I found your recently penned article titled “Why nonprofit staff should not be asked to donate to the organizations they work for” thought-provoking and see it touched a nerve, engendering a lot of commentary, pro and con. I found the article and the commentary stimulating, hence this open letter.
I respectfully disagree with you, while applauding your taking a stand and beginning this discussion. I see the real bottom line here is to be making a shift from pussyfooting around the subject of fundraising – even among staff — to embracing it warmly. The first attitude comes from a place of fear and loathing — and our deep cultural antipathy towards the subject of money. It’s not about money.
Sadly, money remains a huge taboo in our society. No one is comfortable talking about it. Let alone asking for it. But if your nonprofit relies on fundraising for survival, people must be asked for money.
Staff are people. Good people. Dedicated people. And people with an investment in the mission. In other words, they’re not ‘cold’ prospects. They’re ‘insiders’ – the very people who should not be ignored when it comes to offering an opportunity to feel the joy of giving.
Vu, I read into your article an underlying feeling that when people are asked to give they feel the antithesis of joy. This makes me sad. Because research with MRIs shows when folks even contemplate making a gift, the pleasure centers of their brains light up. They get a shot of dopamine and experience a warm glow. Why would we deny our own staff this warm, pleasurable feeling by not even asking them to give?
I take issue with all of the key reasons you offer in support of your argument:
- It is inequitable
- It is insulting
- It is weird and disingenuous
- It does not take power dynamics into consideration
- It perpetuates the nonprofit hunger games
- It reinforces the overvaluing of money
Let’s review these one at a time.
“The people most affected are the staff who are paid lowest and have least seniority, and they are more likely to be from marginalized communities: people of color, people with disabilities, etc. We take it for granted that what is easy for us may be a hardship for someone else…. Sure, a $5 donation may not seem like much of a burden, but when you combine it with dozens of other expenses, it adds up and disproportionately punishes people from marginalized communities.” — Vu
The fact people have different backgrounds, opportunities for advancement, education, skills, salaries and such is where the inequities arise. This doesn’t mean it’s our obligation, as a charity, to assume staff – from whatever background or pay scale or level of seniority – might not want to be asked to make a philanthropic gift. By that argument, we might as well just set an arbitrary income/asset base below which we won’t ask any prospective donors for money. Yes, what’s a stretch gift for one may be a token gift for another. But the answer is not to deny someone the opportunity to participate based on our perceptions of them. And I really take issue with viewing a request for a philanthropic gift as a “punishment.”
“When many of us are already making financial and other sacrifices to work at our jobs, to be asked to give money as if it were the only acceptable way to demonstrate dedication to our mission, is insulting.” – Vu
Working in the public benefit sector should be a joy, not a sacrifice. If an organization makes its staff feel this way, that’s the real insult. Not the ask. If you’re feeling negatively towards your job, of course you won’t be feeling the love that comes from philanthropic engagement.
Weird and Disingenuous
“So you’re paying me, but then you expect me to give some of it back? Why not just reduce my wages by whatever amount you expect me to donate?” – Vu
I find this argument weird. Would anyone really prefer to have their wages reduced – especially when they already feel they’re being underpaid? At the heart of this argument is a belief that the lion’s share of nonprofit staff resent their employers. This just makes me sad. I’ve worked for organizations where staff took great satisfaction in their own philanthropy – of whatever amount they could manage — as a statement of their passion and pride in working for their cause.
Power Dynamics at Play
“Staff who do not donate for whatever reason risk being perceived and treated negatively, a lot of it unconscious.”
This is an organizational culture problem. Without a culture of love, abundance and acceptance, philanthropy cannot thrive. That’s the problem that must be addressed first. If the true problem is overlooked, then it’s not unusual to come up with false solutions. Not asking staff to participate in one of the most important endeavors in which the organization is engaged – assuring there is funding to continue the mission – is not the answer.
Perpetuation of Nonprofit Hunger Games
“For our sector to be effective, we have to believe that our missions are interconnected and work to support one another. The staff giving campaign aligns with the default philosophy that our own mission is the only one that matters.” — Vu
I don’t see how giving to our own organization precludes giving to others as well. Would we tell our board members not to give to us, since they’re already giving us their time, and to spread their monetary gifts elsewhere? That would be a bizarre argument. Giving begins at home. And… it doesn’t end there.
“The push for staff giving often goes like this: “We want 100% staff giving. Please give any amount. Even one dollar!” But why do we value money so much? Why do we rarely have campaigns like “100% of staff have mentored someone this year” or “100% of staff have voted in local elections” or “100% of staff have volunteered at a nursing home?” — Vu
Again, it’s not about the money. It’s about what’s in your staffs’ hearts. One hopes they are coming from a place of love. Which brings us to the critical importance of developing a culture of philanthropy (translated from the Greek to mean ‘love of humanity’). A culture in which everyone understands the mission doesn’t move forward without philanthropy – what Bob Payton of the Lily School of Philanthropy defined as “voluntary action for the public good.” That action can be money or time. But it must be voluntary, not coerced. And, of course, it must be oriented towards public good – not to satisfy a boss. Exhorting folks to vote or mentor someone is no less coercive than asking them to give money.
What it boils down to.
We need to work harder to create cultures of philanthropy.
I consider a culture of philanthropy to be your nonprofit’s secret weapon. And you know what they say about culture, right? It eats strategy for breakfast! It eats up everything else as well. A culture of resentment breeds resentment. A culture of competition breeds competition.
In an organization where people are treated well, it’s likely a culture of philanthropy exists. Folks will feel valued. They won’t feel taken advantage of. They’ll love the mission, the donors and each other. They’ll ask “what can I do to help you?” — all the time, inside and outside the organization’s doors. If there is a staff giving campaign, they’ll want to help in whatever way they’re comfortable. And they’ll feel good they were asked, and given the opportunity to experience the joy of giving.
Where love and positive, mission-focused – ideally passionate – feelings don’t exist, a staff giving campaign is doomed.
Frankly, other campaigns and initiatives are likely doomed as well. People shouldn’t have to work where they feel undervalued, underpaid and overworked. Those are issues to be addressed head on, not subverted by thinking/feeling “well, I’m not doing this because they mistreat me.” No one should be working 12 hour days, considering four of those hours as “volunteer service.” No one should be paying for office expenses out of their own pockets. Stop doing that if that’s you! Figure out why you can’t get your job done in 8 hours and try to fix that problem – rather than making it the reason you don’t contribute philanthropically to your own organization. If you can’t fix the problem, you may need to move on to another place where you won’t feel constantly burdened. Don’t starve your soul.
If YOU won’t contribute, and you live and breathe the mission, then why would you expect anyone else do to so? This is the same argument we make to nonprofit board members who shy away from giving. As nonprofit leaders – and you’re all leaders in your own way – it’s up to you to lead by example. If you’re not setting a good example, you’re setting a bad one.
So please, Vu, champion the role of nonprofit staff, but don’t discourage people from experiencing the joy of giving and facilitating that experience among others.
Thank you, Vu, for inspiring these thoughts and for your many excellent contributions to the social benefit sector.
I completely agree. I respect him so much but on this subject he is wrong. Thanks, Margie
Right on Claire! Bottom line, if we don’t live and breathe our mission, how shallow it is to ask others. We belittle our profession and the foundation of philanthropy!
Totally AGREE with you Claire, great post!
Seriously, if you can’t even give $3 or $5 a month to your own organization, how can you ask others to do so?
Thank you for such a clear and thoughtful response to this issue. I couldn’t agree more with all of your points, and have already shared your article with my Head of School. I am currently struggling with creating a culture of philanthropy in the school I am working for. Unfortunately, the feelings that fundraising creates or highlights inequities in our parent body has been expresses and truly saddens me. Like you, I feel that there is no greater equalizer than philanthropy and the good that it does! Thank you!
Wow, what an interesting topic. I was floored by many of the comments to Vu’s article, how angry, disillusioned and positively short-changed many of the writers felt. You have to wonder about how much of a contribution they are making in their job—I know people I’ve worked with who felt this way and they were always trying to make up for not being paid enough by reducing their workload however possible (long lunch hours, goofing off at work, etc.). I agree with you 100% — it’s the culture of the organization that needs to change so that people really want to contribute rather than feel forced. Those organizations “forcing” employees to participate are in the wrong business (and probably won’t be for too long)!
I strongly disagree, Claire. No one is denying staff the opportunity to contribute. Vu’s point is that being asked *by one’s own place of employment* injects coercion (implicit if not explicit) in a context where power dynamics remove any real choice. It is disingenuous to imply that not directly asking an employee to give money to fund his or her own paycheck “discourages the joy of giving.” Let employees make their own proactive decisions to give or not, where they wish. Send them a fundraising appeal at home if you feel they will otherwise “not have an opportunity” to contribute. But leave it there.
