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AFP-ICON Debrief: The turn towards collective care is here

AFP-ICON Debrief: The turn towards collective care is here

Chapter Leadership Brief 4.19.24

by Madeleine Durante
AFP Outstanding Young Professional, 2024

I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to attend my first AFP-ICON conference and receive the 2024 Outstanding Young Professional award. Over four days, I was blown away by the generosity and care of fellow fundraisers sharing their learnings and pushing the profession forward. They made it clear that philanthropy has roots in collective care practices spanning time immemorial, as well as in anti-democratic, unequal practices of power over others. How we use and reimagine the tool of fundraising — and create the field’s future — is up to each of us.

Through the wisdom of particularly Black and Indigenous leaders on the main program stage and throughout the conference, I saw practitioners reimagining fundraising in the here and now. I witnessed collective care and collective power, and left hopeful about the possibilities of the field to evolve.

Resource mobilization and collective care
Panels such as Adrienne Taylor, Victoria Mullins, and Lauren Elyse Tudor’s Philanthropy is Black History amplified that collective giving is foundational to Black history — and bound to our nature. As their panel beautifully asserted, “The impulse to give is at the heart of our existence.”

The panel cited the practices of Black philanthropists past and present, as well as giving practices Black philanthropists have anchored in — from spaces of worship to digital organizing — that forge collective action and care for one another. These practices are ancestral and inform the future of fundraising. For instance, as the panel shared, giving circles are on the rise, which can focus on giving “by and for” impacted communities (see the 2023 Philanthropy Together Collective Giving Report). As a proud giving circle alumna myself (I can’t speak highly enough about New York’s own North Star Fund’s People Power Giving Project!), I can attest to the power of individuals coming together to mobilize resources while building relationships.

Over the conference, others asked me often as a “young professional” honoree how I see fundraising and giving practices shift across generations. While younger people may have less access to disposable income due to rising inequality, stagnating wages, and the student debt crisis (just to name a few!), I see fellow millennials as well as Gen-Z possess a sharp political analysis of the role of giving in public life. I see them using the resources we have to look out for one another, and to insist that redistributing resources is a political act. Young people are participating in actions like abortion access Fund-a-Thons, community giving fundraisers such as GLITS’ successful one million dollar fundraiser to purchase housing for Black trans women, and using GoFundMe to support community members with gender-affirming care costs. These practices are deeply generational yet responsive to our current time.

The future of philanthropy and democracy
In Nikole-Hannah Jones’ phenomenal keynote, she and Nneka Allen discussed the binds of philanthropy — and how a tool reputed as in service of the public good can be a threat to democracy and free expression. As thinkers from INCITE! to Edgar Villanueva to Robert Reich have cited, western philanthropy has its roots in a privatized economic system that neglects the common good. At the same time, the word “philanthropy” at its root, as any fundraiser will readily tell you, means “love of humanity.” We know that sharing resources is an ancient practice across cultures and countries of origin.

 Nikole-Hannah Jones and Nneka Allen discussed the now-infamous case of when UNC Chapel Hill invited her for a tenured role, only to withdraw the invitation after a $25 million major donor publicly avowed to pull his support if the role were granted to her. The ability for major donors to dictate the terms of a free press and education should be alarming for anyone concerned with civil liberties. Lawsuits targeting BIPOC-centered grantmaking, or that seek to ban race equity programs, add to the threats particularly to groups that center racial justice.

But within Jones’s remarks were grounds for hope. Rather than fight for the role at UNC, Jones recounted that instead she accepted a chair role at Howard University — mobilizing donors to raise the same sum of $25 million herself to support the HBCU’s program training journalists to rigorously cover the state of democracy.

This example reminded me that philanthropy has been structured by exclusionary systems. But it’s also a practice that can be re-imagined and reworked by individuals who understand that resources can and must be mobilized in service of justice.

Community-centric fundraising in action
At this AFP-ICON, community-centric fundraising (CCF) practitioners took their rightful place as creative thinkers co-leading new futures of fundraising.

The brilliance of CCF’ers came together in Rachel D'Souza-Siebert, Rickesh Lakhani, Abigail Oduol, and Leah Rapley’s Moving Toward Equitable Futures: A CCF Panel. Fundraising leaders discussed practical implementations of CCF principles into their workplaces. They shared their experiences through approaching donors as partners, and engaging them as advocates in the struggle for justice, allowing them to not only run more equitable programs but also to raise more money. I was struck by the panelist’s reminder that how we do the work is equally measurable and significant to how much money we raise.

We have the data already to show that the old way isn’t working. AFP-ICON marked the release of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project report for 2023, which reflects the continued downward trends in donor participation and retention since 2020 — and what other sources report that, accounting for inflation, is indicative of a 20-year decline.

We have an opportunity to try new practices as fundraisers, to build more resolute communities of donors and activists. And our landscape makes clear — from attacks on multiracial democracy to declining numbers in traditional donor participation to fundraisers, particularly fundraisers of color, leaving the profession at concerning rates — we cannot afford not to.

Attending AFP-ICON and learning from leaders who are deepening donor relationships through empathy, collective action, and a resolute commitment to equity buoyed me with inspiration. This work is BIPOC-led — and it requires all of us. I left recommitting to do my part to co-create healthy, thriving, and equitable work cultures and organizations. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from visionary speakers, and committed to acting on their lessons on collective care, democracy, and community-centric fundraising. I hope you will join me in continuing these conversations and putting these principles into practice!

Madeleine Durante is a fundraiser and resource mobilizer for social justice. As Director of Donor Retention & Direct Response at MoveOn, the nation’s largest independent progressive advocacy group, Madeleine leads MoveOn’s sustainer, donor retention, and multichannel integrated fundraising for grassroots and midlevel donors. Prior to MoveOn, Madeleine held a variety of fundraising roles at Planned Parenthood, primarily in midlevel fundraising at its national office. Madeleine also served as co-chair of PPFA’s LGBTQ employee resource group. She is a proud board alumni and volunteers with the New York Abortion Access Fund, and received AFP-Global’s 2024 Outstanding Young Professional Award. When not fundraising, Madeleine loves to enjoy the city’s arts and music cultures, read, and spend time in her neighborhood park.

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