Just over 15 years ago, I wrote a thesis on feminist fundraising. Two mighty powerful F words. This blog post is a little self-indulgent, as I revisit that thesis, but I think you'll appreciate it.
At the time, fundraising was considered a "bad word" for most feminist organizations in Canada (some would argue it still is). The idea was that the government should be funding these important programs and services that work to protect, empower and uplift our community's most vulnerable and marginalized. Fundraising was/is considered bad because money creates power imbalances in society. Wealth and money is part of the systemic problems we are fighting against. I get it.
In my thesis I argued two main points, which I believe hold up today:
1. we cannot rely on the government to support social change
2. we can put ownership and control of our organizations in the hands of our communities by leveraging broad-based giving
If you have some time and are interested in a bit of a laugh, feel free to read the whole thing here. A lot has changed in how we talk about social change since I wrote the thesis, so please forgive the outdated framework.
Why not government?
In Canada, most social justice organizations I've worked for or with believe that the government is responsible for funding their work. And while I believe that to be true ideally, we are wise enough to know that it isn't reality. By nature, government exists to support status quo. That is how they are elected. Sure, they can and should fund important work in our society, but organizations that want to see real or radical change aren't going to make that happen solely with government funding.
That's where fundraising comes in. Fundraising helps you find donors who are aligned with the change you want to see in the world and helps you mobilize their resources with your expertise to make that change happen. There are plenty of donors at all levels who want to be part of your movement.
Broad-based giving as a redistribution of power
I've spent a lot of time in my career working on major gifts, which is an incredibly important fundraising stream for nonprofits. However, I believe broad-based giving is the most aligned with feminist principles. Let me explain. The act of making a donation for social change organizations is a way of exerting control over the organization, its impact and its future. Organizations should be accountable to their communities and as such, the organizations should be asking their communities (whom they serve) to also be supporters. I've seen so many organizations not ask people for support because the organization feels it can determine who can and can't give, or who has or doesn't have "capacity". To quote myself, "asking certain individuals for donations is a form of empowering those individuals and allowing them to take control over issues and effect social change." The more people we engage in fundraising, the less centralized control there is over the organization and the more we are accountable to our community.
Of course, today we understand feminism from an intersectionality perspective and the #metoo campaign has given voice to the power imbalance that exists for women in all sectors and within fundraising. Perhaps it's time to reinvest in feminist fundraising?
So, what do you think? Does my thesis still hold weight today?