(February 26, 2021) The clash of values seemingly inherent in community-centric fundraising vs donor-centred fundraising have recently played out on the UK charity news website thirdsector.co.uk.
“A proliferation of conflicts across the sector has jeopardised its reputation as a friendly profession,” wrote Ian MacQuillan in an opinion piece Fundraisers Must Rise Above the Culture Wars for thirdsector.co.uk. on February 2.
MacQuillan is director of UK-based Rogare, a fundraising think tank that “turns academic theory and research into actionable ideas for fundraisers.” He and his firm played a key role in developing the Narrative of Canadian Fundraising for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Canada in 2019.
He writes about the clash of ideas as the emerging idea of community-centric, grassroots models of fundraising, with a focus on anti-racism and social justice is beginning to take hold across the US and is inching its way into the UK and Canada.
MacQuillan is having none of it.
“The evidence is firmly on the side of donor-centred fundraising,” writes MacQuillan. “There are emerging culture wars in fundraising where evidence is absent and may not even be considered relevant. One is the community-centric alternative to donor-centred fundraising.”
MacQuillan argues for a return to moderation and centrism, away from more heated debates related to what he calls identity politics and ‘culture wars.’
While MacQuillan’s call for civility may fall on sympathetic ears to some, others read his defense of donor-centric fundraising and his dismissal of community-centred fundraising as an attempt to double down on his own area of expertise.
Liz LeClair is a major gift fundraiser based in Halifax Canada, has an M.A. in international relations from Cardiff University and is the current chair of the AFP Women's Impact Initiative. She wrote a rebuttal to MacQuillan’s piece for thirdsector.co.uk on February 16, We cannot walk away from so-called ‘culture wars’.
“Our BIPOC peers are tired and frustrated of being told that the evidence is not in their favour,” she writes. “Frankly there is no evidence because no one has had the courage to ask the tough questions.”
LeClair cites two recent studies to show that, despite some perceptions, the increased current awareness of racial justice and identity politics have not changed practices in the charitable sector in any meaningful way.
Carleton University’s study Unfunded reveals that ‘for every $100 donated, black-led charities received as little as 7 cents.’
A recent crowd-sourced study by Statistics Canada found that “of the 6,182 people who sat on [nonprofit] boards...only 12 per cent belong to a visible minority group. These boards were primarily Caucasian, cisgendered, wealthy and connected individuals who are courted for their money and connections.’
Perhaps the charitable sector’s shift away from the status quo is not as extreme as MacQuillan fears.
“[Charities] are disconnected from the communities they serve,” writes LeClair. “This lack of connection is also apparent in the UK - Charity Commission research in 2017 revealed 92 per cent of trustees were white, older and benefited from above-average education and income. We cannot walk away from what MacQullin deems a ‘culture war’.”
MacQuillan writes that “Trump and Brexit changed the landscape to one of ‘alternative facts’ and post-truth, in which truth is contingent on what you feel it to be, not on what the facts and evidence say about it” and refers to the “Sokal hoax” as an example.
“Debates and controversies about the nature of facts and truth have raged for years, and the culture wars they engender can get personal and vitriolic (you might know about the ‘Sokal hoax’),” he wrote.
The Sokal affair is a 1996 incident in which researcher Martin Sokal submitted a deliberately ‘meaningless’ paper to the postmodern cultural studies journal Social Text. When the paper was printed, Sokal exposed his hoax and cited it as an example of the academic left’s unthinking submission to a hegemony of pretentious jargon.
Similar to two other famous experiments in the field of human submission to authority—the Milgram Obedience experiments and the Stanford Prison experiment—the Sokal affair took place within the upper echelon of university research, and was undertaken and analyzed by white men. All three experiments appear to confirm a strong tendency towards mindless submission and lack of critical thinking in humans. The limited scope of the experiment, however, could suggest this behaviour is only confirmed in the sample group studied, which consisted of American white men, mostly university-educated.
Leclair believes MacQuillan is not alone in this line of thinking although, as she told The Charity Report, “there is a growing movement within our sector—and rightfully so—to realign our industry.
“I see the group at Community-Centric Fundraising…calling us to do better. The pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction and I welcome this realignment of our values. We need to re-evaluate why we do this work. Why are we here? What is our legacy? Where do we want to go? I believe the call from our BIPOC peers must be answered and I am prepared to listen.”
“Last year I wrote an in-depth paper about the challenges that community-centric fundraising raises for the established practices of donor-centred fundraising,” responded MacQuillan, “I said then that donor-centred fundraising needs to accept the challenges that community-centred fundraising raises against it and take this as an opportunity to reinvent itself. I think there is sufficient common ground between the two approaches to reach an accord.
“But both sides must want to achieve this consensus. And it doesn’t seem to me that either side does. Community-centric fundraising [advocates have] said that there is no ‘both sides’ to the debate.’
“Anti-racism training is not integrated into fundraising training. It is not integrated into our sector ethos. We are slow to adopt progressive philosophies and we have a fear of questioning our donors. I struggle with a sector that claims to be focused on outcomes and impact but is so resistant to the idea of social justice,” says LeClair.
"I want donor-centred fundraising to change in light of the challenges raised by community-centred fundraising,” says MacQuillian. To achieve such a dialectic, both sides need to respect and engage with the other’s arguments, values and evidence. I don’t think we are likely to get very far if instead we ignore the other side or shout them down, because we are convinced we are right.”
“I think what we need to admit—as a sector—is that we are currently beholden to those with wealth and that requires a lot of placating egos. If it wasn’t, we would be more willing to hold everyone involved to a higher standard,” says LeClair. “Right now, I don’t think we are prepared to hold a mirror to ourselves and really admit that we are not. I think our sector is embarrassed to admit we have missed the mark.”
Or, as MC Hammer recently wrote on Twitter, “It’s not Science vs Philosophy ... It’s Science + Philosophy. . . When you measure, include the measurer.”
Can donor-centered fundraising reinvent itself? August 26, 2020