By Vivien Trinh
And in a profession where money reigns supreme when we decenter money, a massive space opens up for something else. We’re filling that space with love.
In the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic, Oregon Food Bank (OFB) said goodbye to financial goals. (Not entirely, of course — resource development is still an important strategy for ending hunger and its root causes, after all.) To be more accurate, what we said goodbye to were financial goals as a driver of decision-making and as a measurement of staff performance.
We did this for many reasons, one of which is that we believe an orientation to financial outcomes creates the conditions for professional trauma and a consequent barrier to nonprofit organizations that aspire to resolve the most pressing moral and societal challenges we face.
This is evidenced by:
- An exodus from the profession by nonprofit professionals, who only work in the field an average tenure of 16 months.
- Nonprofit CEOs and EDs of color feeling at a disadvantage in contrast to their white counterparts in raising financial support for the nonprofits that they lead.
- Less than 10% of those in our profession are people of color.
- Rampant sexual harassment of women in the profession, particularly from donors.
- Donors reporting being treated like financial targets by development staff, and fewer households (particularly middle-class households) are giving charitably.
For our team, the stress and pressure of raising funds to meet financial goals meant that we were not innovating, that we were relying on ‘tried and true’ practices developed over decades, ones that often replicated white supremecist, colonial, capitalist systems of extraction. Because we had been accountable to those kinds of goals, they were the yardstick by which we measured success.
But as the pandemic has demonstrated, environmental factors can have a disproportionate influence on whether you hit your numbers or fall short. And though we as fundraisers often move mountains, there’s still so much more beyond our control driving outcomes. To measure ourselves against something so unpredictable is an exercise in futility.
So then, to what do we hold ourselves accountable, and how do we measure our success? Decentering money is an inherent decentering of whiteness, colonialism, and greed. And in a profession where money reigns supreme when we decenter money, a massive space opens up for something else. We’re filling that space with love. For OFB, our new version of success meant recentering around the true meaning of philanthropy — a love of humankind.
How to measure love in philanthropy
Think about all the people in your life that you love. Most likely, love doesn’t feel and look the same for each person. There’s a richness of history and emotion that is unique to each relationship, and those relationships evolve and change over time. Distilling love down to visible, concrete metrics initially seems a fool’s errand. But the scope of our mission, the magnitude of what we are trying to solve for, made this a worthy and important problem for us to attempt to solve. Starting from somewhere was better than not trying at all.
Over the last year, our team has explored what it means to operate with love, equity and abundance and how the heck to measure it. With humility and vulnerability, we share our journey to the broader dialogue that’s shaping a new chapter for our profession, sector, and communities.
1. Define and scope
To put boundaries around love and better understand the scope in which we were working, we crowdsourced definitions from our team. We asked what love looks like for them in general, at OFB, and in their individual roles. From there, we created hallmarks to guide our path.
These hallmarks are the framework for creating an alternative moves management system that tracks our relationship with a donor within the many various facets of love alongside the solicitation cycle. Our Prospect Development Team hopes to evaluate portfolios through the lens of shared values, evidence by: taking action for the common good, care, centering clients, community, engagement, equity, growth, authentic partnerships, and respect.
2. Get stuck
The structure of our OFB database allows us to track and manage volume, velocity, and value — but it doesn’t allow much room for qualitative analysis at scale. So if you’ve decided you’re going to measure a marker like “respect,” what existing data will tell you if a donor has regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others? Is someone going to mine the contact reports for “authentic partnership”?
These questions broke our collective brains.
The complexity of this endeavor felt like a hurdle too great to tackle in the midst of a pandemic. We recognized how our capacity for creativity, energy, and enthusiasm had drained away from us. While being stuck can sometimes feel like defeat, being stuck was actually a chance for us to look beyond ourselves, it was a chance to find community with others who recognize that, in order to dismantle white supremacy, we must find a way to show value in the quality of relationships rather than the number of relationships our team holds.
3. Find your people
And then something wonderful happened. In the summer of 2020, we were introduced to Shiree Teng’s Measuring Love in the Journey to Justice: A Brown Paper. In her brown paper, Shiree explains how our missions — when not motivated by love — boil down to work plans focused on time-bound specificity with no mention of the emotional components of social progress and change. We too often forget those intangible pieces required for relationship and community building. It is the head speaking for the heart instead of speaking with it.