There are two issues here. (1) Whether to ask/offer opportunity at all, and (2) How to do so. You seem to be okay with offering the opportunity, but are quibbling with who the asks comes from, whether it’s done at the office and so forth. Again, this goes to overall culture. If you clothe an ask with an apology, there’s something about doing so that makes you uncomfortable. It means you’re coming from a place of coercion, guilt, feeling that you’re mistreating the askee, and so forth. These are the underlying issues that must first be addressed. Otherwise, you’ve got a culture of scarcity rather than abundance.
That’s the challenge, though, isn’t it? The underlying issues are not addressed in many workplaces. A culture of scarcity, employees who are overextended and feel unloved, a tight budget that doesn’t allow for fair pay: all of those come from the top. If those aren’t in place, it’s inappropriate (and in some cases I’d even say morally wrong) to ask those at the bottom to give. The ground-level expectation needs to be for a positive workplace where everyone feels inspired to give, not for employees to be expected to.
I totally agree — I have always felt that to have credibility with donors I had to demonstrate my own commitment to the organization and be a full participant in the fundraising process– I have always felt that to be able to solicit others I had to use myself as an example and be able to say I have made my commitment “join me” by making yours…
That approach has served me well for over 40 years — it has enabled me to ask for commitments large and small —
I also agree completely Claire. My entire career has been in development for educational institutions. The first ask has always been participation of faculty and staff citing the reason you give in the first “Bottom Line” sentence. I have found that, for many staff givers, the gift is the first step in deepening a relationship with their own organization! For example, scholarship donors learn more about the students they see in the halls and classrooms when they sit down for breakfast at our annual celebration. Staff are also invited to assist in reading scholarship applications, which often leads to first-time and increased gifts. While gifts are often an expression of joy, sometimes the joy is lit by the gift!
I love this!
This is a weird set of arguments. Vu and Claire, your differences seem narrow, not wide. You both make good points. So,
How do you welcome, perhaps encourage even, staff giving without the pressure? Not everyone takes a job because they love the organization; some need any job they can get to make ends meet. Those passionate about their organizations likely would want to donate; those who are 9-5 (assuming not part-time) maybe not.
It’s not insulting to ask for staff’s donations in the same way as you ask others to donate. No coercion; joy and appreciation for whatever people could afford. This isn’t a tithing situation. But, as Vu aptly points out, there is a risk of the bosses holding “insufficient support” from staff against them in subtle, if not blatant, ways.
Claire, love your point about a culture of philanthropy. This makes all the difference.
Let’s keep the dialog going to find common ground to treat staff fairly and embrace their donations while treating staff honorably and with respect.
Thanks so much for offering the perspective from both sides, and understanding how much the culture plays in the execution.
I agree, Bob, that both authors make valid points. At my last place of employment, there was certainly a culture of philanthropy. It was the expectation to support the organization. In fact, we actually had 100% giving, because how could we ask donors to give if we hadn’t?
However, the second I left that job, I quit giving to the organization. I left on great terms, but I only gave because it was the expectation to do so and I didn’t want to be the one to let everyone down. In short – coercion.
I view employment as purely transactional – I do work, I get paid. I care deeply about the mission, sure, but that is separate from my employment. Anything extra on top of doing my job, including giving, feels unnecessary and weird.
As usual, spot on. All about the culture, it’s not a demand, but an opportunity to support your own organization. The author falls into the age old trap of low expectations and assumptions.
Thank you Claire! When I came to my current organization three years ago we had never asked our staff to give- giving was at 28%. I heard a lot of reasons not to start a campaign- many of which were part of Vu’s argument – I stood strong- working to educate our staff on why its important and after our first year we reached 58% giving and last year after our second year ask we ended with 78%. I am so glad we moved forward!
I’m glad too. Kudos!
excellent post. I am just taking on a new role as DD of a multi state org and plan on passing this post on to staff. Thank you!!
Beautifully said, Claire. This is exactly why I DO give from each paycheck. I am passionate about my job – and how many people I can impact. Your comments about building a culture a philanthropy are right on target, too – everyone in the organization can make donors feel good – it’s critical that leadership supports it.
I respect both Claire and Vu and I am happy to see this discussion brought into the light. I think there is a difference, even with a strong culture of philanthropy, between expectations of leadership staff and line staff. OF course, giving by everyone is most welcome; in fact, most of our staff do give to our organization and to others. But leadership has a responsibility to model for others. It also means something to board members when they see that the leadership team is also philanthropic; it shifts the nature of the relationship slightly, becoming more of a partnership. In other words, it says “we are all in this together”. The size of the gift does not matter, it is the meaning behind it.
Many years ago I was director of the annual fund for a major orchestra. We always did an employee campaign, but I was told I could not solicit the orchestra members as it was a union orchestra. However, I knew that one of the orchestra members complaints was the condition of the scores rented for concerts. We had very good music librarians and an excellent library, but it could certainly use more funding. So I did solicit the orchestra, but specifically for the music library, and I had special mugs made just for the orchestra members donating to the music library fund. About half of the orchestra made a donation, and no matter the size of that donation, they each received a mug. I never got a complaint from the union rep, an orchestra member, and certainly not the music librarians. I think that employees should be given an opportunity to give, but you must be careful that it does not seem to be a requisite for employment, so you be considerate in the approach. And a contribution can never be considered in an employee review.
Great counter argument. I appreciate your emphasis on the joy of giving – and creating a culture of generosity over “being forced to give through guilt and intimidation.”
There are reasons that both sides of this conversation make sense. However, I think by making this argument a dichotomy, we are leaving out an area of immense potential: Staff members can do far more than “give at least $5” by creating peer-to-peer campaigns, reaching out to their own networks to make the ask for the organizations that they work for and believe in.
As part of that peer-to-peer fundraising, it can of course be recommended that they consider making a gift of their own, so they can tell their networks that they invest their own time and money in the organization.
I don’t see it as exactly a dichotomy. It’s more an issue of whether we encourage EVERYONE — staff and volunteers — to be a part of philanthropy in action. The overarching goal is achieving our vision, pursuing our mission and enacting our values. This is, hopefully, something everyone involved with the organization if dedicated to. Of course, if it’s ‘just a job’ (as someone suggested in another comment), then there will be no heart connection; hence, a resistance to philanthropy. I wouldn’t want a board member for whom it’s “just a job” (they should serve elsewhere), however can understand why some people would take such a position. They should still be offered the opportunity to serve as ambassadors, advocates, askers and givers. The choice to do so is ultimately up to the individual. This should always be understood and made clear. Encouragement is different from coercion. And you know it when you see it.
Yes, let’s realize that Claire and Vu were talking about very different charity cultures, and I think it makes a difference whether the charity is paying market wages or not. I have worked with agencies which are primarily funded by government grants, where, as one Executive Director put it, they were fighting the same cycle of poverty as their clients. I have also worked with national health foundations where an employee campaign would be entirely appropriate. Just remember that the former charities outnumber the latter by a wide margin.
Thanks for this comment. We are, indeed, talking about different models. I wonder if anyone knows of any research to substantiate your claim that the unhealthy model charities outnumber the healthier models?
YesYesYes! I was taken aback by Vu’s post, especially since I have decades of experience with very positive staff campaigns in my own organization for all the reasons you mentioned. He makes some very dangerous assumptions. Thank you for getting this letter out while I was still crafting mine 🙂
I do not believe that employees should be expected to give or coerced into giving. Give them the opportunity, but that is all. And I think a staffer’s willingness to donate, or not, is directly related to whether they feel valued and respected by their organization. Too many organizations run their staffers into the ground. I do not think it is a badge of honor to buy into the “work until you drop because we should all feel honored to work for a nonprofit” culture. The nonprofit arena tends to attract idealists and altruists, and so there is ample opportunity to take advantage.
I’ve been preaching the “give your gift first” line for too long and Vu’s point has really got me to retreat from what I had adopted as gospel and now see pretty differently. I’ve definitely explored the constellation of staff objections before… reflecting: some of my least professional cultivation/solicitation has been among co-workers that did far too little to address the power dynamics alone and clearly overvalued $ than commitment. And I sometimes used familiar persuasions that came way too close to the line that I would not use on other non-staff allies. This quickly I no longer suggest staff contributions as a KPI nor goal.
Thanks for this Paul. As I said to another reader, there is a distinction between the WHY of asking staff to participate in philanthropy and the HOW. The why speaks to the goal of furthering the vision and mission and enacting the organization’s values. The HOW (of which fundraising is a piece) is a means serving a noble end.
