Tag Archives: Social Movements

Exotica: Sex and race in face-to-face fundraising

Cover Photo by Drop the Label Movement on Unsplash.

“But really, where are you from?” – that dreaded question I often received when meeting donors in my first fundraising job. I had begun in the role feeling like I had finally found my path, like I could do anything.

I lost that confidence quickly when I learned that many of my donor meetings would start with this inquiry or versions of it, like “have you lived in Canada all your life?” or “where is your home?”. “Toronto” would never suffice. Sooner or later I would give in and tell a story, expecting my counterpart to be satisfied, allowing us to move on. I waited for my chance to ask about their passions, their connections to our cause–like a good fundraiser should.

Instead, my responses almost always led to a larger conversation about the donor’s trips to Asia, with more questions about my origins, which languages I speak, and even more whys and hows and whens. I often left confused, wondering where I went wrong and how I could have changed the narrative. Over time, I got better at redirecting these comments and questions, but they remained ever-present.

I soon learned that interactions like this would be just a part of the picture. They would become coloured by the universal and often unspoken language of sex.

I’ve met several donors who have sexualized or romanticized my experience with them. One who only took after-hours meetings with me, as though they were dates. Another who sent me emails praising my beauty, and asking for personal meet ups and favours unrelated to my job. Another who repeatedly called me, asking if I was married and what religion and ethnicity I held.

My worry about these moments today is not that I sometimes experience them, but that they are plentiful. A rite of passage for many female or racialized fundraisers. So many of us have anecdotes and stories–one in four according to the research. Yet we remain quiet; we think they are too small or that it’s all in our head. We don’t want to seem like complainers.

In the age of #MeToo, our sector is leveling up to speak more about unwanted attention and sexual harassment, as we have witnessed so recently at AFP Congress 2018. Female fundraisers often bear the brunt of these interactions; the power dynamic between donor and fundraiser looming over our heads. When you are trying to make goal, the question of how many unwanted flirtations you are willing to endure is a moving target.

It’s not my place to prescribe what is the best way to react in these situations–there are too many contextual factors at play; your sense of safety and willingness to deal with confrontation among them.

However, I do call upon my fellow fundraisers to bring these conversations into the limelight, without fear of reprisal. We must share our experiences with one another, to help each other understand and respond. Team leaders need to remind staff that it is safe to disclose such interactions. Because sometimes we need to give voice to what is inside to realize it’s not just in our heads.

This article has been co-published with Hilborn Charity eNews.

La charité 3.0 commence par… un don d’impact

C’est le donateur qui oriente désormais les actions caritatives, qui doivent maintenant avoir un impact concret.

Le donateur veut savoir exactement combien de petits déjeuners seront servis avec son don, combien de sacs d’école seront offerts pour la rentrée et combien jeunes iront au camp de jour avec les dons recueillis.


C’est en écoutant la radio que j’apprenais (ou plutôt que je me remémorais) que le 5 septembre était la Journée internationale de la charité. Longtemps à l’agenda, la notion de charité était intrinsèque à notre devoir de mortel. Puis, avec la structuration du secteur pluriel et de ses organismes de bienfaisance qui le compose, la charité a pris une nouvelle forme, la philanthropie.

Vous m’accusez de faire de la sémantique? Je plaide non coupable.

Vous souvenez-vous de la dîme, ce devoir religieux de contribuer à l’Église pour que le gros thermomètre de don devant son parvis explose en témoignage de la générosité (obligée) de ses fidèles? Ça, c’est de la charité.

La philanthropie amenait le don à une autre étape: le désintéressement de celui-ci. Le cancer vous touche, vous voulez soutenir cette cause? Vous le faites. Pas par devoir obligé, mais par simple souci de contribuer à quelque chose qui vous tient à cœur.

Les donateurs sont sollicités comme jamais et
les organismes sont nombreux, très nombreux.

Ce marché – car oui, il en est un – a vu sa création de départements de développement philanthropique, de conseillers en philanthropie, d’association en philanthropie et j’en passe. Bref, une business bien structurée pour répondre à un besoin (souvent à la suite d’un désengagement étatique). Mais ici, la loi de l’offre et de la demande arrive au maximum de son élasticité. Les donateurs sont sollicités comme jamais et les organismes sont nombreux, très nombreux.