And this happens for a reason. Oftentimes, donors require us to report on the impact of our work in measurable, concrete and specific ways. Those measures are still important, but what can we add to our work plans and yearly goals to let the heart speak as well as the head? Shiree lays out a framework for recognizing transformative love and how to document it when we do.
Suddenly, we had a partner. With Shiree’s guidance and expertise, we developed survey assessments (more on this in the next sections) for ourselves and our supporters.
For our team, we wanted to learn more about how love shows up in our work as individuals, as a team, and as an organization, and how our experience with love changes over time. It brings a tangible yardstick to measure our performance against, while preserving and honoring the complexity of love.
For our supporters, we wanted to understand how this change to center love impacts them and their experience with OFB. Are they connecting more deeply with our mission through growing engagement in our team and partner organizations? Have they grown in their understanding of how systems of oppression can lead to food insecurity? And how much is this new messaging resonating with them in their own journey?
4. Measuring love with staff
Following the structure developed by Shiree, we created questions around the four core tenets for how love shows up:
Love for Oneself: How staff see themselves in integrity with their work to transform philanthropy
Love for Others: How staff see each other as well as supporters
Love in Community: How staff see OFB, and how OFB sees the staff
Love as Power: How OFB shows up in our state with love that’s fused with (advocacy and organizing) power, and how the community, including supporters and constituents loves OFB in return with its (advocacy and organizing and monetary) power.
Here are some sample questions included in the survey:
- Is my work aligned with my purpose at this time in my life?
- Am I able to hold supporters equitably — including those with great wealth, those who experienced or are experiencing food insecurity, those with less ability to give, young donors, and donors who are new to philanthropy?
- Am I supported to find safety from power differential harms in donor relations?
- Does OFB build power with our clients and donors for our collective liberation?
These questions are evaluated along three measures: dosage, authenticity, and duration. Dosage asks staff to consider how much they are doing something, authenticity asks how consciously, and duration asks for how long. All three rely on the inner wisdom of staff, and while this is a self-assessment meant to support interior reflection, we are collecting aggregate data to inform opportunities where larger systems and processes can facilitate growth across the team.
5. Measuring love with supporters
This spring we are launching the initial version of our assessment for supporters. Our goal this year is to create a baseline understanding of where they are in their own journey. This will be a starting line from which we will measure our progress in centering love and equity into our fundraising activities and the impacts, both attitudinal and behavioral it has with our donors.
We hope to learn if Oregon Food Bank has:
- Expanded donors’ awareness of the systemic inequities that cause hunger
- Introduced them to other organizations helping to end hunger
- Helped them identify new ways to take action to end hunger
- Helped shape what’s important to them when engaging civically or politically in our community
- Encouraged their learning and growth
This was perhaps the harder of the two surveys to create. To better understand donor attitudes about the causes of hunger and poverty, we introduce mythological narratives in this survey that are pervasive and hurtful — these narratives do not resonate with OFB and with many of our supporters. Having data related to these narratives, however, allows us to increase the effectiveness of our communications and messaging initiatives over time. Borrowing from other progressive movements’ practices, we are mitigating harm by including corrective narratives in an auto-response email to survey responders.
By the time you read this, both surveys will have hopefully landed in the inboxes of our staff and supporters — and by the summer, we will have a better appreciation of all the ways love shows up for ourselves and for our supporters. Measuring love is just one of many initiatives OFB has undertaken in the pursuit to dismantle white supremacy in philanthropy and decolonize the profession.
However, it is our hope that, one day, we will not need metrics to demonstrate the value we bring to our communities. One day, we will not be accountable to results, but to the ushering in of transformational change. Until then, we can measure love.
Vivien Trinh (she/her) is a nonprofit professional with 11 years of philanthropy experience. Her career has taken her through the many aspects of philanthropy including direct mail, digital fundraising, donor relations, database management, and prospect development at nonprofits of all sizes. As the daughter of refugees, she is deeply committed to building inclusive communities that honor the dignity of each individual. You can reach Vivien by email.