Category Archives: Funder Relations

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]

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


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

Time inequity: What it is and why it’s no-good, very-bad

[Image description: A black-and-white photograph of two hourglasses standing side-by-side within a black box frame overlooking an indecipherable background (it might be a city, out of focus). The hourglass on the left has white sand, and the one on the right has black sand. Both seems almost full and are trickling sand, culminating in small sand piles in their respective bottom chambers. But the black-sand hourglass seems to have less sand in the top chamber.]

People have been asking me, “Vu, how do you manage to write a blog each week while running a nonprofit and parenting a toddler and a baby, and yet still retain your youthful good looks?” The secret is simple: I don’t sleep, and also, personal hygiene and nutrition standards have been lowered. Having a second kid, especially, has sapped our time so much that we tend to eat over the sink in five-minute increments; I don’t mind, because it allows me to rinse pureed peas and quinoa from out of my hair.

I can’t blame the baby for flinging food at us though. We haven’t been paying nearly as much attention to him as we did with his brother. He just turned one, and I think half the people we know aren’t even aware that we have a second baby, so little have we mentioned him. One person seemed irritated; he cornered me one day and said, “Hey, I heard you have a new baby? Why didn’t you tell me?” I felt terrible. All I could reply was, “Sorry, Dad…” Continue reading

Why we need to stop asking “What do you do?”

[Image description: A right hand is in focus, extended toward the viewer, as if this person is offering to shake hands. The person is out of focus, but appears to be wearing a grey button-down shirt with a black blazer. The composition is focused on the hand and torso, so we don’t see the person’s head.]

A while ago, while I was seeking input for a post on how we can all be more disability-inclusive, a colleague mentioned that we should drop the get-to-know-you question “What do you do?” because people with disabilities face significant employment discrimination, and this question is often a painful reminder of that. Another colleague of mine who is brilliant and talented and hilarious and wheelchair-enabled told me she spent seven years searching before someone hired her. I can imagine all the times during those seven years when people asked her “What do you do?” and how she must have felt. This has made me think of the “to-do” culture that we have and how it’s been affecting our work.

I learned a few years ago, through my participation in the German Marshall Memorial Fellowship, that the US has a default “To-Do” culture. The first thing we ask someone we meet is about what they do. Actions, in our culture, define us. For other cultures, though, are more of a “To-Be” culture, and you are defined less from what you do, and more from who you are:  Your relationships, your family history, your beliefs, your passions, your haircuts, etc. Continue reading

Funders’ role in protecting marginalized communities during the next four years

[Image description: Green stalks of wheat. It looks to be a closeup of a wheat field. The wheat flowers are silvery green, and the leaves are light green.]

Last week, my organization, in partnership with several other orgs, called for an urgent meeting between funders and nonprofit leaders. “Protecting Marginalized Communities During the Next Four Years.” It was just a few days of notice, and I was nervous people wouldn’t show up. Over 100 did, half funders and half nonprofit leaders from diverse communities. For three hours, we checked in with one another, shared stories and ideas, and discussed actions.

There are certain days in my career where I return home exhausted and drained, but simultaneously grateful to get to do this work, and to get to do it with brilliant and passionate colleagues. This was one of those days. Although many of the stories shared were painful and alarming—a Muslim colleague detailed the fear and danger she experiences every day taking the bus; two Native colleagues discussed the challenges their communities face at Standing Rock—the energy and support and sense of community were palpable. Continue reading