By Yolie Contreras (she/her), fledging fundraiser and Zinester
Our work compliments the already existing efforts of those who are being marginalized.
First and foremost, I work for the community, not donors.
This statement tends to shock people because I usually start with this before saying I am a fundraiser. But how do you not center the donor? I get asked this constantly.
It’s easy because I don’t view myself or donors as saviors. Our work compliments the already existing efforts of those who are being marginalized. It can be hard to come to terms with this as a nonprofit employee and as a donor.
I also believe that donations shouldn’t come with strings attached. The concept of “giving” is completely negated when a donor is expecting something in return beyond the normal mission of an organization. This can show up as entitlement to staff and volunteers’ time, feeling that their voices should be listened to based on the amount of money they have given, etc. As such, we tend to bend and change our message to suit these donors because we want their “gifts” of support. Well, I’m here to say that I am not doing that anymore.
The harsh realities of our work should not exist in a vacuum. When we fundraise or talk about our work, we tend to romanticize our efforts. Depending on the work that is being done, we use phrases like: “Life-saving,” “charity,” and “life-changing,” etc. While I’m not diminishing that the work we do is important, I think it’s equally important to let our donors know that this work is HARD. There’s nothing really glamorous about filling a gigantic hole that the government and society at large have created. Working for those that are being marginalized takes resiliency and strength. It also means that we, as fundraisers, have to filter the terrible realities of this work to our donors.
And so it goes when actively engaging with our donors. There is an invisible push to gloss over harsh statistics and harm the communities we serve are actively facing. We are encouraged to do this in order to make our work palatable for the masses. This in turn, usually means people will only receive surface-level information that turns into money for our organization.
Being honest and truthful about the realities that we work in can only strengthen our connection to our supporters.
Why is this the norm? Why don’t we trust that our donors want to hear the truth about what it takes to make movements run? Watering down our mission and work is doing a disservice to our donors and us, in addition to being deeply seated in white saviorism. Being honest and truthful about the realities that we work in can only strengthen our connection to our supporters.
That means being radically transparent with our donors and shining a light on how the harmful culture of white supremacy, capitalism, and US imperialism affects so many aspects of our lives and work. This shit is systemic and is not going away anytime soon. Let’s be clear, it’s not easy and you will get a lot of pushback. But, let me tell you, for every donor that leaves in huff, 10 more will take their place. When the community at large sees that you are staying true to your values and mission, they will embrace you. And do we really want to accept money from people who perpetuate harm by refusing to look beyond the surface?
For example, when I started at my current organization, there was a lot of coddling happening with our donors. Most of whom were white and wealthy, with Boomers providing 43% of all donations. I wanted to shift this practice and start speaking on how white supremacy has contributed to dangerous and harmful border policies affecting migrants every day. I was told no, that it would affect our donations and alienate our supporters.
How is being truthful and honest about this work seen as a detriment to our cause? I’m sure you have heard this time and again. Slowly but surely, I changed that narrative to fully embrace abolition, mutual aid, and CCF principles. And you know what? Our donations have not suffered. Shocking right?
I will say that it’s not all hate. I have received so much support and validation that we’re heading in the right direction.
Have I received a lot of hate mail from our so-called supporters and donors? Hell yes, and I say good riddance. We will never create change if we don’t have these tough conversations. I honestly feel like donors should be grateful that we are taking the time to educate them and bringing them into the inner workings of our world. Especially when BIPOC fundraisers are the ones taking our time to educate these donors. It’s truly a gift.
I will say that it’s not all hate. I have received so much support and validation that we’re heading in the right direction. It’s incredibly affirming to be in community with people who care about the good and bad parts of our work. You can expand on this radical transparency to go beyond donors by weaving it into your organization as a whole. Let volunteers and donors know how hard it can be to fundraise, write appeals and create various communication. Let your supporters know that your organization is not the only one doing this work. Embrace your community and allied organizations by sharing their calls for support. Use your platform for this purpose. No subscribing to resource hoarding or a scarcity mindset here!
We don’t live in a candy-coated world and nonprofits need to stop pretending as such. Because the old ways of the past are no longer working (did they ever?). Changing and transforming this culture will be difficult but well worth it. Educating your donors by removing flowery wording is a small step towards a larger and more transparent world.
Yolie Contreras (she/her) is a Salvi-Chicanx writer, fundraiser and neurodivergent babe. She believes that words and actions matter, and as long as systems of oppression exist, it is our duty to dismantle them. When she’s not working, Yolie spends her time writing zines about depression, anxiety and OCD. She currently lives in Tucson, AZ with her husband Billy and their cats named Ricky and Fred. Find her on Instagram @Yolie4u. Send her a tip via her Venmo, Yolie4u.