Donor-centred fundraising (DCF) is the dominant mode of thought and practice in the fundraising profession. But its core principles have been challenged by the rise of the new community-centric fundraising (CCF) movement — inspired by the ideas of American thought leader Vu Le — in what is becoming a clash of fundraising philosophies.
While donor-centred fundraising aims to inspire donors by making them feel good about their giving, the CCF movement has argued that this has several negative outcomes, including that it marginalises and ‘others’ charity beneficiaries, perpetuates white saviourism and fuels systematic injustice.
A new discussion paper published by the fundraising think tank Rogare analyses this clash of philosophies and explores whether there is enough common ground between the two approaches for an accord to be struck.
Ian MacQuillin, Rogare’s director, says one of the defences of DCF is that CCF would be less effective at inspiring people to donate. But he says CCF’s criticisms are “not simply criticisms of how DCF works in practice, but a critique of the entire system of philanthropy, of which fundraising is a part.”
He adds: “Rather than put itself forward as a challenger to DCF in how best to engage donors, CCF wants to radically change this system, and thus fundraising’s role within it.
“The clash of community-centric vs donor-centred approaches is therefore not so much a clash of alternative fundraising approaches that can be settled by presenting argument, evidence and theory in support of one or the other, but a clash of ideologies about the purpose of philanthropy, and fundraising’s role within that.”
Many donor-centred fundraisers have not taken kindly to the criticisms levelled against them by the CCF movement. However, the Rogare paper argues that donor-centred fundraising needs to take on board these challenges and use them as an opportunity to “reinvent” itself in ways that connect donors to causes while being ethically conscious of the needs of all stakeholders.
MacQuillin adds: “For many fundraisers being donor-centred is more than just the communications practice they use; it is their professional identity – they are donor-centred fundraisers. So the challenges presented by CCF are not a technical discussion about professional procedure; they are perceived as an assault on the core principles of the people who use those procedures, and go directly to the heart of how they see and define themselves. No wonder so many have reacted so defensively to the CCF movement.
“However, there is sufficient common ground between the two philosophies to enable a dialectic that could result in new ethical and practical approaches to fundraising.
“Rather than being an existential challenge to donor-centered fundraising that is sounding is death-knell, community-centric fundraising may actually provide the impetus and incentive for donor-cenetred fundraising to reinvent itself.”
Heather Hill, chair of Rogare’s board and a member of Rogare’s Fundraising Ethics Research Network, says:
“These ideas help to both better define donor-centred fundraising and community-centric fundraising, as well as raise important questions that require critical thought from proponents on both sides. The philanthropic sector benefits from this healthy discussion and fundraisers on both sides should give consideration to how the two positions may co-exist and complement one another.
“A significant part of understanding the positions is distinguishing fundraising practice from the current philanthropic system. It would follow that resolving the differences or otherwise finding a solution would involve an exploration of how DCF practice might fit with the CCF model in a revamped system, as well as how both might take steps to shift philanthropy from its current state.”
Neil Gallaiford, chair of Rogare Associate Member Stephen Thomas Ltd in Canada says: “Some fundraisers might be tempted to think the challenges presented by the community-centric fundraising movement aren’t relevant to them, but the issues they raise cannot and should not be ignored by fundraisers who consider themselves to be donor-centred. This thought-provoking paper will help bring the issues to the fore while providing some common ground for healthy dialogue.”
The new Rogare Paper — The donor-centered baby and the community-centric bathwater: Is an accord possibly between the two philosophies — can be downloaded from the Rogare website.