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five fallacies of fundraising with Nicole McVan and Tanya Rumble

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We love busting myths in this podcast and in this episode, we are diving into more fundraising fallacies and why most of them are actually harmful for our beneficiaries, donors and relationships in our sector.

Here to share their Five Fallacies of Fundraising are Tanya Rumble and Nicole McVan. These two have been showing up on virtual stages for a while now and I’m so excited to have them on the podcast to share their framework and how it can help organizations and fundraisers.

Together, Tanya and Nicole created a Community of Practice as a dedicated space for collective wisdom focused on dismantling harmful aspects of philanthropy and discuss the harmful “best practices” that were taught to us, and continue to perpetuate in fundraising and philanthropy.

Tanya and Nicole's Five Fallacies of Fundraising:

  1. Wealth is built by the smartest and most capable people. In fundraising, we often think of white donors pictured with a racialized person or community member who's benefited from the funds that they donated. As fundraisers, we need to acknowledge the structural advantages that allowed donors to build their wealth and debunk the myth that they gained it only based on merit because this narrative creates more harm and deepens inequity in philanthropy.

  2. The donor is always right. The donor-first-at-all-cost mentality essentially gives away all of the power and creates zero or very limited boundaries for the individual fundraiser and for the organization. If we continue to please and follow our donors it will be difficult to feel a sense of control and can have a negative impact on the direction of our program and mission.

  3. Donor centricity should trump everything else. Fundraisers should not subjugate ourselves, keep donors away from work and give away our power. Donors, by and large, don't want to be on this pedestal. Oftentimes it's the charity themselves that creates these recognition grids for donors. This fills the sector with unrealistic expectations from donors and later on drains the resources of the organization for stewardship and donor recognition.

  4. Beneficiaries are deficient and need a donor to save them. Saviorism is when we center ourselves in the story instead of our beneficiaries. As fundraisers, we need to take an asset-based lens when we talk about our communities and beneficiaries that have identities that have been structurally disadvantaged from time immemorial, and we need to be thoughtful about how we position those.

  5. Resources are scarce, and we must fight each other for funding. Charities and fundraisers are worried about losing donors because our sector is built on a scarcity mindset of there's never enough, and we're constantly having to go out there to earn the money to be able to survive. But the reality is there are tons of folks out there who think about your charity in a different way.

Favourite Quotes from Today’s Episode

Post your favourite quote on social media to share with us!

“We're not fundraising for fundraising's sake. We're fundraising to make a difference. And if we miss an opportunity to connect with the hearts and minds of our donors, to help them understand how they could change the behavior, not just give money, we're missing a massive opportunity to move our missions forward.” - Nicole M.

“What we tend to do is when we talk about our donors, we talk about all the things, the triumphs and things that they've overcome as a way of diminishing their structural advantage and the privileges that they've benefited from. And then when we talk about our beneficiaries, we talk about them in a way that's not very dignified. That seems to exploit all the things, the structural disadvantages and systemic barriers that have been in their way, and doesn't really adequately talk about the systems of oppression that they've personally experienced. And so we need to flip that around and talk about all of our stakeholders with an asset-based lens that really shines the light on all of the things, all the community assets and benefits that they have working together.” - Tanya R.

Resources from this Episode

Nicole McVan | LinkedIn

Tanya Hannah Rumble, CFRE, MFA-P™ | LinkedIn


Cindy W.: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. I'm really excited for today's conversation because we are diving into some myths or fallacies around fundraising, and I've heard our guests speak before and they are phenomenal, and I just want to know, yeah, clap my hands or show yes to everything they say.

So we're going to have so much fun really busting down some of the power dynamics that a lot of people assume exist in fundraising. And our role as nonprofit workers and fundraisers in deconstructing that power because we are not powerless. I think that's one thing I've taken away from listening to our guests in the past.

We definitely don't have all the power, but we can take action. Yeah, let's dive in. My name is Cindy Wagman and I'm your host of The Small Non-profit podcast, where we bring you practical down-to-earth advice on how to get more done for your smaller organization, you are going to change, we're just here to help.

So with that, it is such a pleasure to welcome Tanya Rumble and Nicole McVan to the podcast. Tanya works at advancement at the Toronto Metropolitan University and is the mom to a very energetic two-year-old. And Nicole is the VP of Philanthropy and Marketing at the United Way of Greater Toronto. They're also the first-time coach for their son's little league team, which I love. And I had to confirm what little league was because my kids are not into baseball at all. So Tanya, and Nicole, welcome to the podcast.

Nicole M.: Thanks so much for having us. We're thrilled to be here.

Cindy W.: I'm so excited about this conversation. I've been watching what you two have been doing in the sector. I feel like this is a long-overdue conversation on our podcast. Let's start with what you've. I've heard you present the five fallacies of fundraising, but before we dive into those tell us a little bit about what is a huge question? So I'll let you answer how you want, what got us here? What are some of the challenges that people in our sector are facing or frustrations that have led to you doing this work?

