[Publisher’s Note: This is the first of a number of posts kindly contributed by guest authors who attended the 2016 AFP International Fundraising Conference. These posts share valuable insights from the Conference. This week, I thank Nancy Racette, CFRE, Principal and Chief Operating Officer at DRi, for highlighting the “Rebels, Renegades & Pioneers” education track.]
What if you could hear from some of the nonprofit world’s leading provocateurs, innovators, and big thinkers about the glories, the failures, and the future of the charity sector?
If you had attended the recent Association of Fundraising Professionals International Fundraising Conference, you could have. If you were unable to attend the program, don’t worry. I’m about to share some highlights with you.
Development Resources Inc. (DRi) sponsored the new education track called “Rebels, Renegades & Pioneers.” The track was designed to engage attendees in thought-provoking conversations about the nature and ultimate purpose of the nonprofit sector, in addition to providing tactical guidance. Business leaders, fundraisers, researchers, and activists who have spent their lives fostering these conversations shared their thoughts at the Conference.
Nancy Racette, CFRE, DRi Principal and Chief Operating Officer, attended the program. DRi is an executive search and consulting firm that builds nonprofit capacity through Board and leadership recruitment, strategic planning, and resource development both across the country and around the world. Here are some of the important insights Racette found:
What if social justice were a form of donor cultivation?
What if fundraisers used studies testing such propositions when they designed philanthropic programs?
How would the lessons of this research change participation in the nonprofit world?
The experts gathered for the “Rebels, Renegades & Pioneers” education track addressed these and other provocative questions. Here are three of the most significant ideas we heard:
1. You’re not a fundraiser. You’re a catalyst for change.
The Rebels track opened with an inspiring call for fundraisers of all stripes to see themselves as agents of large-scale social change.
The fundraising vision of Roger Craver, Jennie Thompson, and Daryl Upsall created a new model of social movement in the 20th century, one in which membership-based nonprofits made themselves central actors in some of the world’s greatest social transformations, from AIDS to apartheid, from voting rights to human rights.
Today, though, the challenge is to recognize that you don’t have to be a c(4) organization with a national membership to be an agent of social change. Fundraising is an inevitably activist enterprise, one that calls on people to remake the world — and that’s as true of art museums and homeless shelters as it is of Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club.
Art isn’t a luxury for the leisured; it’s a revolutionary prism through which humans re-imagine themselves and bring their new visions to life. That’s why the Urban Institute released a 2008 report on making the case for the arts as a space of collective community action. What’s more activist than that?
And we know that engaging people in social action ultimately creates new donors. People who see themselves as actors in a movement want to invest in that movement.
We got a live demonstration at AFP, when a woman who identified herself as a South American refugee stood up to say that the help she had received from Planned Parenthood had brought her to the Conference to learn how to raise money for the causes she believes in. If we see all the fundraising we do as a movement for social change, how would it help us engage people like that?
2. Neuroscientists should be on your fundraising reading list.
To answer such tough questions, we need to start looking much more seriously at academic research on the human psychology that shapes fundraising. Nonprofits that consult academic research are more likely to improve their fundraising results, and yet half of nonprofits don’t include research in their program design.
Researchers such as Dr. Adrian Sargeant and Dr. Gene Tempel shared some of the insights fundraisers should know. There is a lot more out there. Cognitive scientists have revealed specific areas of the human brain that are activated when people make donations, as well as the broader functions those areas perform. For example, scientists know that, for many donors, giving activates some of the same areas of the brain that are involved in pleasurable cravings. For others, that doesn’t happen; giving remains an abstract decision.
Fundraisers should know these things, too, so we can use the knowledge to improve basic practices of donor cultivation and stewardship. For more on this, read: “Breaking News: Brain Scan Study Gives Fresh Insight into Charitable Giving Behavior.”
3. We know diversity is good for business — but we still don’t always act as if we know it.
Some of the biggest experiments happen outside the lab. In 2003, Norway passed a law requiring 40 percent of the board members of publicly traded companies to be women. We learned from Laura Liswood, one of our AFP pioneers, that the law achieved more than that 40 percent; research suggests the new board composition has strengthened companies’ economic positions, too. (The percentage of women on US boards is 19 percent.)
Yet, old habits die hard. As the number of women on boards has risen, the seniority within boards has remained divided by gender. And on the day that the AFP Conference began, research was announced documenting that as women enter a previously male field, the field’s pay drops.
Nonprofits don’t just address such inequalities; they can be one site of them, or they can model an alternative. Fundraising must be part of the conversation to make that difference. Fundraisers need to reflect on how gender — and race, and religion, and so many other factors — shapes the ways they and others react to each other in the face of social change, whether as leaders, as managers, or as donors.
Fundraisers also to engage a wide spectrum of people, because as Simone Joyaux, ACFRE pointed out, systemic problems can’t be fixed only by engaging a small group of donors with a lot of resources.
The “Rebels, Renegades & Pioneers” experiment was a success because it fostered challenging conversations — about change, knowledge, and power. I hope you will be part of these conversations in the years to come!
So, what are you and your organization doing to promote meaningful change, leverage cutting-edge scientific research, and embrace the power of diversity?
That’s what Nancy Racette and Michael Rosen say… What do you say?