By Carlos García León, Queer, non-binary, Mexican-Statesian, and fundraiser

Many times, we are told that fundraising and development is analogous to relationship-building or relationship-maintenance. Yet, how can we classify ourselves as experts in building many relationships with our many donors when many of us, in our personal lives, only know monogamy?

I want you to know me a little more. While you can read a little bit about me in my bio below or from my byline above, get a sense of me on social media, and get a glimpse of who I am by what I post — and while all of these things will give you a fair amount of information that you can use to build assumptions about me — I want you to hear it from me:

I don’t like monogamy. In other words, I am polyamorous.

Polyamory is the simple notion that one can love multiple individuals at the same time.

To some, this might sound like a crazy idea. Radical even, especially when considering the heteronormative world many of us have been raised in, a world where we have been taught that there is only one type of way to fall in love — and that is to be in love with someONE. We are taught that we need that someone in order to be thought of as whole or complete, and then we are taught that eventually we have to marry that person, and then we are taught that, to continue that love, we have to have kids.

However, queer individuals (and here, I actually mean “queer” not as in LGBTQ+, but “queer,” as in screw the heteronormative white patriarchy) have been practicing polyamory for a long time. It has allowed them to express their love in a way that many have not thought much about. This expression of love, I think, can often solve a lot of the issues we experience in monogamous relationships.

What was the last rom-com you saw? Mine was “To All the Boys” 1, 2, and 3. (It was a movie marathon night for me!) In this trilogy (and in every rom-com ever), the formula is that person A loves person B, but there are issues like distance, jealousy, or deciding if person C is better. The problems are eventually solved with the decision that love will win. Person A and person B kiss, indicating this. It’s the same formula that still wins over a lot of us ‘cause it is so cute, and we wish for it longingly.

But it’s also a little bit of a fairytale.

Life doesn’t have to always be that fairytale though. In polyamorous relationships, you can have your cake and eat it, too. You can choose person B and person C, you can continue with person B in one city and have person D in the other. And while you will deal with jealousy, the truth is we are better off dealing with it rather than ignoring the reasons it exists.

How does this relate to fundraising?

Many times, we are told that fundraising and development is analogous to relationship-building or relationship-maintenance. Yet, how can we classify ourselves as experts in building many relationships with our many donors when many of us, in our personal lives, only know monogamy?

Our current work setup is a polyamorous relationship, actually. We just haven’t acknowledged it or treated it as such. It is my hope that if we could utilize a polyamorous lens in the way we maintain these work relationships, we can further connect with our donors, our community, and ourselves.

So, being the polyamorous person that I am, I wanted to share some tips that I’ve learned from my personal experiences that I think are valuable in our professional field. I hope that from my lived experiences and the books and articles I’ve read on polyamory, I can help spread some of this knowledge to help us all.

Loving multiple people in various capacities

We need to acknowledge that all our donors love us in different ways, just like we should openly acknowledge that we love all our donors in different ways, too.

There are times when polyamorous relationships begin because one person cannot possibly be everything for another person. The pressure to be “the one” can be such a heavy burden to bear all the time. The pressure to be perfect can also be overwhelming, especially when we aren’t allowed to share that burden with different others.

One of the beauties of polyamory is that it removes that burden of being “the one.”

In fundraising, that’s somewhat the system we are in. We are dealing with multiple donors, who, oftentimes, contribute to more than one organization or charitable cause. And while these wealthy donors have many relationships, we tend to be in the habit of treating them as the “one” — angel donors come to mind here.

Similarly, we also tend to treat our wealthier donors as if we are the only organization they donate to. We treat these donors to one-to-one chats and talk to them as if they are the only donor we care about.

All of this is disingenuous.

We need to acknowledge that all our donors love us in different ways, just like we should openly acknowledge that we love all our donors in different ways, too.

Of course, this brings up a certain problem — the idea that oftentimes our “love” is quantifiable via the amount of money a donor gives (should love be quantifiable?)

Polyamory can also provide a solution to that.

Take into account the fact that each person brings different skills to the table

There are some polyamorous people who do utilize the hierarchy system in their relationships. Having primary, secondary, tertiary, and so on partners. In work, this is the way we tend to think of our donors. Primary donors being our major donors and season/corporate sponsors — while other relationships do not have as high a priority due to smaller financial contributions.

While this system has kind of worked for us, a hierarchical or tiered system doesn’t truly take into account the feelings of those in the lower tiers, and it plays into a lot of power dynamics that are tricky to maneuver or downright inequitable.