Without a culture of philanthropy (which usually comes from leadership) there may be less than ideal alignment between the organization, it’s workers and it’s volunteers — resulting in a lack of SHARED values. Since all philanthropy boils down to a value-for-value exchange, when staff feel taken advantage of and on the short end of the exchange, philanthropy will get subverted. So… the first order of business is to get everyone in touch with the vision, mission and values. To get them to see themselves as part of that noble, positive culture. And to have them then embrace their role as philanthropy facilitators. In such a culture, asking flows naturally. Without it, it’s a real slog. I don’t endorse staying in the slog, however. I’d rather figure out a way to rise above.
You seem to be starting with the assumption that staff can only feel the joy of giving if explicitly asked or otherwise “given” the opportunity. Staff already have the opportunity. We know how to donate, when the campaigns are, etc. (and if we don’t, you have a communication issue). Many of us, including me, give without ever being asked or “offered” the opportunity. There is joy in that. There would not be joy in it for me if I were asked.
Becky, I agree. Not asking is not the same as “denying the opportuniy,” obviously. A gift given under pressure through a hierarchy of power (inherently ineuitable), however abundant my own resources, lights up the section of my brain the doesn’t like being coerced. And the implication that the org I am immersed in needs to teach me about a culture of philanthropy feels patronizing. Being asked by my org to donate, just like being asked to write a curriculum or clean the copy room, feels liked work. It’s fundamentally not possible for it to be given freely, hence no lightbulb of joy being sparked.
I couldn’t disagree more. As an Ed and DD of years, I never asked my team to donate. Not because I didn’t believe in any of the organizations I’ve ever worked for. But because there is a value to the number of hours that staff gave, sweat, and sometimes tears, that asking for money, felt invasive. All of my organizations have had a great culture and community feeling, so it wasn’t that we didn’t value philanthropy.
I agree with Vu and would probably dig deeper into the inequity of asking for staff participation even more.
A very similar argument could be extended as a reason to never ask board members or direct service volunteers to give. Yet these are the folks most deeply connected — the folks who live and breathe the vision, mission and values. Presumably the folks who most want to assure the organization survives and thrives. There are many ways to help, indeed. Just because you help one way, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be offered the opportunity to help in another way as well. It’s not the fact of asking that should be an issue; it’s the how it is done that seems to be generating the pushback. When I talk to boards I tell them to get rid of all the coercive feelings and language (e.g., “I’m going to hit him up;” “I’m going to twist her arm.”) We need to get rid of coercive approaches to staff giving as well. Philanthropy, executed well, should be about lifting people up. Thank you for your comment.
Not at all. And to imply such might be a generational thing, but since grad school and even in my own work as a grantmaker at a local arts agency as well as service on boards, the expectations of and reasons for board giving isn’t anything comparable to what should be expected of staff.
Because staff giving, however it happens, is the equivalent of a staff pay cut in the amount of their donation.
And, at least in my own education and experience, the fiscal relationship staff members have to the org versus board members is why (for one example) if a staff and a board member go and meet with a donor with the goal of soliciting a gift, the board member is ultimately the one that makes the ask and not the staff person.
To say that reasons for staff members not to be asked could be extended to board members seems to be the result of a complete lack of understanding about how the two are different roles and relationships to begin with.
Yes! Very well said Sharonne and I agree 100%!
Wow – where are all of these nonprofits where employees are paid what they are worth and are valued and not pressured by office politics? I don’t mean to be flip, but unless the development staff has a crystal clear sense that all of their colleagues are feeling good about their goals (is operations staff, customer/direct service, program staff all on the same page? How do you know?), it is extremely awkward to ask. I love the idea of joyful giving, but for the nonprofits I have worked for, many do that every day, often for many more hours and doing many things outside of their job descriptions. That is more complex and more valuable than money, in my opinion.
I’m feeling a little salty about her completely ignoring the power dynamics of all of those social determinants and individual realities. I’m feeling real salty about her explaining the value and impact of culture to someone who is far more well-versed in non-anglo cultures than she is. And I’m feeling real real real salty about the number of people who agree completely but fail to realize or acknowledging address that the primary culture of nonprofit organizations, especially those involved in direct Human Services, is one of inequity, classism, and petty politics. How does she expect to have a culture of philanthropy, if she won’t acknowledge the culture of an equity that currently exists. It sounds like privilege wrapped in fundraising morality rhetoric.
Oh dear, my intake of sodium has maxed out with this comment. With respect, I’d like to address whether I’m engaging in ‘fundraising morality rhetoric.’ Interestingly, I just spoke with a foundation colleague who is deeply interested in the issue of culture of philanthropy. I let her know I fear calling this issue by that name may be too unicorns and rainbows for folks experiencing real inequities, inequalities and injustices in the workplace. I had no idea so MANY nonprofit staff resented their organizations, bosses and jobs. Seems like a huge issue that needs to be addressed.
Of course, it’s not just an issue for the sector. It’s a society writ large issue. I recognize this. HUGE issue.
I can’t address every issue in every article. In this article, I was trying to look at the ideal as the overarching WHY of our existence as a sector… an organization… or even as a person. It’s about pursuing the vision, fulfilling the mission and enacting shared values. I would hope everyone who works and/or volunteers within a particular nonprofit would be dedicated to seeing that overarching goal through to fruition. The issue of HOW to get there (whether to include a staff campaign or not) depends on whether that strategy supports the goal. And without a culture of philanthropy (which usually begins at the top with great leadership) this will be difficult to achieve.
Essentially, it boils down to a question of leadership.
We need to talk to the leaders (executive directors and boards) rather than just development staff.
If leaders are taking advantage of or oppressing their staff, that’s another — much deeper — problem.
Delena – the first word that came to mind when reading Claire’s post was “privilege”, then the phrase “rose colored glasses”. I admire Claire’s extremely positive view and joy of philanthropy – she is lucky/privileged her mindset and life experiences have shaped that for her. She is a unicorn in that way – I truly mean that as a compliment. However, other people have had different experiences with philanthropy and their glasses may be scratched or cracked – a little sharp on the edges.
There are inequities built into the modern expression of philanthropy (putting the Latin meaning aside). Vu highlights these sufficiently and I tend to lean towards his thinking on that. He’s a tell it like it is from the trenches unicorn.
I love my job, my organization, and the charitable sector… I drink deeply its kool-aid. …but there have been exhausting days where I wanted to submit my “in-kind” overtime hours as a donation – way more than any cash amount I could ever give. If someone asked me for a symbolic $2 cash donation on those days, I’d be extremely insulted and hurt that my other contributions and time were not as valued. I have and haven’t donated to the places where I work (it makes a big difference when the development staff/org leadership remember to focus on stewardship/engagement between the asks like any other donor).
For the argument that we shouldn’t then ask board members/volunteers for donations if we don’t ask staff is a false equivalency in my mind. A large number of boards are fundraising boards (give the money or get the money) and their members are usually well off. It’s not fair/equitable to hold staff to the same (even symbolic) standard – one may show up in a Mercedes, the other takes transit for an hour or more a day. I’m over generalizing but I have seen that dynamic play out.
I guess we can love something/someone and be absolutely frustrated by it/them too. Such as our dear philanthropy. I think that’s the tension a lot of us are seeing in these conversations. Thanks to Vu and Claire for sharing their different truths. Sometimes it’s in these uncomfortable truths where we grow and learn the most.
I hear you and had been sitting wondering about the same questions on this thread.
I’m also wondering how an inquiry become an “agreed and disagree” conversation.
I don’t know enough about the core topic but I do know quite a bit about culture development.
How might we – as a community, create a culture of inquiry and learning rather than a conversation of “point/ counter point”?
I’m not sure that I’m salty but I do like the term salty.
This lays it out so well – the case for a culture of philanthropy – thank you, Claire. I really felt that concept was missing from Vu’s post. I like, respect, and enjoy him immensely, but was troubled by his take on this. While I agree there is an inherent power imbalance between employer and employee, it very much comes down to organizational culture, which is so often synonymous with organizational dysfunction. My personal litmus test for if I am willing to work in an organization is whether I can feel good about donating to them (at whatever level is meaningful to me). If I wouldn’t want to support them myself, how could I ask others to do so and not burn out very quickly? I also believe that every person in an organization, whatever their role or place in the hierarchy (and there always is one) should be able to make the case for giving. If not, things are broken.
A philanthropic culture in the workplace? My philanthropic engagement at my job is my commitment to my work and to the mission of the organization. We nonprofit folk work hard at less than market rates because we believe in the mission and receive some intangible satisfaction. Our professional staff gives through their excellent work and I hope some day that we can pay them market rate – even then I won’t solicit them for donations. I find it abusive to engage in any kind of giving campaign with the employees as the prospects. It’s disingenuous to pretend there isn’t pressure to give – it feels like extortion almost, a clawback of wages paid, even with the gentlest “encouragement”. And it is highly self-serving to pretend there is a higher purpose to giving your wages to your employer. Is it even philanthropy to give to your employer? Maybe I can get a raise if I give more? Bizarro world. And don’t you dare say those that don’t give financially must not care about their job or their missions – I’m a professional, I do excellent work, and I do it to earn the money my family needs. After exerting myself for my nonprofit profession, I decide where my philanthropy lies and reward other excellent nonprofits with my financial gifts.