Nicole M.: Yeah I'll take that. So Tanya and I both are full-time fundraisers who have been in the sector for, 10 and 20 years and grew up learning how I grew up in the sector. And learning some best practices in air quotes. And we used to work together. We don't anymore, but we've always stayed connected. And so a few years ago through, in front of our chats, we were just talking about how challenging we find fundraising in terms of some of the myths that we have been taught.

And so really this work that we do together is just unraveling that. And we really come from a place of love for philanthropy and the belief that philanthropy can change the world and like anything that you love, you want to keep making it better. And that's, that's how we come to this work. And so we have five fallacies that we've codified and essentially there are things we've learned over time that are actually pretty harmful to donor relationships, to the sector, to the humans in it. And we give presentations, we run a community of practice. We do a lot of work around making sure that people understand this and think about tangible ways to change the way we work for the better.

Cindy W.: Thank you. So before we started recording, we were talking about one of the fallacies. So I want to start with that one if you're okay with that. I don't know if you usually present in a specific order, but this one is timely because there's a lot going on in the world right now. And organizations have a history of, feigning neutrality, like we can't speak up about this. And that's one of those fallacies that organizations must remain neutral. And you say that's absolutely not true. So let's talk about that. What happens when we are neutral?

Tanya R.: So I think, Cindy, as you said, there is no such thing as being neutral. Everyone has a point of view, a perspective, and a position that they'll take. And I think that if our, if the charitable sector was inherently neutral, then we wouldn't have made meaningful gains on things like food security and poverty alleviation over the past 40, 50 years. And so I think a lot of organizations, their origin story, and they were started at of this idea of taking a position may be at the time it was a radical position.

But even if you're working on something that can be seeming as like universally worthy as like heart disease or education, every institution has values that drive the way in which they're delivering on their mission. And so I think for a lot of organizations, they forget that and they don't remember like their initial like origins and what started them, which was taking a position on something saying, we can do better on this.

We can change the world. We can change this cause, we can change the base of this disease. And so they tend to focus their position statements only around their mission, but then when it comes to social justice issues or human rights abuses that feel adjacent to the mission are not directly tied to the work they're sadly silent.

And I think the most recent example of this would be the massacre in Buffalo on the weekend. And president Biden actually referred to it as white terrorism. He said it was white terrorism and so people were happy that he named it terrorism, but I found that hugely problematic.

The idea that its white terrorism means that terrorism inherently is not white, but having to name it as white terrorism means that all acts about all other acts of terrorism are committed by black and brown folks. That's hugely problematic in and of itself, but beyond how he responded to it. I think there's this idea that very few people acknowledged me as a racialized black woman, as a colleague, a friend, and a peer. Whereas two years ago, I was constantly getting text messages and people checking in with, how are you doing George Floyd, Ahmod Arbery. Like every time there was a tragedy and the shooting of an unarmed black person, I had friends and colleagues reaching out. That's not happening anymore.

And I'm not saying people don't care about me or that they, want to support me, not bad at all, but I think that, the public attention and the momentum around this work are completely shifted. And so folks, organizations who posted a black square, or how to position on the shooting of George Floyd are I've moved away from that and have absconded their responsibilities around responding to the ongoing tragedies that impact black, brown, trans queer folks, Muslim folks, Jewish folks anyone who has an identity, that's more marginalized.

And so neutrality is not a thing. And one of the things I always say is that charities, even if they're volunteer-run, their mission is delivered by people. Even if their focus is on animal welfare or climate, they are only able to exist because of the people that deliver those programs and services that advocate on their behalf. And so remaining neutral and not having a stance and not responding when there's Roe V Wade and reproductive white rights are being curtailed, trans rights are being curtailed all over the US. Black folks and brown folks are being massacred.

There is no such thing as neutrality. What you're actually saying is we don't care. It's not relevant enough for us to say anything. So you're not being neutral. You're just actually, saying that your position is not to weigh in because it doesn't matter enough to you and it's, not important. And so therefore the folks that are impacted by those tragedies and those human rights abuses are also not important to you. I know Nicole has more to say on this.

Nicole M.: And I think to tie that back to philanthropy and why we talk about this is a lot of charities and fundraisers are worried about losing donors. Because our sector is built on a scarcity mindset of there's never enough, and we're constantly having to go out there to earn the money to be able to survive, especially small.

I think the small nonprofits maybe don't have large reserves or endowments, but the reality is there are tons of folks out there who think about your charity in a different way. If you post there are a lot of folks not giving to art organizations because they don't think that we're bold enough and strong enough.

And so shifting from that scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset is really critical. When we look at a fallacy like this feel the courage to be able to public post public policy agendas do advocacy as part of your donor engagement events and learn how to talk to your donors about these critical issues.

As a queer person, if a charity who is not specifically. Supporting the LGBTQ plus community, but supporting human rights comes out and talks to me about what they're doing or why they care. I'm going to be a lot more interested in their organization than if they remain neutral on that. So that's it's a difficult one for organizations to work through, but it feels probably the most essential given the times we're living in right now.

