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An Introduction to Community-Centric Fundraising

8 min read
June 02, 2022
Rachel D'Souza-Siebert headshot
Rachel D'Souza-Siebert
Founder of Gladiator Consulting

We’re excited to bring you the fifth of our six guest insights from Neon One’s industry report on the future of individual giving. Ms. Rachel D’Souza-Siebert MPPA is a proud lifelong resident of St. Louis, Missouri. Born to parents who immigrated to the US from India, Rachel has always been passionate about bridging differences and celebrating what’s possible when we collaborate from a mindset of abundance, learning, and risk-taking. Rachel is the founder of Gladiator Consulting, a boutique consultancy with a holistic approach to nonprofit organizational capacity-building. 

In the early 1990s, the US Army War College coined the term “VUCA” to describe the new world reality following the end of the Cold War. Standing for “Volatile”, “Uncertain”, “Complex” and “Ambiguous,” the term was quickly co-opted by leadership in the for-profit sector and spread to the social sector. Over the last decade, and especially the last couple of years, philanthropy and nonprofit organizations have faced their own reckoning where the VUCA circumstances in our own sector have pushed us to reimagine what’s possible with our human and financial capital. 

Those who have accumulated wealth shape modern US philanthropy’s policy and practice. Over time, the default practice/model in fundraising has become known as Donor-Centered Fundraising. Put simply, “Donor-Centered Fundraising is an integrated and collaborative approach to raising money that inspires donors to remain loyal longer, to make more generous gifts, and to shift their giving from modest to generous sooner. The concept is easy to understand; it focuses on the things that make fundraising more profitable; and it comes from donors themselves.” 

When viewed at face value, the proposition of donor-centered fundraising is not inherently bad. However, it has contributed to a toxic, transactional fundraising culture that promotes a harmful bottom-line mentality for nonprofits, enables inequitable behavior, and reinforces a troubling power imbalance between those with money and those without. Perhaps most troubling, is the lack of progress the nonprofit sector has made using this practice.

The Community-Centric Fundraising Approach

In the summer of 2020, a small group of BIPOC fundraisers living in Seattle, Washington launched Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF), a movement to ground resource development efforts in race, equity, and social justice. It asks those across the philanthropic fundraising landscape to acknowledge how modern US philanthropy and its donor centrism have not served our causes, communities, or even in some cases, the true intent of the donors themselves. With a baseline of ten core principles, CCF sets a new tone for resource development. We must put the collective community above our individual missions and organizations. We need to be willing to have hard conversations with our donors – ones that may transform our relationship with them or result in a loss of support.

This movement asks fundraisers to engage with and contribute to a systems-level solution. We no longer have the opportunity to simply focus on our donors and the numbers without prioritizing our community, values, and mission. Community-Centric Fundraising requires us to abandon our scarcity mindset and siloed mentalities and to truly embrace abundance. Nonprofits are mutually supportive of one another and time is valued as equally as money. Organizations would hold power (a construct that is no longer equipped to those who hoard wealth). At its highest functionality, nonprofits would reach mission fulfillment and become obsolete. 

Over the last 18 months, we have watched many individuals, institutions and communities join the movement. In my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri (occupying Illini, Osage, and Mississippian land), Community-Centric Fundraising is beginning to come to life. 

The Impact of Community-Centric Fundraising

Donors, funders, nonprofit organizations, and fundraising teams have started to anchor their strategies in the ten core principles and the values of Justice Philanthropy. 

The Joseph H. and Florence A. Roblee Foundation shifted its giving priorities in 2020 after its board of trustees invited direct feedback from a set of its grantee organizations. The grantmaker is committed to going upstream and identifying opportunities to support longer-term systems change rather than funding projects or programs that fit into an annualized grant cycle. 

The Amplify Fund offers a grant-making process free of the lengthy and burdensome applications typically required by institutional funders. By trusting the lived experience of applicants and their communities, the Amplify Fund actively dismantles the problematic power dynamics that typically persist across philanthropic relationships. 

Nonprofits are creating opportunities for transformative dialogue and learning with their donors and funders. 

STEMSTL is a collaborative consortium committed to equitable access to high-quality STEM learning and employment opportunities for all learners in the St. Louis Metro region. Its mission is to collectively develop and deploy quality systems-level changes that will advance STEM learning and career opportunities to empower the growth of diverse problem solvers, innovators, and critical thinkers, enabling them to thrive in a globally connected world. 

During the summer of 2020, STEMSTL hosted a learning opportunity for its donors – most of whom were white and male. The webinar, “Moving Boldly Towards Anti-Racism in STEM”, offered funders an opportunity to learn new information and ask questions in a peer-to-peer setting. Many funders remarked it was the first time they felt comfortable learning and speaking about anti-racism and how they could engage more fully with these efforts not only in their philanthropy but also across other aspects of their community involvement. 

Collaborative Fundraising + Grantmaking Opportunities are being offered.  

The Missouri Foundation for Health (MFFH) has invited applicants with shared interests and visions for the community to submit collaborative grant requests under various focus areas.  Rather than drive a competitive mindset, MFFH encourages causes to consider how to further their respective missions through collaborative efforts. 

Organizations are changing the way they measure impact and progress.  

After being publicly called out on allegations of racism and sexism, community-driven radio station KDHX adopted a new strategic plan that included building an intentionally anti-racist organizational culture. Over the first full year of the plan’s implementation, the board and the staff have worked closely to redefine what milestones and success could and should look like. Goals have taken on qualitative aspects and the organization’s values are apparent across its programs and activities. While they have lost some long-time supporters who disagreed with their strategic plan priorities, new life has been breathed into other donor relationships which have yielded more successful fundraising campaigns for the organization. 

Stakeholders with lived experience are compensated for sharing their experience and wisdom. 

Forward Through Ferguson (FTF) is the organization formed to carry on the work of the Ferguson Commission after the 2014 murder of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri. FTF has worked tirelessly to bring anti-racist resource development to life since its inception. Providing compensation to community members and activists for sharing their lived experiences was an early commitment of the organization. In 2021, FTF co-hosted the second biennial St. Louis Racial Equity Summit. Every volunteer, from a youth board to the community advisory board to the event speakers, had the opportunity to be compensated for sharing their time and brilliance.  

The Future of Community-Centric Fundraising

I see Community-Centric Fundraising as an opportunity to decolonize our fundraising practice; to join a movement where our work is transformed with an upstream, systems-change perspective; to dismantle the power dynamic between funders and recipients; and as a call to place our causes and communities at the heart of our fundraising practice. Our job should not be to simply fund an organization. This movement calls us to transform the way we think about resources to solve a problem and no longer need an organization at all. In these VUCA times, this transformation is no longer radical – it is necessary. The best we can do is join a movement that asks us to transform towards the collective good. 

I see Community-Centric Fundraising as an opportunity to decolonize our fundraising practice; to join a movement where our work is transformed with an upstream, systems-change perspective; to dismantle the power dynamic between funders and recipients; and as a call to place our causes and communities at the heart of our fundraising practice. Our job should not be to simply fund an organization. This movement calls us to transform the way we think about resources to solve a problem and no longer need an organization at all. In these VUCA times, this transformation is no longer radical – it is necessary. The best we can do is join a movement that asks us to transform towards the collective good.

For more nonprofit insights, download the full copy of the report below:

Donors Report Tablet View
Donors Report Tablet View

Donors: Understanding The Future of Individual Giving

This report is full of insights that will help you build authentic relationships with your donors.

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