By Esther Saehyun Leenew fundraiser, young leader, and Scorpio; and Maria Rio10+ years of experience in nonprofit project/people management

Hiring someone committed to the principles of equity and justice does not mean you are absolved from working towards equity and justice too. 

Read that again.

CCF fundraisers committed to challenging the status quo are often coming into this sector with intersectional identities and lived experience. This gives them an acute understanding of power, privilege, oppression, and being othered. 

Hiring a fundraiser who is committed to CCF values is powerful. Fundraisers hold the integral position of having one foot in the community, one foot in the organization, and mediating both. Our role is to communicate the needs of the community to the organization we serve and the needs of the organization back to the community we serve. Hiring a CCF fundraiser means you have someone committed to equity and justice that is mobilizing resources to serve the community rather than the individual organization. 

In recent years, the nonprofit sector has welcomed talks on anti-racism, equity, and ethical fundraising in even the most public spaces. This is due to the mobilization, support, and platform built by Community-Centric Fundraising and the courage of nonprofit workers committed to pushing this work forward.

But with this shift comes a wave of performative activism that is dangerous. 

One that breeds a specific type of toxicity in organizations. One that is detrimental to those committed to equity and to those coming into the field.

Young fundraisers of color join organizations because they know the harms the sector causes and want to make a difference. When they first arrive, they are optimistic and pour their energy into the mission they believe in. However, often, they find out that the greatest challenges to ethical practices are not external but internal.

Nonprofit professionals, especially those with multiple marginalizations, see lofty values presented in annual reports, public communications, and their onboarding package, only to experience microaggressions, condescension, and oppression while being praised for openly challenging the sector and holding it accountable to its values. 

We quickly learn that the sector is founded on:

  • White Supremacy: A culture that views people of color as lesser than their white peers. A culture that sees people of colour solely as the recipients of philanthropy, and not decision-makers or leaders;
  • Centering Wealth and Capitalism: Placing wealthy donors on a pedestal and perpetuating a system that prioritizes the needs and preferences of white donors with money rather than the communities we serve;
  • Nonprofit Industrial Complex: Nonprofit organizations are reliant on the institutions that create and perpetuate the social problems organizations seek to address; and
  • Unpaid or underpaid labor: Overreliance on unpaid or underpaid labor, which is usually provided by women and people of color who are often relegated to lower-paying or volunteer positions.

Hiring a CCF fundraiser to shoulder the labor of equity and ethical fundraising, and to call out and challenge the ways the organization is perpetuating harm is only one piece of the puzzle. Alone, it is a Sisyphean task that sets them up for failure and harm. 

As the CCF movement grows, as more and more fundraisers openly call for equitable fundraising, demand change for a sector founded on white supremacy and capitalism, and call on the community to dismantle the nonprofit industrial complex, the question we must pose is, what ways are we allowing the guise of community-centric fundraising (or more specifically, a racialized community-centric fundraiser), to conceal the amount of harm being done behind closed doors?

In what ways are you complacently reaping the benefits of the fundraiser or fundraising department taking on the work of reflecting, healing, and questioning?

In pursuing the best intentions of hiring a CCF fundraiser, you may be perpetuating the very harms you are trying to dismantle.

For all the senior leadership, board members, and decision-makers at nonprofit organizations, let us pose to you the questions that CCF fundraisers must ask themselves each day. We invite you to go through the ten CCF principles and specifically reflect on the questions below:

1. Fundraising must be grounded in race, equity, and social justice.

Are you willing to talk to your donors about white supremacy, colonialism, misogyny, transphobia, and racism? 

Are you willing to lose donors and lose revenue to do so?

2. Individual organizational missions are not as important as the collective community. 

Do we work collaboratively with other organizations to benefit the community? Does our work benefit the sector? 

Would we be willing to decline a funding opportunity for another organization to do their work?

Would we be willing to shut down if our presence as a nonprofit organization was harming the community more than it was benefitting it? Or if other organizations could do the work better than we were? 

Do you take political action to enable systemic solutions to systemic problems?

3. Nonprofits are generous with and mutually supportive of one another.

Do we see other organizations as competition? Or do we see them as part of our team and our mission?

Do you share resources with other organizations, or do you gatekeep knowledge and funding opportunities for yourself?

4. All who engage in strengthening the community are equally valued, whether volunteer, staff, donor, or board member.

How do you perceive the clients who benefit from your organization? Do you see them as recipients or vital contributors to the community? Do they have a seat at the table?

Do you place board members and major donors on a pedestal? Do you respect the recipients of our services as much as you respect them?

5. Time is valued equally as money.

Do you appreciate a financial donation more than a donation of time? How do you steward those who provide non-monetary supports?