My philanthropic engagement at my job is my commitment to my work and to the mission of the organization
I am in the for-profit world now, but I was a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. I cannot even imagine how ticked off I would have been if I had been asked to donate money to either the Peace Corps or to the co-op where I worked. People know how to give money if they want.
I read it, I considered it, and I’m still really agreeing with Vu. I have spent most of my career working in communities of Color and in inner city nonprofits, and this is exactly the patronizing attitude that has never worked for me. I remember the last gala I wanted to go to, they had reduced tickets for staff, but didn’t have a fair system for distribution. I couldn’t afford a full priced ticket, and then was criticized for not attending. I never got credit for the 15-20 hours per week of extra unpaid overtime I did, all the lunches I didn’t take, all the snacks I gave to my hungry clients….you need to look big picture at what your staff is giving, there’s more than money given when we’re broke, usually from being underpaid in the first place for the mission.
Thanks for reading and considering. I’m so sorry you’ve had this experience where you’ve worked. That, however, is the problem. The patronizing attitude. The lack of recognition and support. The feeling of being taken advantage of. That needs to be fixed first, of course.
How does People in Power Asking for Money Being Taken Advantage of?
By definition, you are taking advantage of a power relationship by asking subordinates to donate money. I don’t even want to buy Girl Scout cookies from a co-worker. I would be livid if my boss asked me to donate.
I agree with both sides of this, but I think Claire’s is idealized and Vu’s is the harshest of realities.
It would be wonderful if we all worked in a culture of philanthropy full of love and respect for staff and donors. When we talk about staff “living and breathing” the organization’s mission, that – in my mind – starts us down the road of work/life balance issues. In other words, many of us have lived and breathed that mission by spending 80-100 hours/week by trying to manage a job that really should be three jobs done by three people. The work has to get done or else the mission fails, and so we do it.
I think it would be great if we treated staff asks the way we treat “civilian” donors. I think it would be great if we stewarded staff – donors or not – as we do civilian donors; often staff are last in line for being taken care of as it’s always mission/donors first. I think it would be great if we didn’t call out staff who donated at meetings so that those who didn’t/couldn’t, or gave less, don’t feel crummy. I think it would be great that we didn’t have to beg our leadership to pay our staff living wages, so that not only could they feel like they could contribute where they work, but to other orgs who mean a lot to them. I think all the points above made by both Claire and Vu have merit, but the reality is that we don’t all work places such as Claire described and creating that type of culture takes years, as well as a really brave and unified leadership.
I love this work, it’s super important, but I really don’t love the business model. This is a tough issue that really does strike a chord with all of us.
I read your letter with interest and I still side with Vu’s position. Annually my agency does a United Way drive with the goal set of 100% participation. It creates resentment every year. However, staff will participate in our holiday gift drive when participation isn’t expected or asked for. Many staff cannot afford that $5-10 and do feel an obligation when asked. There are so many other ways to get staff participation, such as their time. It seems like this is an area that development and higher level folks miss the mark on Everytime. Vu seems to be advocating for the”little” guy while your stance sounds much more typical of those I’ve encountered with privilege.
Mostly, I’m advocating for everyone working in the sector to feel better about their workplace. No one should feel abused. Honestly, it’s why I coach folks to take a good hard look at an organization’s culture before they accept a position there. Try to find a place where you’ll feel lifted up, not ground down. I understand that’s not always easy, but I’ll continue to fight to create better nonprofit workplace for everyone.
take a good hard look at an organization’s culture before they accept a position there.
If I am ever in the position where I am working as a hobby and not so I can sleep inside and where I have so many options, I will be sure to do this.
Yeah, still coming from a place of privilege.
When was the last time you actually worked AT a nonprofit, Claire?
Last time I worked in the trenches was 2011. Worked inside nonprofits, as frontline fundraiser, for 30 years. Thanks for weighing in.
I noticed you’re not denying your privilege. For that I’m thankful. It’s a good first step.
Thank you for being open to continued dialogue about this and other problematic aspects of your “open letter”.
We have our staff committees run internal staff fundraising campaigns like a wine survivor which makes it fun. Those who would find giving money tight can donate time to the committee and organizing events. We get 100% participation in these events which also build culture and the committee can direct where in the agency they would like funds to go to
I really do see both sides, and particularly resonate with the idea of instilling a culture of philanthropy across the organization. But if I am forced to choose one side, I err on the side of not soliciting your staff. For all the lovely ways Claire describes the best scenario for how people should feel about their work in the non-profit arena, we already are asked to give emotionally every single day we are at the office in a way that many other employees in other fields are not. I liken it to asking teachers, who presumably choose their profession because they truly love to teach, to also pay for their own supplies because their schools need help covering those costs. After all they love their kids and their classrooms, so why wouldn’t they want to give financially to the cause as well? Despite my loving the idea that people want to give to the organization they work for because that’s their philanthropic priority, and it’s something I do, and the ask certainly can be made in a non-coercive, encouraging sort of way, when it comes as the result of an ask (possibly from their own boss) it just hits me the wrong way, over and over again. Much as we may love our organizations and our jobs, the bottom line is that we come to work to earn money so that we can feed and house ourselves and our families. The fact that we get the unbelievable privilege to work to do good in the world is a bonus, often that we choose at the expense of other things. We should be able to make the decision about where our hard-earned money goes without the pressure of having to give at the office.
After reading this thought provoking response, I did re-examine my position on the matter. In the end I still lean toward Vu’s arguement and my own approach to this issue. First, I do not buy that the arguement that in order to ask you must give first applies to staff. Of course I want my staff to be engaged and passionate, and to give of themselves to our mission. But they do this is so many ways every single day as the go above and beyond to attain so much good. This does not need to also include a financial contribution. Second, I stand by my own approach, which is to encourage our staff to be philanthropic leaders in our community. In this I lead by example, giving annually to multiple other local charities, volunteer work, and
mentorship of emerging nonprofit leaders and organizations. I think, in our case, as staff it is more valuable to our organization if we lead in our sector and community than if we give financially. This positions us a local leaders in support of philanthropy in our community and sends a positive message to our colleagues that we are there for them as well as ourselves.
I’m taken aback by the fact that some commenters found Vu’s arguments to have dangerous assumptions. It does, however, seem dangerous to assume that “offering” staff the chance to give ( a chance they’re usually all well aware of) at their place of employment is not often uncomfortable at best and threatening at worst. People lose nonprofit jobs because of a lack of “fitness” all the time, even in functional and happy orgs. Who is to say this doesn’t instill uncertainty of their position? Why would we assume that all staff feel safe in saying no to giving?
FWiw, I have been a successful fundraiser in a number of nonprofits, and have never asked staff to give. Many did, because they could, wanted to, and made their own choices.
Claire,you seem to be an accomplished and professional fundraiser and I’m sure you are very successful
What bothers me about your essay and the agreeable comments is that the word “philanthropy” is coming up over and over again. This should be your cue that something is off in your perspective.
This issue is primarily: one of organizational culture and organizational development, and one of the wise principles and practices of Human Resources.
I think of the old adage that if you all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail! And I am likely guilty of that a bit also, because my work has been HR, organizational development and finance, never fundraising!
As far as the finance/accounting lens: you are simply moving $ from a pay stub to the revenue section of the financial statements, and I would have to ask any honest fund developer if maybe that is just a little self-serving as far as helping you to meet your revenue targets
I completely agree with every argument made by Vu and have not met a single nonprofit staffer that does not give, usually to a fault, far more than any major donor could imagine, in terms of energy, their own health and often their sanity. Vicarious trauma comes to mind, as well as my many friends who face living in poverty in retirement after long careers in the sector with underfunded retirement plans.
I strongly believe that until we can correct the practices, traditions and realities that perpetuate substandard wages in the nonprofit sector (and often less than humane workplace conditions) we should certainly not be looking upon employee giving as “low hanging fruit.” While there can be much dignity in doing the work, the reality of the employment relationship and all economic scenarios faced by employees should make the giving conversation a forbidden one.
I am also reminded of something I heard at a conference a few years ago. I wish I could remember the name of the professor, but he introduced the term “value alignment exploitation”, meaning of course, that we “get away with” exploitation of our staffs based on “it is all about the mission”. In my view, the money-ask rubs salt in that very real wound. I make a further argument that the potential for corruption is high in our nonprofit organizations (and I’ve seen plenty) when we are blinded by the mission quest in similar ways that our private sector friends can be blinded by the greed of the bottom line focus. I think this fund raising practice gets a bit too close to that line.