Polyamorous relationships don’t expect one person to fit into neat gender roles. When we apply this lens to fundraising, it means that donors don’t always have to donate money to contribute to be a part of our relationship. As we continue the discussions of how finding a multitude of ways to appreciate individuals, like in polyamory, allows for relationships to fulfill things that we are sometimes missing or to allow our partners to get something that we cannot provide. Whether that is an emotional, romantic, or financial — relationships can vary.

Similarly, in our fundraising world with community engagement, volunteering, sponsoring an event, or marketing in their networks — what matters is that there is an acknowledgement across the board that we are not perfect individuals and that each of us can bring and receive different things from each other to bring happiness to ourselves and the community we are building.

Handle your jealousy

The thing is, when we allow for the acknowledgment of jealousy and process it, we allow for our donors to trust us more and to connect with us more.

It has been my experience that jealousy is often associated with feelings of insecurity. It has traditionally been an emotion that we haven’t been allowed to explore, to analyze, much less to feel. Like any other emotion though, it takes reflection to understand why we feel it. Polyamory doesn’t remove the emotion from our feelings bucket, but unlike monogamous relationships that sometimes creates jealousy avoidance because you know, heteronormativity. Polyamory allows us to confront jealousy head-on.

We need to be brave and also face jealousy head-on in our fundraising work.

We can implement this by letting donors find other organizations that are doing things that our donors enjoy. Moreover, we should actually encourage it. Our job is to get to know our donors and if we know one of them loves Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” and we find out that there’s an organization doing that very play, of course we should let our donors know. We should learn to not be jealous or worried that they are going to take all their money to another organization.

The thing is, when we allow for the acknowledgment of jealousy and process it, we allow for our donors to trust us more and to connect with us more. We have the hope that the other organizations our donors participate with will do the same for us, but if they don’t (or if our donors don’t come back) then we have to be comfortable with that and take the joy that we were a part of their journey in discovering what is meaningful to them.

Partners all around

Polyamorous parents have the joy of having multiple people love and care for their children. It allows for children to experience a plethora of love and affection and opens them up to the dismantling of the heternormative ways we’ve been taught what love is, how to give it, and how to receive it.

Now imagine our donors as these loved children, all grown up. Can you picture a donor who has appreciation for modern opera and history museums and the zoo? Can you picture a donor who is appreciated back, as if there isn’t any competition between the opera, museum, and zoo?

This sort of nurturing opens us up to relate more to our donors and the other organizations around us — so that we all can better collaborate on how we are going to uplift all the communities that interact with us.

Communication, boundaries, and consent

Now, none of the above is possible without transparent communication skills, the establishment of boundaries, and the understanding of consent. In polyamory, it is so important to know what our boundaries are, what we need, what we can provide, and what we can and won’t forgive.

In my experience, previous partners have crossed boundaries that I didn’t know I had but I was able to forgive them because we made actionable plans to talk about our feelings, ensured that certain boundaries don’t get crossed again, and understood how each of us had done wrong and how it had affected us.

As we set about in this effort to be more equitably communicative and establish boundaries with our statements of solidarity and cultural equity, we will be coming face to face with many donors who have gotten used to crossing those boundaries and not used to us enforcing them. We will have to grow comfortable with keeping our boundaries set, clear, and not letting donors hurt us in these continuing efforts. Being damaged in this field is not something we consented to and we hope to continue using these skills to ensure that we keep ourselves safe.

A fairytale ending

Don’t get me wrong, I, too, sometimes love the idea of a prince charming sweeping me off and living happily ever after. I know polyamory may not be your cup of tea in your personal lives.

But in this field where we are asked to maintain so many relationships, I hope that taking some of these concepts found in polyamory can be beneficial in your work life.

We are currently in the ‘struggle subplot’ of this rom-com we are living in. And yet, even in these times, we have found so much love for one another that being able to embrace the many ways we can love should be a hopeful outlook to the dismantling of a system that has fooled us into only being able to love in one way.

So go out there. Embrace the polyamorous person that’s inside you and take your fundraising relationships to the next level.

Carlos García León

Carlos García León

Carlos García León (he/they ; el/elle) is a queer, non-binary, Latine, Mexican-Statesian, and fundraiser. They were born in Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico, but currently reside in the stolen land of the Shawnee and Miami tribes, also known as Cincinnati, Ohio and work as the individual giving manager of Cincinnati Opera. Their work, both in the arts and through writing, is driven by a fight for cultural equity, decolonizing the arts, and social justice. Outside of working and writing, Carlos likes to stream TV and movies, read a good book, learn German, take naps under their weighted blanket, drink milkshakes, and look for the next poncho to add to their collection. They can be reached via email or on Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms @cgarcia_leon.