The Season of Giving Differently

I’ve now been a fundraiser for 25 years and a donor for much longer than that.  I remember when I was invited to sit on a panel with a couple other major donors of color, and I was asked if I’d change anything about how I was asked for money.  I said, “Yes, absolutely.”  The audience listened attentively.

“When I was a CEO, making lots of money, I was rarely approached at events. I was never courted to be a major donor and I found that surprising.  I believe it was because folks assumed I didn’t have money as a disabled woman of color.” I could see the looks on some of the faces.  I saw shock and disbelief.  Had I really just pointed out the prejudice in an already prejudicial system for preferential treatment of people based on their economic status?  Yep, I sure had.

Others smiled as I listed the benefits I felt I had been cheated out of in this club of philanthropic angels.  I told my audience, and ghosts of fundraisers past, that I wanted the same things that had been done for White donors.  (I heard more nervous laughter from my listeners.)

I wanted to be taken to lunch. I wanted to be called for my advice.  I wanted folks to thank me with a handwritten note.  I wanted whole Development Departments to ponder my title, my age, the correct spelling of my name, and more.  In fact, all the same things I had done for thousands of White donors throughout my career.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I love pleasing donors of all giving levels, of all colors, of all backgrounds.  It’s been a calling and it chose me.  But I’m sad for the missed opportunities of diverse generosity that our collective racism and classism have stolen from us – especially during this season.

It’s possible that almost everything about philanthropy is classist since it was built on rewarding benefactors and patrons.  I say, let’s take back the term “philanthropy,” and make it about you and me.  Let’s change whom we honor on our donor pages.

And this year-end, as you work hard for social justice, and fundraise to change the future, don’t be surprised if your next donor looks like me.

1 Response

  1. Thank you for your generous comments. I think fundraisers in many social movements are always torn about how to fundraise without using unjust preferential treatment of some donors. All donors deserve respect and want to be recognized for their valuable support. At the same time, development teams are sometimes 1-2 person teams, and they cannot possibly court all donors. So we create major donor strategies or programs that exclude by their very definition. Of course, this is classist. But the problem is then compounded when high net asset wealth is almost entirely racially and gender-exclusive–making it classist, racist, and male dominated.

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