Avi Cummings attended North Star Fund’s Strategic Giving Workshop this spring. The purpose of the workshop was to enable participants to become more strategic donors by examining power dynamics in giving, exploring best practices for making giving decisions, and providing strategies for leveraging networks and inspiringothers to support social change.
Whether giving ten dollars a month or ten thousand dollars a year, many of us who identify as donors may not imagine ourselves as fundraisers. We often tell a story that sounds something like this: One group, the fundraisers, diligently writes appeal letters, throws parties, and passes hats at meetings. The other group, the donors, takes out their wallets and checkbooks and contributes what they can. Both groups love the organizations they support, but rarely overlap.
At North Star Fund’s Strategic Giving Workshop, facilitators Yasmeen Perez and cori parrish turned this story on its head: Fundraisers can be donors, donors can be fundraisers, and the more ways we support and sustain our movements, the stronger they will be.
The workshop was designed to provide prospective and current donors with networking, information sharing, and leadership development opportunities. What we learned is that being a strategic donor really means bringing these two groups, fundraisers and donors, together. For donors in particular, this means learning fundraising skills, leveraging our networks, and organizing other donors to sustain our movements.
Like many others in our group, I came to the workshop wearing multiple hats. I fundraise as a staff member at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and I organize with Resource Generation, a national organization that mobilizes young people with wealth and privilege to work in cross-class coalitions towards the equitable redistribution of land, wealth, and power.
I came to the workshop looking for strategic giving strategies that include not just donating but thinking about fundraising as a form of organizing. This means building a fundraising culture in which it’s clear, on all sides, that donors need movements as much as movements need donors. It also means that since the majority of people who donate do so through community ties, we need to build a culture in which donors are engaged as community members invested in and accountable to the work.
Continuing in North Star Fund’s tradition of organizing donors to give more and give more responsibly, Yasmeen and cori taught us new frameworks for approaching fundraising as organizing and equipped us with a toolkit of concrete skills to leverage our networks and to support the movements we care about and are a part of to build a better world.
Straight from the workshop, here are some rules that I want to live by:
1. Being a strategic donor means giving as generously as I can. It also means fundraising, and approaching fundraising as a form of organizing. The more donors we engage, the more money we move and the more people we organize into our movements. When we engage people as donors, we also need to teach people how to keep donor networks growing. More fundraisers means more people working to increase the number of dollars going to people directly affected by injustice to organize themselves, and helping movements grow stronger for the long road ahead. As fundraisers and donor organizers, our job is to help people figure out their stakes in our movements and get invested.
2. Giving is better together. Whether you’re in a giving circle, a funding project, or part of a community foundation, giving with others shifts a historical pattern in which individual donors, particularly those with the most wealth, have the most decision-making power. Fundraising and giving through a collective process helps challenge power dynamics, encourages accountability, and increases our impact because we are connecting across our differences and prioritizing the vision and commitments of those most impacted by systemic oppression.
3. Good fundraising is like good dating. There are clear requests and guidelines, realistic expectations, mutual consent, consistency or clarity on the timeframe (e.g., when can the organization expect you to make a gift?), willingness to challenge power dynamics, active engagement in the process, and appreciation. Donations can boil down to transactions without a face or a name, but more often than not, successful fundraising is done with people, through conversations, political education, and relationship building over time.
North Star Fund’s provides prospective and current donors with networking, information sharing, and leadership development opportunities. We hope these opportunities will inspire and motivate donors to advance the mission of North Star Fund by advocating for progressive approaches to philanthropy and deepening their commitment to grassroots social change led by communities directly impacted by injustice.
For more information about upcoming events and activities, contact Helen StillmanDirector of Donor Programs at Helen@northstarfund.org.