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Is Philanthropy An Answer to Inequality?

The recent volleying between Community-Centric Fundraising and Donor-Centric fundraising models is a match where I prefer to sit on the sideline.

At is core, it appears Community-Centric Fundraising seeks “to transform fundraising and philanthropy, so that they are co-grounded in racial and economic justice.” Here, organizations advocate for a fundraising model where nonprofits respect donors and build strong relationships with them, but where donors do not direct their work. Instead, the communities served must be at the center of fundraising efforts.

According to Cygnus Applied Research, Donor-Centric Fundraising, is an integrated and collaborative approach to raising money that inspires donors to remain loyal longer, to make more generous gifts, and to quickly shift their giving from modest to generous. It focuses on the things that make fundraising more remunerative to the nonprofit.

Anniversary of George Floyd’s Murder

I write this on the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. His murder – one of the first of a black man by police to be viewed in high-definition video – along with the Covid pandemic, has catalyzed a reexamination of how communities of color and other minority groups have been marginalized in our nation. The resulting demand for social and economic equality and justice is righteous and must succeed.

While I agree social, racial and wealth inequality is hobbling this nation and much of the world, I also think the answers to these wrongs will not come through philanthropic activities.

Is this heresy coming from a fundraising consultant?

Missions Matter More

The two “centric” approaches to using philanthropy to change societal and community power differentials rely on the very people and institutions that have the power. This seems doomed to fail.

There are hundreds of communities: LGBTQIA, AAIP, Indigenous people, people of color, white people, immigrants, disabled, those with a disease, disease survivors, environmental advocates; local neighborhoods, art lovers, book lovers, gun safety advocates, hunters and on and on. Often these communities overlap.

In my view, the more important consideration is the mission of the organization raising funds. If a mission does not aspire to lift up a community of people, should that organization be tax-exempt? Current tax policies do not consider this when awarding tax-exempt status.

The Power for Change

The ONLY way wealth inequality, white privilege, racism, racial inequality, lack of diversity on boards, and more will be redressed is through a working constitutional federal republic – a form of government where an informed electorate, not corporations, hold power, and their elected representatives exercise power on their behalf.

Real change will be realized only when our more perfect Union uses tax law, enacts policies to address institutional racism in government and the private sector, allocates funds for services government should provide but have left to nonprofits, and when we achieve a new and sustainable generational assent to when today’s young people are in charge of government.


It is still individuals who make decisions for institutional funders and who make gifts and leave bequests. This is where advancement officers need to keep their focus. If they do their jobs well, they will “foster a sense of belonging and interdependence” with their donors. And they must assure the missions of their organizations do the same. Missions must align with equality.

I never liked the term “donor-centric” fundraising, but listening to and acting on donor wishes can produce better organizations and programming. When they do not, it is critical to work with donors for mutual benefit. Successful people tend to be pretty smart and have valuable ideas.

Equality – we will get there. I just hope I’m around to see it.


Copley Raff’s mission: Every interaction is to help nonprofit organizations fulfill their missions by meeting ambitious goals, aligning their leadership, elevating fundraising, and activating the brilliance of their teams. It’s a bold promise but one that we know will serve you and your organization’s mission in a way that will deliver tangible and meaningful results – the kind of results that make a real difference!

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