Plenty of staff will come forward to voluntarily donate. That door can be left open without shaking any threatening stick at already weary workers.
This comment reminds me of a larger issue the sector faces, sometimes called the ‘nonprofit starvation cycle.’ It’s a hair shirt mentality that leads to not spending enough on staff and infrastructure to get the job done effectively. And that includes doing so in a humane way. Similarly, sometimes this mentality leads to staff overworking and even suffering — as that seems to be valued. I think that ties into what you call “value alignment exploitation.” No one should feel compelled to suffer to show they’re a committed, dedicated worker or a ‘good person.’ I would simply suggest that’s a much larger problem, and a different one, than being asked to make a voluntary philanthropic gift. Fundraising should never be about greed. This is the reason the tagline for my blog is “philanthropy, not fundraising.” I’m not sure how this suggests something is ‘off’ in my perspective. Hmmn…
i found this counter argument from Vu’s blog and clicked on it. i disagree. My disagreement comes from my own lived experience and the tone found within your article, Claire. It began well enough, and may i suggest the book by Robin Diangelo, White Fragility. Perhaps you are already familiar with it. If so, please review it. If not, please read it. you seem to be well versed in navigating the deep waters of dominant culture and can allude to a desire for resisting it thru your advocacy of creating a culture of philanthropy… privilege gives us optimism. And, yet it masks the supremacy ideals in self righteous clothing. Just because your logic and reasoning mirrors that system that upholds the status quo does not mean it’s correct. Oppression is still oppression. This is a gift for you and your followers. i appreciate the space to share this here.
YESSS!! I got to moderate a Q&A with Robin DiAngelo and am glad someone else also made this recommendation. Her talks are among the first resources I share, when talking with white colleagues (especially in the nonprofit sector) who seem to be discussing privilege and systemic racism for the first time.
I am a Director at a nonprofit whose mission I support wholeheartedly. Honestly, if my boss or the board (all who know that I am paid somewhat well but not for the city I live in) asked me to give I would be insulted and push back hard against them asking other staff. Our staff is SO small everyone would know who did and did not give, and I would be concerned about subtle retaliation (when raises are due, when bonuses are discussed) in the future for not giving.
Dry brave topic —thank you for continuing this important forum and these threads. The word that troubles me in Clare’s response is, frankly,”love.” This word does political masking that , for me, cannot be absolved by generalist comments about institutional culture. Racisms and moral (neo)liberalisms
abound in the nonprofit sector (i happen to work in the nonprofit arts). To reframe the problem In gratitude to those whove labored to elucidate the particulars I’ll ask: How might people who make their working livelihoods from philanthropic work (slash culture) step more meaningfully toward disinheriting savioristic behaviors and embrace the (political) economic reality that pressures to assimilate to work place norms disproportionately affect workers whose Sense of self thrives outside of cultural Capitalisms? Workers invested in nonprofit work show up. Period. The tacit (emotional and material) costs of showing up nit for profit should be championed. Period. If you are a
NPO Worker with means and desire to give, go ahead.
Period. But what forums like Vu’s so potently remind us
To consider as a field is to move always with the awareness that Shiite skin privilege and class privilege have created a beyond uneven playing field that offers lessons in humility that no single person’s definition of “love” can promise to teach. I’m taking so much forward as a white investor in nonprofit work from this debate, but frankly, I’m not at all in this for some mythical ideal of charity or universal love.
I’m with Claire on this one. I was at a human services organization for almost 21 years. I always felt our staff giving day was a big morale booster. It got us all on the same page, bridged the gap between the development team and the program staff, and we all felt ownership in choosing what the staff pledges would go to. We also used that time to express how much we appreciated them and all their hard work.
Thank you Claire for writing this.
As an ED, I kept reading Vu’s post and getting angry at the assumption that it is right to underpay employees, that it is right to treat them as hired hands and not partners, that it is right to expect them to work inhumane hours. It is not.
But to not do those things, fundraising needs to be in high gear. As an ED I raise money so I have enough to pay my staff a living wage, so we’re staffed enough that everyone can take their full allotted vacation every year, and so no one works more than 50 hours a week on a bad week.
That takes hard work and all hands on deck. I expect all board members – and staff members – to be part of the team making this enterprise happen, in a way that matches our values.
I was most touched last year when our board decided to do an online campaign. They were really trying hard and some board members were very successful and so less so. My staff took note of which ones were lagging and contributed to their campaigns to cheer them on and show our support. Not much – $10 or $20. But the recognition that we are all in this together is what giving is all about.
Thank you for recognizing the importance of spending money to make money. Part of our nonprofit missions should be to reward staff who make it possible for the organization to survive, thrive, and continue the work on which many others rely. Too many nonprofits operate in a manner that perpetuates the so-called ‘nonprofit starvation cycle.’ As I’ve written in this article about overhead [https://clairification.com/2016/06/29/nonprofit-overhead-worth-not-less/] “lean and mean is just that. Mean.” Many of the comments here seem to testify to how mean some nonprofits are to their staff. This makes me so sad. It’s understandable these folks wouldn’t want to give; they feel all their organization is doing ‘for’ them is take, take, take. This is a sign of an unhealthy nonprofit. Unhealthy nonprofits are probably not at a stage where they can, in good conscience, ask their staff to give philanthropic gifts. They need to work first at becoming healthy.
I read Vu’s initial post just after I had sent out our staff appeal. In an organization where staff are relatively well compensated, have a menu of benefits and generally are ok. On my signature as the director of development. The letter basically said — hey I love asking our community to support the awesome work we do and the extraordinary people you are — it’s a great job and if you’d like to support us with your own gift, here are the ways you can do that. But a year ago I was at a different organization where I would have never sent out a staff appeal – staff could barely put food on their tables and had no health insurance and generally lived below the poverty line. So, to me, it depends on the organization.
“I don’t see how giving to our own organization precludes giving to others as well.”
Because there’s only so much to spread around. I spent many years working for a below-market-rate salary at a nonprofit where I was happy, passionate and felt appreciated. My budget was tight, however, and I had additional passions that I wanted support with my money and volunteer hours. I was already serving 40-50 hours per week, so no, I did not want to further increase that one organization’s share of my pie.
I would have resented being asked/pressured/coerced to give, not because we had a lousy workplace culture (it was actually great), but because the request would have sent a message that the hard work I did and joyfully made financial sacrifices for (joy and sacrifice are not mutually exclusive) were not enough. In my mind, a good workplace that truly values its employees will not continually ask for more or measure employee passion and commitment in additional donations.
I did not mean to suggest anyone ask their employees in such a manner it conveys a lack of appreciation for their ongoing passion and commitment. No one (donors too) should be asked in a manner that feels like pressure or coercion. Never, ever. And it’s great if employees choose to give elsewhere, of course. AND… what I tell board members is that it is hoped while they serve on the board they make our charity one of their top philanthropic priorities. I’d extend this same hope to staff — while they work there. Not as coercion, but because they care about the mission. After they leave, it would not be surprising at all for their priorities to shift. I continue to give to some of the organizations I worked for, not all.
Reiterating the most important point: if we feel we can’t ask staff to give, then throw the idea of asking a volunteer board member to donate out the window. No logic on this at all.
In my own experience, staff who don’t want to give view their position is just a job, and typically will soon move on, whereas people who truly embrace the mission and work will give and stay.
I think your second paragraph is totally, totally the opposite of reality. People who truly embrace the mission and work will stay — and work. There is nothing whatsoever to connect giving hard- and happily-earned money to whether that employee is somehow worthwhile, as you imply.
This is the undercurrent that I think many of us reading, who are dedicated to the sector, are bristling at: that there is inherently something wrong with us, or our attitudes, or our organizations, many of which we worked hard to build, if we feel it is wrong to be asked for a, can I say, cannibalistic donation. We know we work for a nonprofit. We know when there are giving campaigns and see the donation buttons on our screens. That is enough.
Put simply, if you don’t understand our perspective, why not err on the side of not asking. Those who have the means and the interest in donating will on their own, and already likely does all kinds of in-kind giving, promotion, and actual donations (ahem office supplies) all year round. I’d say a healthy organization recognizes and values those AS gifts, and does not ask for more.
I don’t know many of the salaries, spouse salaries, or retirement savings account statuses of you, Claire or the other pro-ask posters, but as someone working in the sector for 20+ years, I picture a fairly well-off and privileged class of people. Take my word for it: it makes us uncomfortable. And makes a lot of assumptions, and sends a message of judgment. It is more about your position of privilege than a scarcity mindset.
