(April 22, 2022) Community-centric fundraising (CCF) is a growing movement that challenges existing philanthropic practices as being colonial in their nature, and exclusionary in their practice. What started in Seattle, Washington has now gone global. A global council to guide the future of Community Centric Fundraising is being created. In part two of this two-part series, contributing editor Liz LeClair, CFRE, explores the equity movement in Canadian fundraising and how fundraisers have embraced the CCF principles. Part 1, published on February 4, is Community-Centric Fundraising: Moving Towards Equity.
Part of the Canadian identity is the belief that Canada is a more polite and kinder country – a country where “multiculturalism” thrives. Canada is a place where refugees are welcome, and diversity is embraced. Canada is where you are accepted for who you are and what you believe in.
Or is it?
In the weeks following the first part of this Community-Centric fundraising series, a movement erupted in Ottawa called the “Freedom Convoy” – a movement that claimed to be about opposition to vaccine mandates, but was clearly founded by and for a growing white-supremacist movement in Canada.
Over the course of three weeks, hundreds, if not thousands of people occupied the streets of our nation’s capital. Truck horns honked for hours on end, traumatizing the residents through a sonic assault. Signs littered the streets and convoy organizers – emboldened by fundraising totals and lack of police action – encouraged protestors to disobey the law and harass politicians. In time, it became clear that the founders of the convoy were deeply embedded in white nationalist movements that presented a threat to our democracy.
Canada’s response to the “Freedom Convoy ” was indicative of this country’s rank hypocrisy. Had the Convoy been led by Black, Indigenous, or racialized individuals, the streets would have been cleared in no time. The Freedom Convoy protestors flew Confederate flags, drew Nazi symbols on the Canadian flag, harassed local business owners, stole from a local soup kitchen, and targeted racialized citizens. Hate speech was rampant amongst those protesting, and yet, it took almost a month to clear the streets and arrest those responsible. Canada has a long-storied history of tolerating white supremacist and racist behaviour. This may be our most recent example, but it is by no means our first or last. One must only look to books like “The Skin We’re In” by author Desmond Cole or “Policing Black Lives.
Is it any surprise, then, that the Community Centric Fundraising (CCF) movement has not been openly embraced in Canadian fundraising in the way it has by our counterparts in the United States?
What will it take for the Canadian fundraising sector to shed its disavowal of the racist roots of fundraising and move forward in a more community-centered approach?
How many more “Freedom Convoys” must we witness to realize we have a serious issue in this country? What work do we need to do, to deal with the systemic racism that exists in our own profession – a profession with racist roots?
Tanya Rumble (she/her) and Nicole McVan (they/them) are two inclusive fundraising leaders doing the work of combating white-dominant beliefs and practices in the Canadian fundraising sector. They met through work but stayed connected long after they pursued new opportunities – “we developed a strong and respectful connection, where each of us embraced who we really were” says Nicole. This dynamic allowed them to form a space where they explore their collective lived experiences as racialized, disabled, and trans-nonbinary professionals.
“As a racialized woman, and someone who worked in major gift fundraising, I always felt a disconnect between what fundraising was supposed to be about, and what it really was” says Rumble. “I found the ‘best practices’ were really creating more barriers for racialized fundraisers.”
McVan’s experience was different, but ultimately led to the same conclusion. After many years of fitting heteronormative stereotypes, McVan landed at the United Way where they finally felt they could be queer in the workplace. “I identified as a woman for many years” says McVan “but I was also a white woman who was complicit in upholding gatekeeping.” McVan acknowledges their positional power and ability to change the culture in fundraising, a role they do not take lightly. “I began to ask myself, if social justice is supposed to be about liberation and justice for all, how do we do that?” says McVan.
McVan and Rumble took their lived experiences and built a Philanthropy & Equity Community of Practice – a safe space for fundraisers, and nonprofit professionals, to come together and discuss issues around equity and justice in the workplace. Both McVan and Rumble were seeing an increased demand for this type of work in Canada, and the Community Centric Fundraising movement represented a framework from which they – and others in the sector – could build upon.
“It was the first time I saw a space built by – and for – people of colour in the industry” says Rumble. “People like frameworks, and the CCF framework is one that resonates with many racialized people in the sector.” Rumble notes that the Community Centric Fundraising movement may not be applicable to everyone, but it is a good entry point for many individuals in the sector who want change. The biggest challenge for the social justice movement, according to Rumble, will be continuing to maintain safe spaces for racialized people, and not having them co-opted.
