By: Maria Rio, 10+ years of experience in nonprofit project/people management
In my piece “The highs and lows of CCF in practice: 9 approaches we’ve championed,” Carolyn commented:
Maria, I would love to hear a follow up, especially donor response to honest conversations about source of wealth, how your team was able to achieve buy-in from your board, and more lessons learned. You know, in your copious free time ha
Well Carolyn, this one is for you and any other fundraisers out there looking to get buy-in.
Here are the three steps my team and I took in transforming our fundraising:
- Audit – where are you now and where do you want to be?
- Get buy-in – build a case for support, find champions, educate about CCF
- Implement – expect to pivot a few times
While working on the above, here are some tips for you to consider:
When you open the door to the conversation, donors will ask you questions about CCF-aligned practices.
- Give yourself, your board, and your supporters some grace. Fundraising is not their strong suit, but they are willing to listen and learn. CCF is a relatively new movement to many in the fundraising world, let alone outside it.
If it feels like you’re reinventing the wheel, you probably are, and that’s okay! Take time to understand concepts, explain them to others, and answer questions without using jargon; explain it in easily digestible plain language.
- Gather allies. Is your team aligned? Executive Director? Some or all members of the board? Donors? Other orgs? Build partnerships internally and externally to push ethical fundraising practices forward
- Openly talk about systemic barriers, capitalism, politics, tax evasion, white supremacy, and racism. If I don’t have these conversations with a donor, partner, or supporter, how else would I know their values align with our mission? This is not a conversation that you need to prep a donor for.
How I approach it is: causes like ours subsidize poor government supports; my work is keeping the status quo alive, but we can’t stop providing emergency support until there is real systemic change. Changes like reducing the wage gap, dismantling ableism, taxing the rich, fighting white supremacy, etc., greatly impact and improve the lives of our community members.
- Give concrete examples of CCF things you want to implement and why they matter. Use an example that donors and board members can easily understand, i.e., we don’t accept donations from corporations who exploit child labour abroad because our mission is to ensure kids can receive an education, no matter where they are born; we don’t allow donors to tour programs because it is a form of poverty tourism, etc.
Donors will often surprise you with how far they have already thought through their privilege. I have heard their thoughts on galas (“it always felt off and a bit 1%er-y”), naming rights (“these women in shelters are trying to get their lives together and just have names of rich people staring at them? Gross”), tax evasion (“wow, I just did my taxes and used as many tools I could to reduce my tax obligations, I now understand that’s problematic”), and CCF in general (“now I know why I had negative gut feelings towards being invited to watch a program, these practices were not CCF aligned”).
When you open the door to the conversation, donors will ask you questions about CCF-aligned practices. Donors have asked me about the problems caused by restricting funding, creating programs for them, the nonprofit industrial complex, the issues with having a DAF, and more. I am extremely proud of the type of supporter we have cultivated, and think of many of our donors as true partners in our work.
- Ask your donors about the donation they are most proud of. Contributing to their community, donating to their kids’ school, and setting up an event for their charity are often their top answers. It’s rarely a transactional sponsorship or gift.
- Empower fundraisers to ask for help or to end a relationship. If a donor says something problematic or triggering, ask for another fundraiser to step in and educate the donor. Leaning on your white colleagues can be super helpful in educating donors or board members.
If the donor is not open to learning and intentionally continues to be sexist, racist, homophobic, etc., you don’t have to continue the interaction. We are partners in the work, not subservient. Donors get to push forward meaningful programs just as much as we do; if we wouldn’t tolerate those behaviors from colleagues, we should have the same standard for board members, volunteers, and donors.
- Build relationships with other fundraisers already working on CCF. I’ve connected with local and international superstars and have had a safe space to vent, workshop ideas, and continue learning.
The system was designed by the few for the few, keeping the cycle in check and keeping people oppressed. We play a role in that. The way we work makes it difficult for us to achieve social change because the set up is meant to maintain the status quo.
- Don’t come unprepared to make your case. Know the CCF principles. Know how they can be applied to different portfolios. Know which social justice issues you’re well versed in and where your gaps are. Know the impacts on funds and set realistic expectations.
- Don’t sit quietly when a donor says or does something problematic. Many will appreciate your insight and education. The ones that don’t may not be the best partners for your service users or brand.
- Don’t let your insight be the only exposure to CCF that partners get. Link to NonprofitAF. Link to the CCF hub. Show them that cool podcast! Ask donors to provide their perspective and if they are far enough in their learnings, ask them to write a blog post.
- Don’t frame your organization as being apart from the problem; we are a part of it. Capitalism depends on the exploitation of people. Wealth is accumulated by a few and passed down through generations. Nonprofits have been a tool for the few to avoid paying taxes. The system was designed by the few for the few, keeping the cycle in check and keeping people oppressed. We play a role in that. The way we work makes it difficult for us to achieve social change because the set up is meant to maintain the status quo.
- Don’t assume people understand jargon or social issues as well as you do. As fundraisers, we often work with multi-millionaires or even billionaires who have had a very different lived experience than our service users. Meet people who want to work toward equity where they are at. Answer their questions openly and honestly. Help them understand the problems you, your org, the sector, and your community face.
- Don’t assume donors feeling good about their giving is bad or not CCF-aligned. Partners who participate in the work should all feel valued for their contributions. Donors who give money should feel valued. Volunteers who give time should feel valued. Staff who provide labour should feel valued. The focus should always be on moving the issues your org is facing forward, together.
An easy way to think about this is: would you thank a partner org for skill sharing? A volunteer for their time? Would you think it weird if a donor thanked you for your work? Showing donors appreciation on par with how you show other collaborators appreciation is very appropriate and does not glorify the donor in a saviour manner.
Fundraisers have so much power to push forward equitable practices at the organizations we represent. We know the donors, educate them, and connect them to causes they believe in. You can commit to using that influence to encourage your nonprofit and partners to push for systemic change.
Maria Rio (she/her) is the Director of Development at The Stop Community Food Centre, a mid-sized non-profit that provides emergency food access, community building programs, and urban agriculture. Having come to Canada as a refugee at an early age, Maria developed a passion for human rights that now fuels her drive to help locally and make a difference in the lives of people of various marginalized and often inter-sectional groups. After being assisted by many charities and going through an arduous 12-year immigration process to become a Canadian citizen, Maria devoted herself to working in a charity setting to give back to the industry, which had drastically and undeniably improved the course of her life. As a woman, a racialized person, an immigrant, and a member of the LGBTQ2+ community, Maria works diligently every day to ensure that she can make a meaningful difference in the lives of these and other often underrepresented groups.
You can follow or connect with Maria on LinkedIn here.