I found these counterarguments to be unconvincing and in bad faith. Most of all, I would prefer not to read opinions on this topic from nonprofit sector workers who make over $48k/year. I’m so uninterested in the condescending jargon of highly paid development directors and consultants. Most of us nonprofit employees are poor by definition. They cannot be compared to board members, who are usually rich because that’s kind of the point, and they cannot be compared to volunteers who are typically comfortable enough to devote some time to unpaid work. Our commitment to cause over salary already makes us vulnerable to extortion no matter how cozy or joyful or mission-oriented it is presented. Any ask at all is a form of pressure. Framing the entire issue as a messaging challenge… it’s like coaching a kidnapper on how to sound less intimidating when he tells you to get in the van. No. This is not about tone. It’s an ask, therefore it’s intimidating. Most employees put in extra work far above and beyond their job description, what amounts to, wild guess, at least a thousand dollars a year of highly skilled labor or undocumented expenses. Most nonprofit employees I know give so much. This obsession with staff giving presses home the notion that nothing they do is nearly as valuable as cash.
Thanks for joining the conversation. I appreciate that. I also would hope we can have this conversation without the ad hominem attacks. I am in no way “obsessed with staff giving.” What provoked my response to Vu’s post, and the comments that followed, was more the notion you bring up that aligns with “Most of us nonprofit employees are poor by definition.” I would truly hate for that to be how we define ourselves.
I don’t quite understand your response. Are you saying that poverty is just a word? An attitude to overcome?
No. That’s not what I’m saying.
I think we all agree, we don’t want to define ourselves as “poor by definition” employees. However, nonprofit wages often fall below cost of living and other expenses, making the definition less of an opinion or personal choice, and one of simple math. Additionally, the counterargument to asking employees to donate to their organizations IS trying to re-define the perception of nonprofit employees. Many are asking not to be defined by the money they give, but by the time, energy, and other resources they pour into their organizations and communities they serve, for choosing to give their careers to an organization with a mission they fully believe in – something that can take quite a bit of sacrifice. (As Kate said, cause over salary.)
So there are a number of people who have asked you here to consider your privilege on this topic, and based on your responses, you aren’t willing to do that (or, benefit of the doubt, you don’t know how). I sincerely hope you will take the time to consider how your privilege is affecting your perspective and responses here – I recommend paying* someone with significant lived experience of race and class oppression to help you understand how your privilege is preventing you from really hearing what members of your community are telling you on this. (*yes, paying someone, because that unpaid emotional labor, this very labor we’re exhibiting here to try to get you to hear us out, is a function of the same systems of inequality you are saying shouldn’t exist.)
If you don’t understand (or suspect you may not fully understand) what I or others are saying or alluding to, that should be a clue for you to do the work and find out why.
Ironically, I googled ‘privilege in fundraising’ and this article was one of the first to show up: https://nonprofitaf.com/2018/09/hey-people-with-privilege-you-need-to-be-ok-with-making-mistakes-and-being-called-out/
Explaining privilege as an oppressed person is exhausting. I’ll likely not be responding to any future comments. Good luck.
First, I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone by not responding to every comment. It’s not that I’m unwilling (though I’ll cop to the notion that I may not know how to your satisfaction), but there are only so many hours in a day. And… defending oneself is equally exhausting. This doesn’t mean I’m not listening. I understand people come from different backgrounds and experience situations differently as a result. Part of my truth is that for many years people criticized me for seeing the world as ‘cup half empty.’ They exhorted me to flip my perspective, and I’ve been on a quest to see the world as ‘cup half full.’ Hence, I may now be criticized for looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Maybe. I’m trying to come from a place of hope, kindness and positivity. I also recognize I can’t know what it feels like to stand in someone else’s shoes. I can only try to understand and empathize. I hope I do try. I’m also eminently pragmatic when I put on my fundraising hat. That’s the real reason I wrote this response. Because the views expressed have everything to do with folks’ views about money. And, yes, privilege. And these views can hugely get in the way of being successful generating the funds our organizations need to fulfill their missions. Please understand I am NOT suggesting nonprofit staff be relied on for the lion’s share of philanthropy. I’m suggesting a cultural shift. One where inviting everyone to participate is viewed as inclusive — and not as clueless or a power play. It seems a bit divisive to view one group of people as ‘worthy’ of being donors and another group as ‘unworthy,’ solely by virtue of their status as employee/non-employee or privileged/oppressed. I would so much prefer to focus on values we share than on what divides us.
At the very least, I hope you’ll allow me the ‘privilege’ here of being wrong. At least I’m speaking out on something I knew would be controversial, and I’m trying to do so in a respectful way. I don’t claim to know everything.
“Staff who do not donate for whatever reason risk being perceived and treated negatively, a lot of it unconscious.”
This is a real fear. I have worked at two for-profit companies where you had to complete a form NOT to participate in the United Way campaign. There was so much pressure to contribute. I can’t even imagine how much worse it would be if my boss or my grandboss wanted me to give money back to my own employer.
Find some other way to get the money. Asking employees to donate to the place that pays them is grossly inappropriate.
This definition of a Culture of Philanthropy ignores the impact of the inherent power dynamics at play in mission-based solicitation and reallocation of money, especially in organizations where the majority of workers are living at just above the poverty line, and perpetuates the nonprofit sector’s consistent personal boundary violations.
What other industry has this expectation? A leader saying, “Here is what I donated of my 6 figure salary, and I encourage you to give as well,” to staff making $20k a year is awkward and insulting, which is probably why this is so rarely a transparent expectation. Holding unclear expectations is not healthy behavior in any culture.
The rationale, “If YOU won’t contribute, and you live and breathe the mission, then why would you expect anyone else do to so?” with the expectation that already hard-working staff should, “lead by example,” is inhuman. This is ACTUALLY setting up the expectation that life and breath are not enough for a worker to give — they best give their money, too. It’s guilting paternalism. As is the argument that asking staff “gives people the opportunity” to donate. THEY WORK THERE. They write and correct the copy, doctor and upload the images, pass through hoops for approval, update the website, blast it on email and social — they know how to contribute to the organization!
Gratitude and encouragement, transparent investment in career growth both professionally and capitally, autonomy, the ability to take a paycheck and a benefits package home that supports themselves and their family, with the expectation that work is left at the office — so, the commitment that prioritizing workers’ basic human rights is a better means of executing the mission than asking them for money — this makes a Culture of Philanthropy.
Might I take issue with some of the underlying assumptions here?
–Power dynamics at play need not be inherent.
–No gift should be given under pressure to do so.
–Asking staff to consider philanthropy should not be about reallocation of money.
This is why the underlying dynamic really is culture. If you love your work and feel supported you won’t feel the same way on this topic as if you hate your work and feel oppressed.
If you’re talking about doing nothing beyond dropping all employees onto a larger mailing list or setting up an anonymous cash donation box then maybe power dynamics aren’t in play. But any direct appeals to staff or campaigns with participation goals are coercive. People will be concerned that their decision to give or not will be judged, and based on comments by you and others asserting that people who are happy and see their work as more than “just a job” will give, those concerns are valid.
I read Vu’s piece on an international flight last week and found myself shouting into my pillow. Claire, I agree with you 100%.
Claire, I have to disagree with your bottom line: “If YOU won’t contribute, and you live and breathe the mission, then why would you expect anyone else do to so?” As a nonprofit worker myself, many of us are underpaid, and if not, could have a myriad of other financial expenses (as a millennial, student loan debt is definitely comes to mind) that prevent us from giving money back to our organization. And why is it that $5 is really what it takes to show people that I am committed and fully believe in the organization’s mission? The argument that if employees don’t give their money, you can’t expect others too, is flawed. Employees give their time, energy, and lives to the organizations, missions, and the people they serve. We should not be measuring the dedication of our employees by monetary donations, nor should we be using this hook to convince others to donate.
Additionally, the “joy” that comes from making a philanthropic donation sounds like it is severely rooted in privilege for those that can easily part with money. Many employees get that joy from serving their communities, not from giving money to their organization, which is why they chose to work at a nonprofit instead in the private sector where wages allow more for donations. Again, for those saddled with debt, working at a nonprofits that typically underpay their entry level employees, every dollar counts.
I would just like to add that only in the nonprofit sector are employees consistently asked to prove their commitment and dedication to the organization by giving their money back to the organization. In the private sector and nonprofits, there is the feeling of needing to stay late, come in early, go above and beyond, work long hours, etc. But those things and the work people do speak for themselves in the private sector. We play off people’s emotional connections to work and serving in the nonprofit sector when we ask them to give money back to the organization to which they’ve already given so much.
I am not suggesting everyone must give a monetary gift.
I am suggesting folks at least talk about and celebrate the joy that comes from service to the mission.
