(August 26, 2020) Donor-centered fundraising and donor-centered leadership have been promoted as best practice in the charity sector for many years.
“Donor‐centered fundraising puts satisfying donors’ need for meaningful information at the top of the agenda,” says charity specialist and author Penelope Burk.
Yet, putting donor’s needs at the top of the charity agenda has resulted in the generation of funds for the problems donors see in the world, not the actual problems themselves. This has resulted in, for example, the overfunding of medical research that impacts only a sliver of the population, while underfunding of huge issues such as climate change and child welfare.
“By centering the comfort of donors, most of whom are white, we perpetuate white saviorism, poverty tourism, and inequity while allowing our donors to avoid confronting difficult realizations like the fact that wealth is built on colonization, slavery, and other forms of injustice,” says Vu Le, the former Executive Director of a nonprofit in Seattle that promotes social justice by developing leaders of colour, and who regularly writes about, and organizes, the rising movement of community-centric fundraising on his blog NonprofitAF.com.
“Community-Centric Fundraising is a fundraising model that is grounded in equity and social justice,” says Community-Centric Fundraising, a U.S. nonprofit based in Seattle and supported by the Seattle Parks Foundation. “We prioritize the entire community over individual organizations, foster a sense of belonging and interdependence, present our work not as individual transactions but holistically, and encourage mutual support between nonprofits.”
The organization is committed to providing resources for people interested in community-centric fundraising, organizing chapters across the U.S. and gathering data about how fundraising is perceived.
It held a virtual launch event on July 13th called Let’s Make Fundraising Less Racist, saying “in the U.S. alone, philanthropy is a $427 billion dollar industry, of which 68% comes from individual donors. Yet the practices, theories, and foundation of modern philanthropy and fundraising are very white and often ignore the ways in which the industry actually perpetuates the very injustices the nonprofit sector wishes to end.”
“Rather than put itself forward as a challenger to donor-centered fundraising in how best to engage donors, community-centric fundraising wants to radically change this system, and thus fundraising’s role within it.”
Ian MacQuillin, director at Rogare, a U.K.-based fundraising think tank says the criticisms of donor-centered fundraising are not simply criticisms of how [it] works in practice, but a critique of the entire system of philanthropy, of which fundraising is a part.
But Rogare believes there is sufficient common ground between the two philosophies to enable a dialectic that could result in new ethical and practical approaches to fundraising. Rogare has released a new paper The donor-centered baby and the community-centric bathwater that explores the two concepts and suggests common ground.
“Some fundraisers might be tempted to think the challenges presented by the community-centric fundraising movement aren’t relevant to them,” says Neil Gallaiford, chair of the board of Stephen Thomas Limited, “but the issues they raise cannot and should not be ignored by fundraisers who consider themselves to be donor-centered. This thought-provoking paper will help bring the issues to the fore while providing some common ground for healthy dialogue.”
The chasm of economic inequity and systemic racism have been revealed during the time of the pandemic. The inherent goodness of charity and philanthropy are being challenged. It’s hard to tell where the movement for community-centric fundraising will land. The people with the power will likely not cede it, and it remains to be seen how much can be changed without regulation.
“I’m watching and wondering and have a concern that in this moment we are focused on the charity model of philanthropy and responding to direct needs, and it feels good,” said Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth, in a feature interview with The Charity Report in April. “And it could be really easy for us to get lost in that feeling and have a narrow vision of the role of philanthropy; to forget about the way the system is currently structured has created these inequalities in the first place.
“While we’re responding to immediate need, [we need to ask] what are the long-term systemic changes needed to help communities living in poverty, communities of Native people and people of colour who are experiencing the brunt of the pain caused by systems that have begun to collapse? What are the economic opportunities and policy opportunities here for us to be investing for the long term?”