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Addressing Inequality in Stewardship and Fundraising

Build more inclusive and equitable congregations
by Faith+Lead | January 11, 2021

By Dan Sassenberg

As we work to make our congregations more equitable and inclusive, it doesn’t take long before someone asks the question, “What about our fundraising? How do our fundraising and stewardship efforts contribute to inequity in our congregation?” Fundraising has an enormous impact on how our congregations function and how we show up in our communities. Doing things the same way year after year can be a major force in perpetuating entrenched systems of racism and inequity. Thankfully, there is help.

In 2015, well-known fundraising blogger and disruptor Vu Le wrote his first blog post on the topic of Community Centric Fundraising. You may be familiar with the well-known practice of Donor Centric Fundraising: centering the donor and not the organization in your fundraising efforts, putting relationships ahead of dollars, not treating donors like ATMs, and sending timely updates on how donations are spent. Community Centric Fundraising is an evolution of this practice with a focus on equity and inclusion and community.

Fundraising practices can perpetuate inequity by always centering the donor instead of the community being served and the donors’ ideas of how contributions should be spent instead of the ideas of the recipients. It otherizes and marginalizes those being served with terms like “needy” or “disadvantaged” and puts the donor on the pedestal of “hero” or “savior.” Difficult conversations—including conversations around race—are stifled for fear of giving offense. 

Oftentimes the “needy” or “disadvantaged” communities being served are communities of color while the donors are white, which makes it especially challenging when gifts are being spent more in keeping with the opinions of the donors than those who are being served.

The ten principles of Community Centric Fundraising lay out an antidote to these ills. They are:

  1. Fundraising must be grounded in race, equity, and social justice.
  2. Individual organizational missions are not as important as the collective community.
  3. Nonprofits are generous with and mutually supportive of one another.
  4. All who engage in strengthening the community are equally valued, whether volunteer, staff, donor, or board member.
  5. Time is valued equally as money.
  6. We treat donors as partners, and this means that we are transparent, assume the best intentions, and occasionally have difficult conversations.
  7. We foster a sense of belonging, not othering.
  8. We promote the understanding that everyone (donors, staff, funders, board members, volunteers) personally benefits from engaging in the work of social justice—it’s not just charity and compassion.
  9. We see the work of social justice as holistic and transformative, not transactional.
  10. We recognize that healing and liberation requires a commitment to economic justice.

I encourage you to follow the link to the ten principles, and click on each one to expand them to get some examples of how you might apply these principles to your congregation. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Recognize volunteers. Make sure you are not inadvertently sending the message that those who can make large financial gifts matter more than others.
  • Ask everyone for gifts and not just those whom you perceive can afford it.
  • Actively seek more diverse members to sit on your church council.
  • Have more difficult conversations about fundraising. Have you held back on a new initiative because you thought it might offend someone? What if it doesn’t? What if avoiding offending one donor is causing others to walk away? 
  • Be mindful when only certain voices are being heard. Create advisory groups, surveys, or other feedback systems to include more diverse perspectives.
  • Center community service in what that community says it really wants and needs, not what you perceive they need.

The work of building more inclusive and equitable congregations isn’t easy, but I encourage you to consider Community Centric Fundraising and anything you can do to dismantle fundraising and stewardship structures that perpetuate systems that only work for the few and not for the many we have been called to serve.

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