Cindy W.: Absolutely. And I think, I've definitely witnessed that scarcity mindset that you talk about and the fear. And I always tell organizations, like not, everyone's supposed to be your donor, and the more that you're clear around who, who is your donor? The more you can confidently step into that position of speaking out and speaking up, but it's hard. And I, we're talking to, obviously our listeners, sometimes they're executive directors. Sometimes there are people who have, the who are in a position where they can decide to make a statement or not.

And other times we're working in organizations where we don't feel like we're in a position. And I know you both have talked about that before that we don't always have to be in a position of traditional power to be able to speak out. Now, we might not be able to speak on behalf of the organization, but what are some ways that we can make shifts or, lead within the organization to get to a place of understanding that this is actually our role as an organization.

Nicole M.: Yeah, absolutely. And I think some of those shifts occur if we look at another fallacy, which is the donor is always, which is my personal favorite, because it's so incorrect.

I think as we look at, how we shift our culture and our practices, looking at this one it's helpful. So this kind of donor first at all cost, mentality essentially gives away all of the power and creates zero or very limited boundaries for the individual fundraiser and for the organization. If you're constantly retelling yourself to meet the requests of a donor this is where we slide into a couple of things.

One is as an individual fundraiser, it's extremely difficult to feel any sense of control. If you feel like whatever the donors asking for, you have to deliver, whether that's a program that actually is more adjacent to your mission than actually supporting your mission, or whether it's, creating recognition or engagement opportunities that your organization wouldn't do to satisfy the needs of a donor.

And then the other piece here is around the mission draft. And for nonprofits, as Tanya said, everybody started with a purpose some type of goal in mind. And so many nonprofits, say, try and put themselves out of business by solving this problem. Well, when you come at it from the donors always you're essential, you're saying we're happy for you to help direct our mission.

And it's good to get input from stakeholders, but oftentimes donors come to our organizations because they believe in what we do. And they're looking for advice and expertise on how to deliver some of that impact. And so it's actually a much better relationship with a donor, if you set boundaries if you set expectations and you're able to have real conversations to say, that's a very interesting idea. It's not actually something we're going to pursue. And here's why. And you can do that on our mission side. But the example that I think a lot of fundraisers know about is this idea of a donor saying you should run a gala event and we know how expensive families are. We know like how much work they are.

And we also know they don't have the best ROI there are reasons to do them, but they're not necessarily the best. And so being able to say no to the gala, being able to say no to a restricted program that isn't going to help your mission with. Can actually build much stronger relationships with donors than just giving in.

So that's a really important one. And that was one is we talk about how do you make that shift? It has to, you have to ensure the leadership is 100% behind you before you move into that as a fundraiser. And so this starts with boards, CEOs leaders of fundraising departments to say, I've got your back. If you need to send no if you need to walk away from something, I am willing to do that with you and stand beside you on that journey. And that's a really core element. So fundraisers don't feel like they're out swinging in the wind. Yeah.

Cindy W.: Amazing. And I'm going to plug you, usually, we don't plug things until the end, but you have both of you have a community of practice that I think, one, there are resources to help work with and have these conversations within your organization, bring them out to the community of practice, having listened to podcasts, episodes, or webinars, or, conference sessions that you've been at just to get that conversation starting started. There are, you don't have to go from scratch. There's already, this conversation has ha has been had in the sector. So we'll link that in the show notes, but I highly encourage everyone to participate.

Tanya R.: I think the reality is we need a lot of small actions and we need lots of folks, and stakeholders engaged in this work. Like it's going to take a multifactorial approach to actually address, oppression. And like these systemic barriers that exist in the profession and the practice of philanthropy. And so our community of practice was born out of that. It's like space because often when we're in our workplaces, we may not feel like we actually have the support to have these conversations. We need brave spaces where we can talk about, like the wild and crazy profession of fundraising and the specific dynamics that are right for Prussian, when you have money and you have one person who wants it and needs it. And another person with that resource, like that is just a dynamic that is, a perfect storm for oppression, for sexual abuse, for trauma, for other forms of harm and oppression.

And so we created that community of practice as a way to create space to have these dialogues where I think it's often really difficult to have them in your work culture. And you need that, you need the collective wisdom, frankly, also to work through these big weighty challenges and also to sustain the momentum. This work can feel isolating I think these conversations can feel isolating. You want to find people that want to be in the community that is equally invested in this work. And I think that what will help sustain this and move this work forward is the collective.

Cindy W.: Yeah. And you mentioned small steps, which I think is also really important to keep in mind. These are big, as you've also mentioned, big issues, big things that need to change humongous shifts in our sector. And sometimes that can be really overwhelming where we feel frozen in not taking action. And I definitely think a lot of people can relate to that. And I'm sure in my experience, I've also done that where something just feels so big that you don't know where to start.

So let's talk a little bit about how to. Aside from the community practice, like where do we start if we see, for example, that donor is always right. We start to have those conversations or maybe it's not, going from zero to 60 zero to 160 seconds, maybe it's, let's start with one piece of the puzzle.