On voit alors deux tendances lourdes qui s’ancrent solidement dans l’écosystème philanthropique: la mutualisation des organismes et la recherche de l’impact. Dernière sortie pour la charité et bienvenue sur l’autoroute du don d’impact dirigé par le donateur!

Le donateur veut savoir exactement combien
de petits déjeuners seront servis avec son don.

Car s’il y a un marché de l’acheteur ou du vendeur dans le domaine immobilier, il y a également un parallèle dans le milieu caritatif et, soyez avertis, c’est le donateur – et personne d’autre – qui oriente désormais les actions caritatives. Et celles-ci ne doivent plus être saupoudrées par ci et là. Elles doivent maintenant avoir un impact concret. Le donateur veut savoir exactement combien de petits déjeuners seront servis avec son don, combien de sacs d’école seront offerts pour la rentrée et combien jeunes iront au camp de jour avec les dons recueillis.

Il s’agit pour les organismes d’un appel sans précédent à la transparence et à la réédition de compte, un virage extrêmement positif pour l’éthique philanthropique et pour construire des liens de confiance durables. Les organismes qui tireront leur épingle du jeu seront ceux qui sauront s’adapter à ce nouveau contexte de charité… 3.0.

Big Gifts for Social Justice Causes: Where are the Major Donors?

I once attended a professional workshop that dealt with understanding the lives of wealthy Canadians for the purpose of fundraising and major donor engagement. As someone who first made a career working in small community agencies and supporting social justice movements like the rights of migrant workers, my initial thought attending this session was that I had crossed some invisible border of privilege, and was now getting insights into the world of Major Gift fundraising.

We know major donors are important stakeholders in the lives of many nonprofit organizations. A small percentage of donors will often contribute more than half of the entire annual income of one organization.1 Yet individual major donors are not prominently engaged as supporters of social justice organizations, groups and movements. According to research in the U.S., 90% of philanthropic gifts go to what is considered ‘traditional philanthropy’ basically responding to symptoms of social problems but failing to address the root causes2. I feel this merits attention among those interested in raising money, awareness and action for critical community issues. If we want major donors to be allies of social justice causes and movements, then I would argue the importance of rethinking and enhancing fundraising strategies, while we also push for a radical reconception of the philanthropic sector in Canada.

A first assumption to consider is our feelings toward money, and more specifically our feelings toward the people WITH the money3. Major donor engagement is probably not going to be a priority for social justice advocates, if they believe that those with wealth are leading the way in maintaining an oppressive status quo and/or actively supporting the injustices advocates are seeking to address. Can’t argue too much with this logic. Social justice tackles the root causes of economic and political issues; it questions power and privilege, and at its core aspires for much needed profound world transformation. Now, if you happen to benefit directly from a system that enforces things like precarious immigration status, racial divide, low wages, gender inequality or environmental disruption, then your appetite to financially support a change to the system may be limited or nonexistent.

Meanwhile, if relationships fuel fundraising, then our ability as equity-seeking groups to engage with affluent Canadians may have limited reach. In many cases, we don’t live in the same neighborhoods, we didn’t go to the same schools, we speak with different accents and we hardly ever look the same. But is that it? Are social justice organizations and causes to then give up on the idea of major donors? Are we to miss on the incredible opportunity of having major donor(s) or establishing a major gifts program when others have done it successfully? And Is it all about the money? or the chance to bring new allies to our causes in order to work together collectively for change?

This past summer, the artist The Weeknd donated $250,000 to Black Lives Matters4. As a native of Scarborough and a son to Ethiopian Immigrants to Canada, I expect Abél Makkonen Tesfaye (The Weeknd’s real name) understands the importance of supporting and resourcing one of the most vibrant and relevant social movements to come along in years. Yet, I also believe that empathy and critical thinking alone can begin to build the foundation of the case for support of social justice work among other people. If “fundraising for social justice advocates is part of the work of organizing, educating and advocating”5, then we have the opportunity to bring people of diverse backgrounds together, reject the status quo and align ourselves to a common vision. Despite challenges, there are prospective donors that understand that to create lasting impact we need to focus on ‘systems change’ or in what some call Social Change Philanthropy6.

Many private Foundations, community leaders and fundraising experts have recognized the need to move away from ‘band-aid’ approaches, and engage in meaningful actions to bring forward solutions which require complex and collective efforts. Did I say complex? Informed individual donors and funders know that social change takes place when root causes and conditions are analyzed and a pathway for change is envisioned. Theory of Change (ToC) is a commonly accepted methodology now required by many funders, it is not only a planning tool but a process that also takes into consideration power dynamics. And when working for social justice, the direct involvement of those impacted by the injustices as decision makers and leaders is essential7.

