Last month, I hopped on a red-eye flight to New Orleans for the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ International Fundraising Conference. It would be the first conference I’d attend specifically geared toward fundraising, and I was excited to see that this year’s theme was Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA). While I had hoped that would have meant every session would have weaved these themes into the content, I had to seek out the sessions specifically geared toward equity—a reminder of the long way we have to go as a development sector to ensure equity becomes ubiquitous in all of our practices.
Last year, Center for Health Progress underwent a complete rebrand. The process resulted in a new name, website, and approach to how we achieve health equity. One of the major shifts we made was to work more purposefully and closely with Coloradans to empower them to advocate for themselves. After all, who better understands the health challenges Coloradans face than those who face them every day? What followed was our 2018-2020 Theory of Change & Strategic Framework, which outlines in detail how we will reach our goal that people who experience preventable health disparities due to historic and systemic injustices have access to timely, high-quality, and affordable health care services that meet their needs.
Becoming an organization that has made a strong and public commitment to health equity means that we’re not only working externally to change the policies and practices that prioritize some people over others, but we’re also working to reflect those ideals internally. As part of this, we have an ongoing goal to ensure our organization is sustainable and has effective operations consistent with our values. That means making space for communities to have leadership and investment in our work. It means having staff who are poised to champion issues of social and racial justice not traditionally associated with health or health care. And, it means rethinking our fundraising strategy.
Traditionally, fundraising has been seen as a supporting activity. It’s seen as a way to fund the work—not as a critical part of the work—and as something for “the rich” to do for “the poor.” It is rarely seen as “sexy,” however, it has the potential to be a pathway to social transformation, and that’s pretty amazing. When the work of fundraising is shared by many—staff, board, and most importantly, the community—it shifts power from institutions to the people who know the work and the issues the best, so they become co-creators of the strategy and equal investors in the organization’s future. That power shift can lead to the kind of radical change required to build a movement.
It’s important that we start seeing social justice fundraising as a form of organizing and power-building—moving beyond the idea that fundraising is a means to an end—and a way to form genuine relationships with the people we’re working alongside. There are many ways in which the development sector can improve to become more equitable, but I’m glad the conversation has started. I’d love the opportunity to learn from and work with other organizations who are also making this shift—if you’re one of them, or want to be one of them, please reach out and let’s talk!