This semester I was able to attend the international conference for the Association of Fundraising Professionals along with many of my fellow Humanics scholars. A standout session for me was held on the first day – “What If the Answers Were All Around Us? Fundraising Bright Spots”. I was drawn to this session because one of the speakers was the author of our Philanthropy and Grantmaking textbook Fundraising for Social Change. In a conference with a sea of choices, it always feels good to know you’ve made a great choice and that’s exactly how I felt attending this session. Presenters, Kim Klein and Jeanne Bell, were sharing their report “The Fundraising Bright Spots” highlighting lessons learned from 16 social change organizations that are successful fundraisers.

The workshop started with a staggering fact, in the United States, 70% of adults reported giving money to community benefit organizations. That’s more than vote, volunteer, or attend a house of worship. This is consistent with what we’ve learned in our classes, that the majority of giving is done by individual donors. So, what does this mean for fundraising? It means that people like to give and that donors build power.

The speakers focused on four key themes.

  1. Fundraising is core to the organization’s identity.
  2. Fundraising is distributed broadly across staff, board, and volunteers.
  3. Fundraising succeeds when it’s a relational process.
  4. Fundraising is characterized by a systemic approach to donor engagement and continuous improvement.

Overall, people in an organization should feel comfortable communicating what they do and how and it will connect them to like-minded people. I highlighted that connecting with people who want to give to your cause doesn’t just connect you to donors, but it helps to build people power behind an issue. I also appreciated the fact that they said it’s more important to work the system you have and continue to improve it, rather than focusing on attaining a “perfect system”.

Drawing from personal experience in the CBO sector, I asked the speakers how to approach the issue of capacity in an organization where everyone has a full plate and fundraising seems like an extra task placed on top. The response they gave is something I want to keep practicing. They said we should work on adding fundraising as a sentence to what we’re already doing. If we’re sharing about the many wonderful things our programs and organizations are doing in the community we should also be adding that fundraising sentence to it. The analogy they used is the way grandparents can bring up their grandkids into any conversation they’re having.

I loved this workshop because it specifically focused on fundraising for social change work. Now, more than ever, people want to support issues they’re passionate about and it’s part of our work to build those relationships and connections. Two key quotes that stuck with me from the workshop:

“The work of social change is not to let professionalism get in the way of doing the work. The work is movement building, not being a professional.” This was was in reference to the fact that fundraising is a process anyone can engage in, not just professionals. Everyone in your organization should feel comfortable doing it, and it shouldn’t just be the domain of development staff. This fits in with the second and closing quote: “Fundraising work is the sister of organizing work”. This workshop gave me a new and needed perspective to fundraising. People are going to give, and we need to feel comfortable building these relationships based on shared values and a desire to create change in our communities.

Another big takeaway for me is that Fresno State students and CBO leaders need to be in these spaces. Not only do we bring knowledge and perspectives that are important and often left out of these conversations, but we also learn new perspectives that we can share with our colleagues. I am very appreciative to the Humanics program for helping us get there, and I want to share the opportunity to invest in students learning about philanthropy by sharing the link where you can donate to the Humanics program and our 2017 AFP fundraising campaign: http://www.humanicsfresnostate.org/invest-in-humanics/donate/. Thank you! 

With Kim Klein