Equity Forward: Who’s the Hero in Your Fundraising Story?


By Jennifer Clements

March 26, 2021

We’ve written (and will continue to write) about some words and phrases that continue to marginalize certain groups.

But if your organization is pushing for a stronger focus on justice, equity, and inclusion, it may also be time to reassess the stories used in fundraising appeals.

See, a lot of old “best practices” encouraged fundraisers to make the donor the hero of the story.

You know what I mean — the story of the orphan in China who “wouldn’t be alive today if not for donors like you.” Even the old “for just the price of a cup of coffee a day, you can feed a starving child in Sudan.”

This kind of language is meant to show the donor the very real potential of their philanthropy, encouraging their giving by showing how they can change the life of the Chinese orphan or Sudanese child.

Through an equity lens, however, there is a cost to these stories that donor dollars can’t recoup — reinforcing implicit biases, and further marginalizing groups rather than lifting up their strength.

Think about it:

. . . the refugee who’s braved warzones and fled, on foot, to safety

. . . the Army captain who suffered a traumatic brain injury overseas

. . . the parent who works three jobs to get food on the table for their family

The people described in many fundraising appeals have weathered extraordinarily challenging circumstances. They are powerful, resilient, and strong — so why does fundraising language continue to seemingly put their fate in the donor’s hands?

If your organization has done this in the past, spend some time brainstorming ways to shift this storytelling. Instead of making the donor the savior, look at how the donor might instead be positioned as a partner or investor in creating systemic change. If your organization works globally, keep an eye on how certain places and populations are being presented.

Words matter. And if your organization is working to be more equitable, it might be time to give some of the workhorse copy an important revision. 

 By-Jennifer Clements








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