Should Your Fundraising Be Apolitical?
In light of recent events, I thought this was a good time to talk about political — and apolitical — fundraising. We raise funds for our worthy causes from left, right and center. Some charities are aligned with parts of this gamut more than others.
If I say that the nonprofit called “The NRA” is grotesque and should not have a charitable designation, would you remove my blog posts from your feed?
If I say that the storied nonprofit immigration rights group, the International Rescue Committee, has not done enough (or done too much!) to fight the backlash against immigrants, would you think I was partisan and unfair?
Should our charitable cultivation and solicitation of donors and funders be apolitical?
In his essay, “What Does 'Political' Mean?" Eugene F. Miller says:
“Political is a ubiquitous and seemingly indispensable term in the discussion of human affairs. We use it to speak of quite different kinds of things — institutions, actions, conflicts, expenditures, a type of discourse, a branch of science and such. We apply it to the life and thought of nations, ancient cities and indigenous tribes. Even the internal affairs of businesses, unions, schools and churches are sometimes called 'political.' In all these cases, we assume that the term has, or at least can have, some definite meaning. Yet it is difficult to say what, if anything, 'political' signifies in its various applications and how is signifies what it does.”
One great American charity, The Catholic Worker, founded in 1933 with pacifist beliefs, refuses the 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax status because they view it as participatory in the U.S. war economy. Their political convictions inspire their donors who are among the most dedicated and who give generously, including estate and legacy gifts; donating houses, land, farms; and making bequeaths, even though the organization has no planned giving program!
English poet William Blake goes to the higher ground when he said:
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to us as it is — infinite.”
I like Blake’s insight because the nonprofit sector should aspire to higher ground. When you share your vision of that higher ground and relate it to your nonprofit’s fundraising needs, you will always raise more revenue!
My counsel to you about being political (or not) has to do with your values, and it unfolds like this…
- Be utterly clear about your organizational values, and stand up for them.
- Your values must be informed by data, research and science; not just what you think or believe.
- Your values are communicated by your organization’s actions; not what it thinks or states. Look at where your resources go and what impacts you’ve made in your field of service. There, your values lie.
- Your values are shown by how you spend your time — both on the small daily routines and the "big hairy audacious goal" that contributes to the long-lasting justice we seek.
- There are awakening moments in your organizational life when we see that what we thought were our values may not be so. When we feel that uncomfortable awareness, we must take stock and be honest, and either admit to our compromise or make changes to realign our actions.
Values are what matters and what lasts, and from my 35 years in the nonprofit sector, that’s how my fundraising becomes political — not by intent, but by consequence.
This consequence is how nonprofit leader Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of the international nonprofit Partners In Health, discusses his values to a “theology of accompaniment” — a lifelong practice of not only walking with people who are poor, but working to change the conditions that keep them poor:
“Once we chose the most poor to work with, everything else became clear about who we were and what we had to advocate for.”
Farmer and his team raise $145 million annually to run Partners in Health, and he is political.
The political processes we live with (live under) often pretends they are value-free, but a nonprofit does not have that luxury. Instead we must stand up, be counted and speak out. The quality of our fundraising program depends on those values in order for it to be real, to be soulful.
Laurence is author of "The Nonprofit Fundraising Solution," the first book on fundraising ever published by the American Management Association. He is chairman of LAPA Fundraising serving nonprofits throughout the U.S. and Europe.