People are calling for a paradigm shift in our understanding of the philanthropic sector in Canada. The recent discussions to change Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) regulations that unfairly limit the amount of advocacy and political activities by charitable organizations is a good sign8. There is increased public attention to having a charitable sector that plays an important role in policy development and in amplifying the voices of marginalized communities. I struggle to see organizations that while well-intended may at times be doing nothing to eradicate the issues it identifies. I believe that we can not become complicit by creating an industry of professionals that see little need to bring about radical systems change. As Martin Luther King Jr. said “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”9

Likewise, those passionately dedicating themselves (often as unpaid volunteers) to social justice causes, need to take a look at the incredible wealth of knowledge and expertise that resides among Fundraising professionals, including the process for engaging major donors. One lesson I learned this year in major giving, was that big gifts in nonprofit fundraising often come from people who are not necessarily wealthy, but who are generous10. A well thought out gifts plan or program needs to be developed in either case. Social justice groups cannot underestimate the importance of building a broader base of individual donors, this may include major donors and small contributions as well11. As stated by Cathy Mann in the role of Philanthropy in Collective Impact: “Fundraising is an established profession with a growing body of knowledge and research”12, those of us who working for social justice need to acknowledge this and find a way to invest in solid fundraising education. While the dinners, dances or concerts that I helped organized over the years, provided a supportive source of income and play a role in creating a sense of community, they are not sustainable in addressing ongoing underfunding of many incredible social justice groups and organizations.

Some in the U.S. are leading the way when it comes to combining fundraising education and grassroots organizing. The Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT) is a multiracial organization that promotes the connection between fundraising, social justice and movement-building13. They recently organized a national conference in Colorado entitled “Money for our Movements”, many of their resources are available online. The Association of Fundraising Professionals with chapters in the US, Canada and Mexico is another excellent first stop for those wishing to learn more about the Fundraising field.

I believe fundraising must be connected to everything we do in social justice organizing. I remain hopeful that major donor engagement can move to the forefront of fundraising strategies and resource development for those working for social change. I am not naïve to the challenges and hard work involved, as well as the ‘learn, try and fail’ that needs to occur. However, the more our vision of philanthropy is tied to a vision of significant systems change and social transformation, the easier it will be to find major donors to be part of our movements for justice.



  1. Starting a Major Gifts Program, Kim Klein. February 2016
  2. Social Justice and Progressive Philanthropy: A Subversive Activity. From: http://www.simonejoyaux.com/downloads/SubversiveActivity.pdf
  3. How to get Major Gifts from Individual Donors, Presentation by Ken Wyman. April 2016.
  4. National Post, August 2016. http://news.nationalpost.com/arts/celebrity/the-weeknd-donates-250000-to-black-lives-matter-network-50000-to-university-of-toronto
  5. Kim Klein, 2016. From: http://www.just-fair.co.uk/single-post/2016/08/08/Is-social-justice-fundraising-an-oxymoron
  6. Beyond floating babies to social change philanthropy. Cathy Mann. October 2015.
  7. Social Justice and Progressive Philanthropy: A Subversive Activity. From: http://www.simonejoyaux.com/downloads/SubversiveActivity.pdf
  8. The Philanthropist. From: http://thephilanthropist.ca/2016/08/a-consultation-on-the-future-of-policy-advocacy-by-charities-in-canada/
  9. Social Justice Philanthropy and Giving. From: http://resourcegeneration.org/resources/resource-library/social-justice-philanthropy-and-giving/
  10. How to get Major Gifts from Individual Donors, Presentation by Ken Wyman. April 2016.
  11. Kim Klein, 2016. From: http://www.just-fair.co.uk/single-post/2016/08/08/Is-social-justice-fundraising-an-oxymoron
  12. “The role of Philanthropy in Collective Impact” by Cathy Mann. July 2014
  13. Mission and History. From: http://www.grassrootsfundraising.org/

Grassroots Fundraising – Getting to the Root of the Issues

Whether it’s working with young people to help them understand the economic, social and environmental impacts of food or working together for collective liberation, grassroots organizations play an important role in society. They’re important because they help fill social, environmental and economic gaps, by bringing awareness and organizing around a social issue to provide resources to those directly impacted by societal inequity.

