Category Archives: Fundraising

The downsides of linear thinking, and why we need to embrace failure

[Image description: An abstract image made by computer, probably using mathematical equations to generate fractals. There grey and white and patterned spheres, sheets, columns, all bending and connecting and confusing. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

The world is complex. Therefore, to put order to things, we try to become more organized and linear in many aspects of life and existence: In battle: first we send the scouts to check out lay of the land and our enemies’ strengths and weaknesses, then we send in the infantry. In marriage: First, we date, then we have the parents meet, then we get married. In going to IKEA: First we spend 30 minutes finding parking, then we get panic attacks in the lamps aisle, then we get into fights with our partner.

In the nonprofit sector, this linear sort of thinking is pervasive, seeping into every aspect of our work, manifesting in things such as: Continue reading

Imagine if Apple had to run like a nonprofit

We nonprofits deal with unique challenges that our for-profit colleagues never have to think about. If you ever sat in the dark for hours listening to REM and eating Otter Pops and wondering what it would like for a large for-profit like Apple to have to run like a nonprofit, wonder no more! I’ve done it for you this week! (What, like your vacation is so much more interesting). And I asked NAF’s web designer and artist, Stacy Nguyen, to draw up some comics.

At the retail store

Customer: Hi, I’d like to buy this latest iPhone. How much is it?

Apple employee: $700 dollars.

Customer: Here you go. But I want most of this money to be spent on direct costs. No more than $70 should be going to indirect costs like rent, insurance, etc. I also don’t want any of this $700 to go toward advertisement or staff salaries.

Apple employee: We’ll designate these restrictions in our systems.

Customer: At the end of the year, I’d like a report on what you spent this money on.

Apple employee: We provide quarterly financial reports, and would be glad—

Customer: No no no. I don’t want the financial reports on your entire company. I only want a report on what my $700 specifically was spent on. Only my $700.

Apple employee: OK…Would you like to be added to our e-newsletter list? Continue reading

So, you think nonprofits should be taxed

[Image description: A stack of nine shiny gold coins on grey background. Image obtained from Pixabay.com. Wait, on second look, these might actually be chocolate coins!]

Every once a while, I encounter people who think nonprofits are getting it easy and should be paying taxes. “Rabble rabble,” they rabble, “why should only businesses pay taxes! Especially when most charities are scams, with the majority of their money going to their fat-cat CEOs’ pockets. Rabble!”

Here’s a comment someone made on one of my posts: “If nonprofit is an industry sector, then it is time to start taxing it.” (They also added, in response for my call for the sector to pay our people better: “If you own your own company, and you control the finances, go ahead, pay people more just because. On the other hand in the real world, you sound like a fool on this point.”)

From the tiresome memes and ignorant, bizsplainy blog posts and comments out there, I think some members of the public have this image of nonprofit folks as mustache-twirling con artists sitting at our desks counting piles of gold coins while starving children with trembling eyes beg us in fear for more gruel. “Mooooore?!! Only 2 cents of every dollar is available to purchase gruel, and we’ve spent it all this month!” Continue reading

Winter is here, and we must build the power of organizations and communities of color

[Image description: Nine hands of diverse skin colors, overlapping in a circle, as in a show of unity. Image obtained from pixabay.com]

Last month, I attended a luncheon where one of the speakers, a colleague of mine, mentioned doing a home visit to check in on a little girl and her mom. The small apartment was completely dark. As my colleague’s eyes adjusted, she noticed there were papers with strings of numbers taped to the walls. Seeing her curious look, the mom said, “These are phone numbers. I want her to memorize these numbers…in case they take me away.”

Stories like these are now more and more common. In Seattle we’ve seen flyers posted all over the South Park neighborhood encouraging people to call ICE “for fast deportation of illegal immigrants.” We’ve heard about the tragedy in Portland of the men who were murdered on a train for defending two Muslim women against the abuse of a bigot. These stories of fear and hatred are enough for many of us to lose faith in humanity. But I have been encouraged by the parallel stories of compassion and solidarity, of neighbors looking out for one another.

All of this makes me wonder about one of the most important roles of our sector, which is the building of community power. When the voices of the community members most affected by injustice are strong, when they have the resources and power to help change the systems—by voting, by shaping policies—our society is strengthened and all of us benefit. As our world spirals into divisiveness and intolerance, building the voice and power of the most marginalized is our best defense against the rise in racist nationalism, hate-mongering, xenophobia, violence, and injustice. Continue reading

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