind issues. And also:

  • Ensure storytellers are ok with how they're represented, and give them chance to retract if they ever wanted to.

  • Don't tinker with their stories for marketing gain or create spin which you feel is more compelling.

  • Share stories with dignity at the core. Don't position it as 'us and them' by othering people as a project to be worked on or person to be saved.

It's ok to tell a donor the impact of their support. People want to understand how they are making a difference, and knowing this will encourage them to continue supporting. And also:

  • Let them know they know they're part of a puzzle along with many others, not solving the problem all on their own.

  • Invite their understanding of the broader root causes and the systems that make a lot of nonprofit work necessary.

  • Don't break apart your organization into little pieces to report on at the expense of showing the bigger picture of what it takes to run an organization.

This incredible post by Rachel D'Souza illustrates this point These are just some examples of how we can fundraise effectively without the pitfalls we often get into because of how we've been trained, or our fear of scaring donors off or losing $, and which often cause harm. A better way is possible, so let's go there!

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