Vu Le made a thought provoking post with suggestions to make fundraising events more community-centric. The subtext of his thoughts is essentially to avoid valorizing donors and literally marginalizing the presence of volunteers and clients during these sort of events. It occurred to me that the environment at these events may be reinforcing the sentiment that non-profits need to run themselves like a business by positioning non-profits as hapless and helpless without the assistance of donors.
Many of his suggestions focus on making fundraising events more inclusive financially, physically and socially for all members of the community being served. He lists 14 in total, but here are a few highlights:
Mix up your seating arrangement: seats are usually reserved for major donors and sponsors, with the top tiers going towards those who contributed the most financially. This just reinforces the message that the more money you have, the more special and important you are. That’s silly. Mix up your attendees. Seat clients at the front. Or randomize it.
Treat volunteers thoughtfully: While donors of money are worshipped, donors of time are treated like an afterthought. “After you finish setting up all the centerpieces, feel free to scavenge through the dumpster for your dinner, since we reserve the gourmet food for guests.” OK, I exaggerate a bit, and volunteer food (usually pizza) is not bad. But if we’re going to be community-centered, then volunteers are an essential part of the community, and should be treated accordingly.
Skip the tiered sponsorship levels: Yet one more way we perpetuate the idea that people and corporations should be treated based on how much they contribute financially. The sponsors at the “higher” levels get more marketing, better seats, more recognition, etc. Let’s move away from this. Here’s a great article on this topic from our colleague Phuong Pham.
Be considerate how you use clients’ testimonies: There’s been the trope of having a client, often a person of color, go on stage and tell their painful story, often to a room of mostly white donors. Fortunately, I’ve been noticing a trend of this happening less frequently as nonprofits become more thoughtful. Ethical Storytelling is a good resource, along with articles like this one by Nel Taylor on the CCF website.
Not all his thoughts are applicable to events that arts and cultural organizations may host, but many are. Some of what he says dovetails closely with the sort of changes arts and cultural entities have been encouraged to make as part of their regular business activities such as pricing, dress code, engagement of diverse participants and suppliers of goods and services.
Near the end of his list, he encourages people to clearly and specifically discuss the intentional changes you have made.
Be transparent and direct about the changes you’re making: Before, during, and after the event, talk about why you’re doing some things differently. It’ll help guests think about things they may not have considered before. “Last year, while it was nice to see everyone dressed up in waist coats and monocles, we realized that it excluded many people from our community. This year, please dress in whatever makes you feel comfortable, within reason.”