Illustration by Yuxin Qin
There is increasing recognition that philanthropy is founded upon antiquated principles and values of the wealthy elite. Rockefeller’s and Carnegie’s philanthropy continues to remain the main model for funding nonprofits, yet with increasing diversity (over the next two decades minorities will comprise more than half the population) these models based on white dominant norms will become increasingly irrelevant. Fundraising practices reflect the divisive, destabilizing and limiting function of today’s philanthropy, which is often centered on the needs and wants of white donors. Centering donor needs, rather than community needs, limits potential for better community solutions that are innovative and relevant.
The current fundraising model is donor-centric fundraising, which is based on building relationships and creating tailored approaches to engage donors in giving. While donor-centric fundraising has effectively raised funds for the nonprofit sector, there are challenges to using this approach.
Therefore, calls for fundamental shifts in philanthropy are necessary and important if the sector is to truly reflect the needs of the community and stop perpetuating systemic oppression and white supremacy. Yet, while this fundamental system change in philanthropy takes place, what can fundraisers do now to fundraise from an equity lens to encourage this change? There is so much to learn from community-centric fundraising practices and professionals in the field who are already doing the work of equity, that can function in a donor-centric environment.
These strategies are only the beginning of the work of equity, which requires stamina and audacious action. However, fundraisers can begin this work now and create an environment for change by altering donor expectations and centering community need. In this way, as Edgar Villanueva describes in Decolonizing Wealth, leaders can be “bridge builders” that “envision opportunities for change.” This will ensure the sector remains relevant, ethical, and most importantly, better for all communities.
Daniela Figueroa is a 2021 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University and director of programs for Youth On Their Own. Daniela has worked with Youth On Their Own for six years and serves on the Metropolitan Education Commission of the City of Tucson and Pima County, and also serves as the chair of the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness board, the continuum of care for the county.