I think we have a serious problem with the donor-centered approach. Namely that the pervasiveness of this model in our sector may be perpetuating the very inequity that we are seeking to address as a sector.

I believe in many of the tenets of donor-centrism—don’t treat donors like ATMs, appreciate every gift of any amount, don’t take donors for granted, build relationships, be transparent, etc. I just don’t believe that donors should be in the center of nonprofit work, or even the center of fundraising work. Yes, the pervasive donor-centered concept is more nuanced than that, but the name itself, donor-centered, intentionally puts donor right in the middle. And many fundraisers have unconsciously or consciously taken this into account, insisting on treating donors as the most important element of our work. There is so much language now about treating donors like “heroes” or even “superheroes.”

The majority of the conversations I’ve been a part of around equity, diversity, and inclusion still focus on how to get people to give: What strategies do we need to use to get diverse communities to give? How do we attract diverse development staff…who have the skills and connections to get diverse people to give? Rarely has the conversation been about the wealth gap, systemic oppression, and how we can use fundraising principles and practices to build the power and voice of our community. And this may be a reason why there are so few development staff of color and why the ones that we have may be burning out. It’s exhausting emotionally and spiritually to constantly have to ask the people who may not be aware that they benefit from injustice to contribute to help end it.

I am working with some colleagues to develop a set of principles for what I’m calling Community-Centric Fundraising, a model that is grounded in equity and social justice, prioritizes the entire community over individual organizations, fosters a sense of belonging and interdependence, presents our work not as individual transactions but holistically, and encourages mutual support between nonprofits. This set of principles will be presented in a future post.

Read the full article about community-centric fundraising by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF.