Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Generosity consists not the sum given, but the manner in which it is bestowed.” Last week, we looked at how modern fundraising tactics can cultivate paternalistic attitudes among donors and devalue those we desire to serve. When our organizations use rhetoric and imagery that infantilizes the marginalized or portrays them as primitive people who need our help, we encourage donors to give out of pity or a sense of superiority rather than a spirit of humility and love. How can we practically reject paternalism and promote partnership? What action steps can we take to build a fundraising culture that celebrates marginalized groups and elevates positive narratives about them?

1. Build relationships with those closest to the need.

Nonprofit leaders, particularly those at the highest levels, don’t usually have proximity to people on the frontlines. They may understand how direct services fit into the organization’s strategy or know the demographics of program recipients, but they lack the bandwidth needed to develop relationships with clients. Layers of bureaucracy and hierarchy can reduce vulnerable human beings to lines on a budget or, even worse, a caricature based on the stereotypes decision-makers have in their heads. Leaders should intentionally set aside time to meet with both direct service workers and beneficiaries as well as study the cultures, history, and current events shaping the community in need. It is only then that they will be able to really understand their fears, hopes, passions, talents, and values. 

2. Plan fundraising events with the client in mind.

Don’t be confused - this does not mean that fundraising messages must be identical for every audience. It does mean, however, that you should create pitches with program clients in mind. If one of your clients was sitting in the back of your audience, would they feel seen, honored, and cared for by the words you use and the stories you tell? Do you share with potential donors the valuable assets already found in the marginalized community? Ask yourself: If I was in a similar situation, would I want someone else to portray me this way? Any part of the message you’d be too ashamed to say to the client directly should not be shared with potential donors.

3. Give community members seats at the decision-making table.

While many leaders in the nonprofit community are speaking up about racial disparities and economic inequality, few minorities ever make it into real positions of power within these organizations. This is a huge problem. Valuable voices are being left out of the conversation, and the preconceived notions of more privileged executives are being left unchallenged. Clients and direct service providers should be given some decision-making capacity and the ear of the organization’s top directors and officers. Without this representation, leaders will likely defer to the preferences of the donors, governments, and foundations - entities that can value short-term wins at the expense of long-term development. 

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