McVan acknowledges this is an issue. “White people take up a lot of space when discussing diversity and racial equity,” says McVan, “which takes away from a fulsome discussion.” So McVan and Rumble have separate sessions for white fundraisers, to ensure the sessions are not dominated by white fragility.
Both McVan and Rumble have noticed that many white women are claiming to be experts in the sector and taking up valuable space that could be held by people of colour with lived experience. “We must be careful not to allow this work to become diluted or distilled,” says Rumble, “or the real equity work will never happen.”
For Maralyne Narayan, a development consultant based in Ottawa, the friction between donor-centric and community-centric fundraising in Canadian fundraising has been a struggle throughout her career. Narayan notes that working in international development for many years, she had a front-row seat to how Western countries (Global North) significantly influenced how programs and services were executed in developing nations (Global South). “International development is still predominantly white at the executive level,” says Narayan, “and that influences how we do our work.”
Narayan believes that the CCF movement is a counter-narrative to the traditional fundraising model and is more closely aligned with the concepts of community care found in the Global South.
Narayan, a woman of colour, now works at Women in Informal Employment Globalizing & Organizing (WIEGO), an organization focused on creating global networks for global network focused on empowering the working poor, especially women, in the informal economy to secure their livelihoods.
“This is a particularly vulnerable community,” says Narayan, “and every day we have to find a way to raise funds that aligns with our values.” She notes that it can be challenging to balance donor desires, and what is best for communities. “Having proximity to wealth and power, does not necessarily mean you know what’s best for program delivery,” says Narayan.
Working with organizations who are connected to communities is key to success, and often requires difficult conversations to be had when the donor’s intent will have a negative impact. “These are not easy conversations to have,” notes Narayan, “but if we shy away from having them we do more harm.”
The power imbalance between donor-centricity and community-centricity in Canadian fundraising is something that Pia Kaukoranta Vahabi noticed when she moved to Canada. Originally from Finland, Vahabi is used to a more substantive government funded social sector, with more significant investment in public services, therefore requiring fewer charities and less private donations.
“It was eye opening for me to move to Canada,” says Vahabi. “I was really surprised how donors are held up as heroes here, instead of people part of a community, trying to help find solutions to serious problems.” Vahabi found Community Centric Fundraising after the #BlackLivesMatter movement erupted in 2020. The call for racial equity significantly impacted her work and the CCF principles spoke to the need to reframe fundraising and how we engage communities.
Vahabi has participated in several Rumble and McVan’s Community of Practice sessions. “It was nice to get something hosted by Canadians for Canadians,” says Vahabi. “Canadians are not very good at having difficult conversations, and we hide behind our politeness,” she says.
For Krystyn Tully, CEO of Entermission – a consulting firm based in Montreal – the CCF movement was always intriguing. Tully worked for years in environmental protection and access to public spaces. She noticed there was a disconnect between the value placed on equitable access to spaces, but not equitable practices in fundraising.
“The real challenge in the social justice movement,” says Tully, “is for the many white women in our sector to not allow their experiences of gender-based oppression to overshadow the privileges we’ve experienced.”
She believes that the CCF movement has been integral in helping white people in the sector learn about their own biases and encourages them not to block out the lived experiences of people of colour. “We have to be careful not to compare oppression,” says Tully, “and lean into the difficult work of understanding how we can both be victims of oppression and be contributing to oppression of others.” She notes that this is difficult, but important work. “In Western culture, we tend to be too focused on the outcome and not the journey,” notes Tully, “when, in reality, it is the journey – the space in between – that we should really focus on.” Tully believes that if we build space for the journey, then the real equity work can be achieved.
The momentum and enthusiasm around racial equity work ebbs and flows, according to McVan and Rumble. They have noticed fewer participants in their community of practice sessions in the fall, but have seen a significant increase in registration in early 2022. “Anti-oppression and anti-racism work is hard work,” notes Rumble, “but it is a life-time journey that requires commitment, or it is simply checking a box.” McVan and Rumble believe that the sector in Canada needs to be pushed to address racism in philanthropy or we are doomed to return to the status quo.
For McVan, the lukewarm reception to the CCF movement is a sign of Canada’s revisionist history. “We have a habit of being smug about our history,” states McVan, “we disassociate ourselves from the past, about believing we are somehow disconnected from the harms perpetuated, and therefore abscond ourselves from it.” For Rumble, the issue is much deeper than denial. “If we continue to ignore the signs of our deeply racist roots,” says Rumble, “we are doomed to repeat history, and that history has been deeply dangerous for Black and Indigenous peoples in Canada.”
Community-Centric Fundraising: Moving Towards Equity February 4, 2022