There are ways to do this that are respectful, non-coercive and even fun. Some folks have given examples in their comments here. I used to ask a coffee house to donate coffee and pastries for a week. We had a “Friends” campaign, and the staff component was called “Coffee with Friends.” Staff could simply put a donation in a jar anonymously if they felt so inspired. This also has the benefit of reminding everyone how the mission is funded. Not just from large donations, but from many small donations too. All gifts, of time, talent and treasure, are welcome and appreciated. If a staffer believes they already contribute sufficiently, that’s okay.
This discussion is important, and nuanced. I’m a long-time nonprofit fundraiser and exec and board member and volunteer (these days I’m focused on wellness at nonprofits, which is also nuanced, but that’s another story). I’ve been on every side of this conversation, including being pressured by the boss to give a significant personal gift AND at the same time, being put in charge of asking for 100% donations from our staff. My position has evolved over time, from “give if you want” to being on Vu’s side that “nonprofit staff should not be asked to give” — they literally gave at the office — with one exception. Fundraisers.
If your job title includes the word Development or Fundraising or Advancement or Donor, yes, you should give to your organization. Why? (1) moral high ground “I give and so should you” (2) test the online credit card processor to make sure it works (3) seed your/colleague’s P2P webpage. I mean, no one wants to release a peer-to-peer fundraising page with $0 raised!
Yeah, sure, we all want cultures of philanthropy but it doesn’t have to be defined as money. I used to tell our program staff, Your fundraising job is to run a kick-ass program, so I can ask for money to support it. Also, everyone in the organization should understand how stressed the fundraisers are most of the time. Bring them a cupcake! Buy them coffee! Say Thanks For Raising My Salary! THIS is building a culture of philanthropy, more than making sure 100% of staff give at least $1. Like Vu, I’ve been asked by some funders about board giving, but never about staff giving.
Finally, as with wellness, those who make more can afford to give (and they can afford the gym, or to take expensive yoga classes to relieve stress) and that causes myopia. Lower-paid staff, or single parents like me, or folks who bypassed a more-lucrative job to work for a mission-based organization might have other financial priorities and it’s important that development folks get that. Sounds like Claire has always worked in organizations that are healthy and positive, and to that I say jealously Lucky Claire!, but frankly most nonprofit workers toil in a culture that is not so supportive, in a time when the Trump administration is barraging the sector with new challenges. Being asked to contribute money is another morale-blow to folks who are already experiencing daily slights. It’s literally not worth it.
Thanks everyone, for “contributing” (haha) to the conversation and advancing a culture of well-being in your favorite organization, especially in non-monetary ways.
I have to weigh in with the original article. Especially on this point: Power Dynamics at Play. Claire states – (in part) “Not asking staff to participate in one of the most important endeavors in which the organization is engaged – assuring there is funding to continue the mission – is not the answer” In the original article, Vu describes “In the actual world, there are power dynamics and implicit biases at play, so nothing is ever really ‘optional.’ There is always tremendous pressure built into these campaigns, whether you intend for it or not.” I find this to be true, regardless of the culture. When the *boss* asks me to donate, well I better donate shouldn’t I? And that makes it weird. Better to take it out of the equation, and leave it to me to make decisions where I put my time and treasure.
For me there are a few issues at play. I think that those who are for employee giving campaigns are often fundraisers, who are often paid more than their colleagues who are in a direct service role, are often a predominantly white group of people, and may have other benefits like a more flexible schedule, etc. Therefore, I think there is a certain level of privilege inherent in our perspectives as fundraisers. Yes, as a fundraiser whose job it is to ask other for funding, I absolutely think you should be supporting your own organization. I always have. But, it is true that many other roles have given up a larger paycheck to do the work they do every day, and are quite passionate about the work they do (especially in youth serving organizations), but, they see their contribution as the long hours they put in, the supplies they pay for with their own funds, and the larger paycheck they might have had if they had chosen a different path. I think what many fundraisers fail to see is how this ask falls on people in those types of roles, who feel they’ve made generous contributions to the organization, which are not recognized because they don’t contribute to the fundraising team’s goals ($$). This also comes with an extra layer of tricky power dynamics, especially when the donations are tracked to reach “100% participation” or some such arbitrary goal.
Secondly, by the definition of a culture of philanthropy which you linked to in the article, I don’t believe that must (or even should) include an employee giving campaign. If the definition of philanthropy “goodwill to fellow members of the human race; especially : active effort to promote human welfare,” then I think an employee giving campaign will often destroy the very thing you say that it will build. Instead, let’s celebrate the amazing contributions that our colleagues are making and give when we wish. Those with the means and desire to give, will give, and the fact that we haven’t asked them will not diminish their joy in giving.
A lot of the commentary running through this conversation verges on how “insulting” it is to ask people doing the work (who may often be low paid) to also consider a monetary gift. I hear a version of the same rationale from board members who don’t want to ask their friends/colleagues. This is an excuse. It is what people say when they’re afraid to ask, or be asked, and/or when there is low employee morale. It’s rarely a question of whether an employee can afford to make a gift. In fact, poorer people give disproportionately more of their income than wealthier folks. And I’ve worked at social service organizations where the folks to whom we delivered meals joyfully insisted on handing us a dollar or two in gratitude. So… it’s more a question of whether an employee feels good enough about the organization/mission to want to give. If they don’t, therein lies the problem. And part of that problem may be unhealthy power dynamics at play. So, of course, that must be addressed first. Where coercion and oppression and inhumane practice is the modus operandi of the organization, asking staff to give will not fly. But the “fix” to that problem is not banning employee giving campaigns.
Wow, Claire. You really aren’t listening, you aren’t checking your privilege, and you’ve chosen this as the philosophical hill you’re going to die on. Heaven help anyone who has to work for you, or any of your disciples. It’s a shame you refuse to concede that perhaps the enormous percentage of nonprofit jobs that pay poverty wages and don’t offer benefits yet carry an expectation the employees who hold those positions will have disproportionately high levels of education (hello, Master’s degree required for a $25k job!) might mean these folks ALREADY give more than they can afford to the organization in the form of living a financially precarious existence that precludes or undermines many things (possibly: retirement accounts, savings accounts, adequate housing) you probably take for granted.
This is as obtuse as the tenured senior academic who tells the non-TT adjunct with a 5/5 teaching load that they need to be on another committee. You. Just. Don’t. Get. It.
Wow back. There are a lot of assumptions running through the comments about my privilege. From people who don’t know me. I do understand privilege exists because of historic, enduring racism and biases. It’s a built-in advantage. Yes, I’m white. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to pursue a good education. I am extremely grateful. Must I apologize for that before I can write an opinion about embedded, unconscious attitudes that disrupt effective fundraising? Certainly not all people within a given demographic experience are alike. I would never want to assign anyone a subordinate role, a specific psychology or a particular worldview based on the color of their skin, gender, religion, disability or any other factor. Nor would I want to choose a philosophical hill upon which I’m going to die. One of the things I’m trying to do is advocate for healthier workplaces. For better salaries for nonprofit workers. For abandoning the starvation cycle of management. And, bottom line, I’m endeavoring to help nonprofits fulfill their missions and do their important work.
And I’m listening. I will begin by endeavoring not to see this as an attack, and not to become defensive. I admit that while trying to be well-meaning, I may be saying exactly the wrong thing. Years ago when I gave birth to a full-term stillborn baby, I realized I had been saying the wrong thing to other people in similar situations. I just didn’t know what it felt like until it happened to me. So, what could I do to help?
Clair, I think that while many of the comments about privilege are directed at you what many people commenting are getting at is there is an unequal power dynamic due to the privilege that many fundraisers have. I believe this is true even in organizations with wonderful cultures. I honestly think that what many people are wanting to hear from you is simply an acknowledgement that this dynamic exists.
We need to do away with or completely rethink what a “culture of philanthropy” actually is in our field. The first time I heard this phrase I felt that it was a way for the development/fundraising/advancement departments to redirect attention away from the thorny issue of board and staff giving. The second time I heard it, I felt like it was a way to open up a new industry for consultants to create these cultures of philanthropy.
From my perspective (low level non-fundraising employee), it feels like the development side of our field sees board and staff giving as one in the same thing. The other side of the the field does not see them as connected. Rank and file non-profit employees making below-average to average salaries DO see staff giving campaigns as a way to take cash from their paycheck. You can’t ignore this by explaining it as a culture problem. Vu is pointing out the real issue that needs addressing: that people need to be paid more! There is no credible way for a person who makes $150k as a development VP to ask an employee who makes $45k in the operations department to make a gift to the organization that is not problematic. If you think there is, then you really aren’t addressing the power dynamics in your organization.
We should also ask ourselves why our donors *care* if the staff gives. I suspect that donors ask this question because they have heard others ask it before much like they ask about “overhead” costs. If a donor asks for this information, I feel that development pros should be able to justify why staff giving is not a great metric to measure organizational success. Because it isn’t. Delivering on the mission of the organization is the important metric!