6. We treat donors as partners, and this means that we are transparent, and occasionally have difficult conversations. 

What assumptions do you make about donors and their capacity to have an honest discussion about oppression and power?

Do you cater to white fragility, or do you center lived experiences of systemically oppressed communities in your work?

7. We foster a sense of belonging, not othering.

In what ways do you perpetuate a harmful power dynamic when speaking to or about your clients?

Would your clients feel like the only X person in your board meetings? Your fundraisers? Your stewardship events?

How do you perceive your clients? How do you perceive yourself?

8. We promote the understanding that everyone (donors, staff, funders, board members, volunteers) personally benefits from engaging in the work of social justice- it is not just charity and compassion. 

Do you believe people give out of “the goodness of their hearts”?

Do you believe that your very presence in this sector means you do not perpetuate harm?

Do you believe that because you dedicated your time and labor to this sector, you are by all accounts “good”?

9. We see the work of social justice as holistic and transformative, not transactional.

What work do you do to help people unlearn the harmful myths of nonprofits and fundraising?

  • Do you challenge or reinforce power imbalances? Do you cultivate an environment where donors feel entitled to control the direction and priorities of the organization?
  • Do you modify the missions or programs to fit donor preferences rather than respond to the community needs?
  • Do you try to hide overhead or administrative costs from your donor? Do you try to minimize staffing costs to solicit donations?
  • Do you perpetuate or cultivate a culture of saviorism?

10. We recognize that healing and liberation requires a commitment to economic justice.

Do you recognize that mobilizing resources is only one part of the work of equity?

Do you recognize that part of the work of centering community in fundraising and nonprofit work means that you are actively challenging and dismantling its practices? 

As with any new movement, framework, or challenge to the ways that be, there will be growing pains. The fact that we can write this article to question how hiring a CCF fundraiser can conceal the harms being done inside the organization marks a turning point. It means that we have more fundraisers who are openly challenging the sector and seeking action that is not performative. We are creating space for the next generation of fundraisers and ensuring that the harm we have experienced can become our history instead of their prophecy. 

Do not hire a CCF fundraiser, applaud them for their commitment to equity, and think that will suffice. 

Do not hire a CCF fundraiser and assume that their work means you or the organization is more ethically aligned by this fundraiser’s very presence. 

You should be actively working with them and not just taking credit for their labor. 

You should be asking yourself, “in what ways do I perpetuate harm? In what ways do I take up space? In what ways do I oppress? In what ways do I empower and make space?”

The CCF movement was founded as a response to the perpetuation of harmful practices in the nonprofit sector. Any and every nonprofit professional, volunteer, donor, and board member has been complicit in these practices. The difference is that someone committed to CCF will name this, address it, and actively seek to unlearn this. 

We are all complicit in harm, and we are all responsible for imagining a new and better way forward. You are not closer to equity simply because you state you are. Until we all understand that this work can only move forward for the community by the community, we cannot make progress.

Being in community does not mean deflecting the work of equity to a few individuals. Being in community is sharing space with like-minded folks committed and dedicated to this work. People who not only understand the structural inequities in the nonprofit industrial complex but also admit their complicity in perpetuating it. People that act to ensure the next generation can experience less oppression. People that share the same commitment, the same values, and the same curiosity to imagine and innovate new practices for this sector. People who will hold you accountable, call you in, call you out, and work to heal – together. 

Hiring someone committed to principles of equity and justice does not mean you are absolved from working towards equity and justice, too.

We can only do this work if we have a shared vision of equity for our organization, our community, and our sector.

We can only center community if we are willing to cultivate trust with each other.

We can only do this work if we do it in community.

Esther Saehyun Lee

Esther Saehyun Lee

Esther Saehyun Lee (she/her) is most well-known by her peers as an excellent meme/personal emoji creator, and creative co-conspirator. She continues to create space within systems of oppression to develop engagement and fundraising practices as a consultant at Further Together. She joined the nonprofit sector because of the CCF movement and is honored to be a member of the CCF Global Council to continue to hold the sector accountable in its mission and values. As a feminist killjoy and unabashed nerd, she is committed to creating environments that are centered in laughter, curiosity, and justice in the work of equity.

Maria Rio

Maria Rio

Maria Rio (she/her) is a fundraising consultant with Further Together with 10+ years of non-profit experience. She is regularly asked to speak on issues related to fundraising and her op-eds have been featured in national publications. She was a finalist for the national 2022 Charity Village Best Individual Fundraiser Award and has a deep passion for non-profit work. Maria also sits on the Board of Living Wage Canada.

You can connect with Maria through Further Together or through LinkedIn.