It is that time of year when I attend fundraising events for local organizations doing work on behalf of children and families. I used to attend quite a few fundraisers, but the list has become shorter over the years. If you had asked me some time ago why after doing work in the community for so many years have I stopped attending these annual celebrations of work I would have told you it’s my hectic schedule and dislike of cold chicken. Let’s be honest one can only stomach so much cold chicken. After attending two events within weeks of each other however, I have begun to explore this more deeply. Is it the cold chicken or everything else that I am being served?
To protect the organizations and to keep me from being un-invited, I will refer to them as Agency A – Big Name Intermediary Organization and Agency B – Local Education Org. Agency A typically hosts functions where you see a lot of what we call major stakeholders. Now I would argue your biggest stakeholder is the community in which you serve, however I am aware that it is a fundraiser and the purpose of the event is to make money. You have to intentionally invite folks with deep pockets and political influence. Agency A can really fill a room. Trust me when I tell you there were well over a 100 tables with cold chicken on the plate and a lot of networking and hobnobbing. Agency A also made the mistake of having diversity in their line of speakers but those speakers didn’t speak towards a racial equity agenda, in fact one of the speakers, a person of color, shared a story reinforcing racial stereotypes and the story wasn’t connected to the mission of the organization.
This was my first time attending Agency B’s event. I was invited by a trusted friend and colleague and was curious considering their work is focused in another community that I do not professionally work in, however I live in the community. The room was filled with energy and activity and guess what? It was a breakfast event so for once I didn’t have to give myself a pep talk convincing myself that I could eat another cold chicken meal.
You could say that both events had your typical fundraising components. There was the welcome followed by a list of accomplishments from the last year. Lots of heart melting pictures of young children, the stuff that makes you all warm and fuzzy inside. Agency A told their story in a very interesting way. I won’t bore you with specifics but as best as I could describe it I would say at times it was like watching an infomercial. I was unsure what I was buying but these people somehow made me think I needed it. Agency B however, told their story in a way that I had been longing to hear. What I experienced at Agency B’s event was in essence what every annual event should be which was truly centered in the community.
Agency B not only highlighted their overall work, but they intentionally created space to showcase the individual and collective contributions that make their work possible. They demonstrated contributions that flowed both ways. Yes, they work on behalf of children and families, but the families also gave them something and the family’s contributions were valued. What they learned from those experiences helped to expand their reach, and what was even better is they worked directly with those who accessed their programs to do it. Finally, there was an overwhelming acknowledgement that the greatest gift was being reminded of the unlimited potential and abilities of young children. So often those of us in the field focus so much on the outcomes that we lose sight of the true beauty of just being present.
My experience reaffirmed there was still hope. There were still agencies out there doing the work I was actually just not doing my part in being intentional in finding them. So I’ve vowed following Agency B’s event on that I am done with cold chicken. If I am not being served a real story, with real people I will decline to attend. If there is no presence of community I will not attend. I am less interested in the menu and more interested in the content of the program.
We need more events like Agency B’s. Here are some tips to work towards equity at fundraisers:
- Share: Share power and control of the agenda. Allow participants and partners to help shape the agenda and showcase what they want to showcase. It is a fundraiser but there is room to allow communities to share their own priorities.
- Don’t exploit communities or clients: Fundraisers tread the fine line of needing to highlight good work, but be careful not to turn it into the Hunger Games where clients are paraded out and showcased.
- Food: No one wants to eat bad food, don’t get overly fancy or ambitious. If you can taste it ahead of time.
- Diversity doesn’t equal a good program: Just bringing in people of color into your program doesn’t equate to a compelling program centered in communities of color. Are the people on your program speaking authentically about experiences from communities of color? As an example at another event a video was shown on a training program for youth. There was diversity of people in the video but all of the adults doing the training were white while the youth recipients were students of color. The video reinforced a ‘savior’ complex – White adults, coming in and saving youth of color, not a great image for promoting racial equity.
Be thoughtful of your fundraising design and do your best to center the fundraiser in the experiences of communities of color. This will guarantee a better experience for all.
Posted by CiKeithia Pugh