Category Archives: Finance

9 Principles of Community-Centric Fundraising

[Image description: Some sort of duck, standing on what looks like a wooden post, overlooking a pond. The duck is looking to our right. It has light brown feathers on its head and back, white belly, and its wings are brown with orange-red feathers, with a little bit of neon green peeking through. Its tail feathers are black. The top of its head is gray, and there is a streak of white highlighted with black curving down from the back of its head to its neck. This is one cute little duck. In the background, out of focus, are two white ducks swimming. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. After last week’s post, I got a lot of comments, many in support, a few cautiously curious, and some strong disagreement. Which is all awesome, because we can disagree on many things, but I think the conversation around equity as it’s applied to fundraising is much needed. I also want to reiterate how much respect I have for the fundraisers in our field. I’ve said it before that I think you have to be pretty brilliant to be a successful fundraising professional, considering how complex this work is. I also want to reaffirm how much I appreciate donors, and that my critique of donor-centrism in no way precludes respect for donors, just like my critique of inequitable funding practices should not mean a disrespect for foundations or program officers, or my post on how data has been used to perpetuate inequity should not be seen as a dis on evaluators and researchers.

Today, I want to lay out a few preliminary thoughts on Community-Centric Fundraising. I was hoping to work on this further and present a tighter set of principles later, but because so many are curious, I thought I’d set down a few tentative points, based on the conversations and input I’ve had so far. Special thanks to AFP Calgary and Area and Banff Compass 2017, Amy Varga of Varga Consulting, Emily Anthony and Julie Edsforth of Clover Search Works, Erica Mills of Claxon Marketing, my friends in the Seattle chapter of EDHH, my staff, and other amazing colleagues, especially fundraisers of color, who provided thoughts, including disagreement. (It should be noted that the colleagues listed here helped me to think, but it does not necessarily mean they agree with everything presented here).

Again, these principles and sample actions below are tentative, and will change and evolve as we have more conversations, including likely some more healthy arguments: Continue reading

How the focus on overhead disenfranchises communities of color and fans the flames of injustice

[Image description: A lone firefighter standing on a road spraying water at some raging flames on our left and up an embankment. It looks to be a wild forest fire. The firefighter’s hose is connected to a truck that is facing us with its headlights on. Smoke and orange flames are in the background, along with silhouettes of trees being consumed by the fire.]

Hi everyone, before we start on today’s post, a couple of announcements. First my org is hiring a Development Director and an Operations Associate. (Make sure you like unicorns and Oxford commas). Also, you can now buy a t-shirt, mug, or notebook that says “I am a pita wedge for the hummus of justice.” And, finally, I’m on Instagram (@nonprofitwithballs), mainly taking pictures of stuff I find pretty while doing nonprofit work. Like this event wagon, and this gala centerpiece, and this 9-year-old keyboard

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In this political climate, when so many of us nonprofits are rallying to put out one fire after another, many of the things we have been used to and have been putting up with no longer make sense. Many of us in the sector have been making the argument against restricted funding and for general operating for years. Here’s a report from GEO. Here’s one from CEP. Here’s a piece from my colleague Paul Shoemaker. And I’ve made impassioned pleas here, here, and here. But despite countless arguments by dozens of leaders, we still have foundations who restrict funds, who set arbitrary numbers for “indirect expenses” and “overhead.”

But there has been one argument that we have not stressed enough to funders and donors, but now it is urgent that we do so: The focus on overhead is no longer just annoying, it’s perpetuating inequity and injustice. Continue reading

Foundations, how aggravating is your grantmaking process? Use this checklist to find out!

[Image description: A from-the-waist-up image of a red plastic robot-looking toy. Update: It may be a Blockhead from Gumby. It has a square head, two googly round eyes that are looking down, a round yellow nose, and a yellow line shaped into a frown. The robot has two arms raised up to the sides of its head. The background is grayish blue.]

As we roll into 2017, there have been lots of articles about how philanthropy must adapt, including my post urging funders to increase payout and fund advocacy efforts, as well as this piece on moving away from “charity” toward “justice.” These conversations are critical and we must keep having them. While we figure that stuff out, though, let’s take care of a few logistical things foundations do that make us nonprofits want to roll up a printed-out copy of our tax filings and beat ourselves unconscious.

So, I asked the NWB Facebook community to name the things funders do that get on people’s nerves. I got over 350 comments. I’ve condensed them into the Funding Logistics Aggravation, Incomprehensibility, and Laughability (FLAIL) Index. Here is a list of things that make us want to punch a wall, scratch our heads in bewilderment, or crack up laughing. Or drink. [Update: The FLAIL Index is now called the FLAIL Scale, and was revised on 1-21-17] Continue reading

A letter to Santa from the nonprofit sector

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[Image description: The image is of a man dressed as Santa, sitting in front of a fireplace with a white mantle. His robe is red with white trimmings, accented with a large black belt with a large golden buckle. He has a row of what may be red poinsettia flowers and green holly leaves lining the trimming of his hat, which is flopped over to the right side of his head. He is looking directly at the camera, his head slightly tilted. He has a stern or wry look. His hands are in white gloves. One hand is on his glasses, as if he were lowering them, the other resting on his belt. On the mantle there are several brown pine cones, white snowflakes, and red ornaments. Off to Santa’s right, in the background, is a tree decorated with red and white ornaments. There are several red stockings with white trimmings hanging from the mantle.]

Dear Santa,

I know you are extremely busy. I mean, you are technically a nonprofit, and this is December after all. My colleagues are wrapped up in licking thousands of envelopes, handwriting tons of thank-you notes, organizing a gazillion events for the community, and consuming leftover holiday party wine and chips. (Stop judging us, Santa. Like your lunch is always so balanced). Since they are occupied with year-end tasks, I asked my colleagues what they wanted from you, and I’m synthesizing their responses, to save you some time. I am writing a letter to you on behalf of all of us in the nonprofit sector.

Santa, this has been a horrible year. First-episode-of-Black-Mirror horrible. Superman-IV:-Quest-for-Peace horrible. And many of us are not exactly looking forward to next year either. It’s OK. All of us are rolling up our Ross-Dress-for-Less sleeves and are determined to fight for a just and inclusive society.

It won’t be easy though. That’s why we need you. You can help us out by granting some of these wishes below. This Christmas, please give us: Continue reading

Bragging about program-to-admin ratios is a destructive practice that needs to die 

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[Image description: A black and white photo of a raccoon standing behind a chain-link fence. The raccoon has one paw raised near its face resting on the fence, and its other paw lower, also resting on the fence. This is a cute but kind of sad-looking raccoon. This image may be evocative of restricted funding in the nonprofit sector]

Hi everyone. Just a quick reminder that my org is hiring a capacity building coach to work with our partner organizations. We are getting lots of amazing candidates, but we are keeping the position open until we find that magical unicorn to join the team. 

Thank you to those of you who supported the Kickstarter project I’m involved with, where I’m helping to write a book. Thanks to you, the project got fully funded within a few days! Sweet! (You can still donate if you missed out, because there are cool prizes).

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for awesome holiday gifts for the nonprofit people in your life, NWB merchandise is available. 

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I know that many of us have sent out our year-end appeal letter, or are in the process of doing so. Some of us are pouring our blood, sweat, and tears into these letters, sometimes literally, with the paper cuts and the occasional weeping over the hundreds or thousands of letters that need to be stuffed. 

You know what makes me weep, though? Y’all who still use language in your letters like “94 cents of every dollar goes directly to programs!!!” Every time I see it or hear about it, it is like getting a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat directly to the noggin. Continue reading