Fundraisers are sometimes accused of being prone to hyperbole. Yet to say we, as a society, have never had a year like 2020 would not be an overstatement. It seems that everywhere we turn, we can find evidence that the better angels of our collective nature have gone missing. x
In spite of this, there are many among us who continue to fight the good fight. Many of us work for community benefit organizations (CBOs) whose mission it is to advance a safe and equitable society—to end racial injustice, to house the homeless, to feed the hungry, and to meet the health care needs of our society’s most vulnerable residents. In order to make good on the promise of our organization’s mission and to remain a steadfast resource for those we serve, we rely on the continued support of the larger community. We rely on those with resources sharing with those who don’t. This means that running a year-end fundraising campaign is not only inevitable, but essential.
When, like now, it seems like despair could easily rule the day, requesting financial support for our work can feel incongruent with what we see all around us. I don’t need to recount the horrific toll – you already know. The thing is, it can feel out of touch, or even cold-hearted, to ask for support when such deep suffering calls out for peoples’ money and attention.
If you are concerned about your year-end fundraising, you are in good company. From executive directors to frontline fundraising staff, we are all grappling with how to balance the needs of our constituents and our donors with the crisis of the day. Feelings of powerlessness that come up can be debilitating and demoralizing. It’s easy to feel like what we do doesn’t matter or that it isn’t enough. And some days that may even be true. But, like everything else, it’s not always true. There are actions we can take today to step more fully into our power and, not only that, provide our donors with an opportunity to do the same.
I am optimistic about the future of our country, the future of philanthropy, and the continued ability of our mission-based organizations to carry out their work. For every dark-hearted individual seeking to oppress others and for every politician putting their self-interests before those they were elected to serve, there are millions of people who care about their neighbors, give generously from their hearts, and are quiet long enough to listen to those whose voices need to be heard. In my line of work, I’ve met quite a few of them—and I bet you have, too.
One of the biggest reasons people take politics so personally is that their political beliefs are directly tied to their personal values—as is philanthropy. In its truest form, philanthropy is a means to align one’s resources with one’s values to meet humanities’ greatest needs. We have not only an opportunity, but perhaps a moral obligation, to empower those who share our organization’s values by inviting them into the solution. To keep this invitation to ourselves, or to share with only the uber wealthy, is a great disservice to our donors and to our institutions.
By any measure, there is a lot of collective pain and confusion in the world right now. So yes, we may feel uncomfortable soliciting year-end gifts. And yes, there may be other organizations whose mission may seem more closely aligned with today’s most pressing issues. But it is not our job to decide for our donors where to invest their philanthropic dollars. Our job is to invite them into the solution, to align their resources with their personal values and, in doing so, to make the world a safer, healthier, more welcoming place.
I truly believe that fundraisers have one of the best jobs in the world. We have the privilege of helping generous people use their resources in a way that is personally meaningful while making a positive impact on the greater good. And there has never been a greater need for values-based philanthropy than there is today. We still have a lot of work to do. Let’s not quit now.