Hi, Philanthropy! You don’t recognize me, because you never see me, but I write a lot of the proposals you read. I don’t normally call attention to myself, but I’m here, and I need to tell you that I’m exhausted. In truth, I’ve been burnt out for years. While I find satisfaction in working for great causes, organizations, and communities, working with you wears me down bit by bit.
In annual reports and donor lists around the country, there’s always a section for anonymous giving. It’s accepted as a norm in the fundraising world that some donors elect to be anonymous for one reason or another. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) outlines confidentiality as a right in The Donor Bill of Rights. However, recent scandals in the past year surrounding anonymous gifts raises the question whether anonymous giving helps or hurts the work of philanthropy to create a more equitable and just world.
Curb cuts and universal design: How I use my invisible disability to advocate for arts accessibility
My journey to accessibility in the arts started more than 20 years ago, when I first moved to Seattle from the East Coast. While in Los Angeles on vacation, I went to see “Titanic,” which had just come out in movie theaters. For the first time, I used a captioning device that fit into the cup holder of my seat, allowing me to read the words being spoken onscreen. It was exhilarating: I was finally able to fully understand the dialogue on the big screen.
Recently, I had a moment in a team meeting that gave me pause. We were discussing upcoming fundraising efforts and our messaging … a seasoned fundraiser on the team noted that we must absolutely stop using language like “folx” in our fundraising materials because funders do not know what this language means.
I was born a poor Black child and, according to my mama, “a picky eater.”
I loved sweets though, anything with the right amount of high fructose corn syrup really. I was also highly suspicious of any food that even vaguely resembled a vegetable. If it wasn’t smothered in ranch, why would I eat it?
By now, most, if not all of us, are aware of the many Karens of the world. If you are unsure about your neighborhood Karen she is the lady who is the first person to insert herself in a situation that has nothing to do with her. She can be seen calling the manager — (cue the infamous Karen meme). We have seen Karens show up in many spaces and continue to be problematic.
When I first read about community-centric fundraising via Vu Le’s Nonprofit AF blog, a lightbulb went off in my head. Everything that felt icky to me about donor-centric practices was articulated. Once I started seeing more articles like this, I knew I was on the right track with shifting the narrative at my own organizations.
So, why does your development planning suck?
In early 2019, I brought together a group of community members to form the Seattle Cultural Accessibility Consortium, which connects arts and cultural organizations to information and resources to improve accessibility for people of all abilities. We have several workshops per year on accessibility-related topics and help organizations with accessibility planning.
White supremacy culture in professional spaces is toxic — to dismantle it, we must first be willing to name it!
Now, most workplaces, especially in the nonprofit sector, exhibit and practice white supremacy culture. It is a group of characteristics that, “are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group.” Characteristics such as perfectionism, quantity over quality, paternalism, and individualism uphold white supremacy culture in our work environments.
Recently, I was included in conversations about fundraising for an annual conference. My colleagues and I discussed sponsorship levels and benefits.
Subsequently, I was invited to a prospect call with a funder for a $5,000 sponsorship. On the call, my team answered all possible questions about why we do what we do, what every line item in our budget means, and how we can help amplify the funder’s brand visibility.
After an hour, the answer to the $5,000 sponsorship was a disappointing “no.”
“Well actually …”
This is how gaslighting always begins.
I was meeting with my ED to tell her that I was quitting my position at Mesa Arts Center. Even though I came prepared to explicitly detail the reasons I was leaving, I was still surprised she bothered to ask why. If she’d been half cognizant of the chaos erupting in our department over the past 22 months, it should have been obvious to her. She hadn’t earned my honesty, but I was honest with her anyway.