If we want to build cultures of philanthropy among our staffs, we could simply have our organizations create and resource employee giving funds. Appoint low-level staff members to head up these funds and let them decide what organizations they want to help within the community. The higher-paid staff and board members can contribute to this fund in addition to their annual gifts to the organizational operating fund. Of course – we should do this only after a full salary/wage audit to make sure that all staff are being paid fairly/competitively according to their responsibilities and experience.
Agree we need to rethink the meaning of ‘culture of philanthropy.’ I’m able to explain it to my own satisfaction — as simply coming from a place of love/kindness towards all — but agree it’s not immediately obvious or clear in practice (and you made me chuckle when you talked about it as a full-employment-for-consultants ploy). A year ago I participated in an ‘innovation lab’ organized by the Haas Fund, comprised by a diverse group of practitioners, consultants and organizers; consensus was to redefine it as a ‘culture of abundance.’ Again, I can explain that to myself, but don’t know that it’s any more clear. It’s hard to go down this road when an organization is completely starved, and when leadership is resistant. Big problem. Needs to be addressed first. Thanks for your comment.
Andrew, I agree! Especially with your point that staff and board members are NOT the same. In fact, board members are often recruited for their capacity to give at very high levels due to personal wealth.
I too am somewhat confused about the notion of a culture of philanthropy and why this is often given as a good reason to have an employee giving campaign. The definition of culture of philanthropy that Clair linked in the article says nothing about monetary giving, so why do we keep expecting employee giving to magically create this sought after, yet amorphous, concept.
I don’t know if this post will be helpful or not. https://clairification.com/2015/04/14/the-heart-of-effective-major-donor-development-its-not-money/ While it’s oriented towards major gift development, the central concept holds true: It’s not about the money. It’s about impact and gratitude. About being constituent centered (and, yes, employees are constituents too). The point is that it takes a village pulling together to effectively do this work. Fundraising staff can’t be put off into a corner where they do the “distasteful, money-grubbing” work. Everyone has a role in creating positive, productive relationships with everyone — within and without the organization. ‘Culture of philanthropy’ is not a reason to ask staff to give/thank them for their many contributions. It’s a way of life — from which other good things, hopefully, flow.
Claire, I’ve been following this for the last few days and have commented over on the Nonprofit AF blog. I finally am compelled to comment here today.
Not on the “substance” because many many good points have already been made. But on the privilege infused in the worldview and tone conveyed in your counter-argument, and your responses to others’ comments. Many others have commented on this, in particular an anonymous commenter, followed by Natale. In both, the responses you provided in themselves continued to convey an enormous amount of privilege in your perspectives.
Echoing others again, I sincerely urge you to sit down and examine that, in particular white fragility. Please.
Okay. I guess I don’t get it. I do understand power dynamics exist. Everywhere.
Thank you for your comment.
I agree with Trang’s statement.
Something for you to ponder is who gets to create the “Culture of Philanthropy?” That privilege often isn’t afforded to the front line workers or those at the bottom pay tier of the organization.
As someone who used to be *harassed* to make a gift and almost threatened to have my performance review docked for not making a gift to the org, I can say I wasn’t making a gift out of a spirit of giving. That privilege wasn’t mine to have, just another privilege to have exploited and power wasn’t mine to have in that situation.
Thanks for weighing in. You pose an important question regarding who creates the culture of philanthropy. Sadly, it almost always comes from the top. And absent exceptional leadership it can be challenging to come by. I’m wondering if anyone has a successful model to offer?
I am so sorry you were harassed to give. Harassment should never be a part of fundraising. Not with staff. Not with volunteers. Not with other donors. It’s a recipe for failure.
I haven’t read the other comments so mine may be redundant, but I can speak from my own experience of working for an organization I loved, adored, and poured my heart into, for a full-time salary of $36,000 with no benefits. I have student loans. I have bills to pay and ACA premiums to pay. My husband is in school. Making a gift to the organization would have literally meant that I chose not to pay a utility bill.
If I were earning a comfortable salary, absolutely. But $36,000 is not that. All I could give was my time, energy, and expertise, which I did – joyfully. Until I left for a job in the private sector, so that I could earn a salary that actually pays the bills and lets me save a little ($100/month) toward retirement, which isn’t much but is a lot less than $0. And now I DO give to that organization.
Wow! It’s s taken me all day to read through these messages and both the original posts that started the discussion. As someone that just started a new position, I was planning on implementing a staff campaign (as some have given, but it hasn’t been a norm).
This has given me pause. I can read and see benefits in both sides of the story.
But as someone who’s been in the non-profit sector for over 20 years, I’ve given to the workplaces I’ve believed in . Minimum wage included I still give to a place that eliminated my job because I believe in them and the people they support. And I’ve given the biggest gifts though payroll deduction as a staff member.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill
Isn’t that what we should be shooting for as nonprofit leaders?
Thanks for taking the time to read through all this, and for adding your perspective. I happened on this article about how to run an effective employee giving campaign, and thought I’d share> https://npengage.com/nonprofit-fundraising/5-strategies-to-implementing-a-successful-employee-giving-campaign/ I also really like this article from Charity Village>https://charityvillage.com/cms/content/topic/taking_the_plunge_employee_giving_campaigns_in_your_nonprofit_organization#.XFPYBFVKiUk It has the following suggestions for how to ask: Walk in their shoes. Be sensitive in the request, acknowledging and recognizing employees’ existing commitment to the organization.
–Segment your ask. Just as you would with any group of potential donors, consider years of service, department and other factors to tailor your request.
–Ask senior management first. Blackbaud calls this the “silent phase” of your employee giving campaign and suggests all senior management should make a donation before asking staff.
–Offer the same treatment as you would any other donor, in terms of respect, privacy, recognition and energy invested in the request.
–Show how an individual’s participation is important to the success of the organization, says Miller, and encourage participation rather than dollar amounts.
–Make it absolutely clear that performance reviews or advancement within the organization are in no way tied to giving.
–A direct supervisor should not make a fundraising request of their staff, if at all possible, says Smith-Spencer.
–Size doesn’t matter. Miller has seen employee giving campaigns in organizations with even two staff where employees consider how they can personally contribute to the organization’s mission.
Thank you for sharing these other articles Claire.
LL maybe consider challenging staff to disseminate a wishlist or donate things they have at and no longer need, that can either be used or sold by the organisation.
Another idea is to give staff the opportunity to buy items donated for sales, for example books and clothes that the organisation can not use.
or get them involved in competitions you run eg a child welfare charity may run a staff baby photo/who did I grow up to be competition for volunteers.
In my experience, if an employee believes in the cause of the organisation and it is not just a job for them, when they discover there is a need or a way they can add value, they will either donate what they can and use the fact that they have to generate credibility with those around them or if they cannot afford to donate, they will find out as much as they can about the particular need and use there passion for the organisation to generate passion and donations from those who can afford it.
Randomly came upon this. Claire, you have no idea at all what people are asking you to do when they ask you to examine your privilege, and then based on your lack of understanding, you dismiss it.
Privilege makes us unable to see things. It puts a blind over our eyes to the impact of our words and actions. When a number of people ask you to look at your privilege – particularly when it’s people of colour – it’s asking you to try to see things that you do not currently see. These things that you’re being asked to see exist whether you see them or not. Mostly what you don’t see is the lived reality of people not like you. Read White Fragility, please. Instead of just defending yourself and being sure of your rightness. Read the book. You are holding onto your privilege tightly in these comments. As white women, doing so inevitably causes harm. Maybe not here, but somewhere. Read the book. Try to be a kinder person.
I am an ED. I have a gorgeous culture rooted in love. I still have power over my people even when I try to act always from equality and kindness. That power is inherent in whatever I ask them. I have the power to make an employee give ask, and I can put all the sweet words around it that you say and at the end of the day I have the power of their employment in my hands. Conscious use of that power requires me to acknowledge that my requests have silent weight: “this is a condition of your employment”. Ignoring that power as you advocate repeatedly in this comment thread, isn’t ok.
Your idea that the solution is just to pay people better, great, please go advocate them for funders to find operations and long term sustainability. Because that’s where the burden lies, not in the coerced (but presented as “optional”) donations of overworked employees. Once that’s done and the whole sector has risen, I will be with you on employee asks. Maybe.
Vanessa, thank you. I don’t think you are wrong and do understand this perspective. I’ve since read the book, and have been examining my beliefs in light of recent events. I tried to speak to this in some small manner in my recent article — https://clairification.com/2020/06/08/isnt-blog-current-events-yet/ –. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m learning. I hope. Yes, I see power and privilege are sadly baked into the system. And even though YOU may not be considering firing someone if they don’t give, they may perceive it that way. We’ve a long way to go until we reach a generation that doesn’t feel this way because they weren’t brought up this way.