Grassroots groups are often a hub for innovation and they do amazing work on small budgets. They are largely volunteer driven and run by those most deeply impacted by the issues. This is important as people most deeply impacted by the issues have the best solutions to address them. They have the lived experience and know what they need.

That said, grassroots organizers often face barriers in fundraising, which include, but are not limited to: access to wealth networks, lack of resources to fundraise, the taboo around asking for money and the need to demonstrate urgency. Social marginalization plays a major role in creating barriers to grassroots organizers perceived credibility, which impacts their access to networks and resources.

To overcome some of these barriers, grassroots groups often find creative ways to fundraise, such as crowdfunding campaigns, especially when there’s momentum and they can tie their cause to an event or current salient movement. “Social media is a powerful tool for raising awareness, for both brands and causes. In addition to giving everyone with access a voice, it connects us all to diverse ideas, backgrounds, and cultures.”1 It can help spark ‘conversations’ and bring issues to the forefront. Social media can also be a useful tool in building networks of solidarity, where people support communities and organizations they’re not part of to meet goals because of shared values.

Partnership building can also help further community causes by connecting grassroots groups with funders and individuals that have access to wealth networks and resources. Partnering with businesses and service providers can help provide in-kind support that can be used to solicit donations or help fill resources gaps.

The Reading Partnership is an example of a community led initiative that is “driven by a spirit of innovation and collaboration.”2 The mandate of the program is to “empower parents to share and lead in teaching their children to read, while working collaboratively to promote literacy in the Kingston Galloway Orton Park (KGO) community.”3 “The initiative is currently run through the collaborative efforts of over 35 volunteers and 10 partnering agencies supporting the program in various ways.”4 This collaborative approach strengthens the resident led initiative by providing shared capacity and resources and bringing like-minded, committed people together.

While creativity, partnership and social media are valuable tools that can help grassroots groups thrive, they do not eliminate all the barriers that they face in fundraising. Social change work can be difficult to fundraise for because it is nuanced and difficult to measure. Unlike traditional charities, it is challenging for grassroots organizations to create a simple narrative around complex issues. They must work to address the root of a problem, as opposed to the symptoms, and there may be multiple solutions to a problem that only emerge over time. This requires donors to be comfortable making investments in organizations that may challenge the status quo and test multiple approaches that may or may not work.5

Non-traditional approaches to fundraising can help these groups navigate the system and help change the way they are perceived by potential donors and society. Traditional fundraisers and donors can also play a role by learning from, and being more open to, working with grassroots groups to create systemic change.

Community led initiatives, when successful, can help create the change needed to better our world. There is no linear approach, it may at times be messy, and change definitely does not happen overnight – it takes time.



  1. http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/oscarssowhite-how-social-media-raises-awareness-for-diversity-and-social-issues/634162
  2. http://readingpartnership.com/our-story.html
  3. http://readingpartnership.com/about-us.html
  4. http://readingpartnership.com/our-story.html
  5. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/beyond-floating-babies-social-change-philanthropy-cathy-mann?trk=prof-post

Can Philanthropy Learn From Social Movements Like #BlackLivesMatter & Efforts To Stop Anti LGBTQ Laws Like Bill 1523?

Imagine if institutional philanthropy could be strengthened by the kind of mutual trust that social movements are getting by matching fundraising strategies with movement building principles. Nonprofits and foundations should consider different ways to build connections with increasingly diverse people who also focus on news and movements which are not always mainstream. Strong citizen organizations and movements are based on shared identity, collective experiences, and a strong organizing framework.

It seems that there are three key lessons which fundraisers should consider when engaging diverse donor communities if some of the more potent social movements are to serve as an example for future growth.

Lesson 1:

Connect with the emotions of a news story or a policy change to leverage action:

Networks like #BlackLivesMatter have built without governance policies and practices. Often, they aim to gather people with shared values around a common theme. Ultimately, they change what society thinks about issues like race, gender, justice, and poverty. The authenticity of these groups builds the kind of urgency and outreach which mainstream philanthropy shops lack. This new breed of social activists captures all of the energy of the most effective bottom-up movements.

Lesson 2:

Use technology to reduce the time and costs of collective action:

Institutional philanthropy must seek to facilitate collective action especially under challenging conditions. Digital ties need to be forged that link connected people preoccupied with information to social change. When digital technology is used to lead the way to a future where everyone benefits, it becomes possible to raise a tide which lifts all boats even when some boats seem to have holes. Mobile is at the centre of these campaigns and we have not even scratched the surface of mobile’s potential to change the world so inclusive fundraising should examine the opportunity which digital technology creates for connecting with diverse audiences.

