Fundraising should not be about raising funds (wait…what?)

A few of us also need to raise our sights

Without question, fundraising is an important, noble practice that allows nonprofits to do a lot of good in the world.

But if fundraisers’ goal is to raise funds at all costs, we’re missing the point – and maybe doing harm in the process.

Philanthropy writer Vu Le calls out fundraisers for putting up with some terrible donor behaviors. In the mono-focused pursuit of funds, he says, we can “charity-wash wealthy people’s tax avoidance,” “conscience-launder for corporations,” and “train wealthy people to believe that they should automatically have a say in which societal issues should get addressed.”

Tough to hear. But point taken: If we believe our sector exists to build a better society, our fundraising practices need to reflect that belief as well. You might say “the ends justify the means” – but do they? Always? As Vu puts it, “What is the point of raising tons of money … if through our fundraising practices we perpetuate the very inequities and injustices we are raising money to fight?”

If we are to be true to our missions and values, the primary goal of fundraising can’t be to raise money.  How do we navigate this thicket? Here’s a start: read up on “community-centric fundraising.” It’s a movement that advocates for fundraising practices that put the community first, even at the expense of raising more funds.

The bottom line is this: if nonprofits are to be vehicles for change, then fundraisers must also be agents of equity. Let’s raise funds – but not at the expense of raising sights.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter. This month’s column is contributed by Doug Diefenbach.