Lesson 3:

Understand the power of a hashtag:

The hashtag symbol (#) allows people to gather behind a common agenda instead of simply throwing ideas to the wind. The hashtag also allows people to be a part of a larger conversation and a symbol of advocacy. While some have argued that hashtag activism is activism for a lazy generation (also coined ‘slacktivism’), movements like #BlackLivesMatter have proven effective in maintaining the conversation and mobilizing the community to action. While hashtag activism is on the rise, work is still required to deepen an understanding of the return on investment for organizations when it comes to making the connection between online activism and actual results.

As philanthropy examines ways in which underserved and under-represented communities can be empowered, we need to consider ways to serve the public good while being responsive to people and communities with the least wealth and opportunity.


Photo credit: David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Lessons from the Civil Rights Movement – Part I


  • practical benevolence, esp. charity on a large scale – Oxford English Dictionary
  • the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes – oxforddictionaries.com
  • goodwill to fellow members of the human race; especially: active effort to promote human welfare – merriam-webster.com
  • an act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes – merriam-webster.com

I’m reading Harry Belafonte’s “My Song” which is an absolute delight. For me, it’s one of those books that – although you’d like to devour it in one shot because it’s that captivating – you have to savour in small doses because it’s also very insightful and thought provoking. So as I have been reading my way through, there have been a few sections that I’ve had to re-read and absorb before moving on. What does this have to do with diversity, inclusion, philanthropy? Everything.

Based on the definitions of philanthropy above, numerous acts of goodwill and charity are happening all around us everyday – some well-known, others not so much and still many others, completely unnoticed. I’d like to use this opportunity to share with you excerpts of “My Song” which tell part of one of the many philanthropic stories throughout history that a Google search might not necessarily produce.

The phone rang late in the evening in My New York apartment. It was the night of August 4, 1964. A night of grief and anger for all of us in the civil rights movement, but especially those in Mississsippi. “We’ve got a crisis on our hands down here,” the young man on the line said. “We need help.”

At the start of that fateful summer, hundreds of volunteers, most of them students, many of them white, all of them knowing how dangerous the work would be, had come down from northern universities to register black voters and support rural blacks in pursuit of their civil rights.

I’d helped raise a lot of the money to launch Mississippi freedom summer. I’d called all the top entertainers I knew – Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Henry Fonda, Marlon Brando… Dick Gregory, and more – to ask that they give money directly or participate in benefit concerts. That money bought a lot of gas and cars, housing and food. But now more was needed. A lot more.

“What do you need?” I asked.

“At least fifty thousand dollars.”

I told him I’d get it, one way or the other.

I had to think hard about where that money might come from. I could tap my own savings for the whole $50,000. I’d written a check to SNCC for an amount not much smaller than that in its early days to help establish it, and others since then. For me it was “anything goes”, but I owed it to my family to keep us financially safe. Paul Robeson, the extraordinary actor, singer and activist whose path I’d try to follow my whole adult life, had given so much money to social causes that he’d left himself vulnerable to his enemies, chief among them the federal government.
My wife, Julie, started pulling together a New York fundraiser at our West End Avenue apartment. I flew to Chicago. Irv Kupcinet, as powerful a columnist in his city as Walter Winchell was in New York, gathered dozens of guests at his home on a day or two’s notice. White guests, bearing checkbooks. Why did I as a black performer, have such sway with Irv and his friends? Galvanized by the shocking news of volunteers’ murders, Irv’s guests thrust cash and checks at me – $35,000 worth – as if I was the personal emissary of the civil rights movement. After making a trip to Montreal, I had another $20,000.

When I got back to New York, Julie and I took in $15,000 more from our own apartment fundraiser. I’d hoped to raise $100,000, but $70,000 would have to do. I felt pretty good about that sum of money.

My Song- A Memoir of Art, Race and Defiance
Harry Belafonte with Michael Shnayerson

Pretty heavy stuff. And while the overriding moral of the story is about social justice, it also draws attention to key principles that guide our work in fundraising today – why people give, ways to give, prospecting, making the ask, etc. And – most of all – learning to celebrate our successes – big or small – instead of focusing on the fact that we didn’t make budget.