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Dressing Up: We Must Overcome Class Shame in Fundraising to Build True Equity & Justice

Dressing Up: We Must Overcome Class Shame in Fundraising to Build True Equity & Justice

Chapter Leadership Brief 7.15.2022

This is an excerpt of an article originally published on the Community-Centric Fundraising website
As a fundraiser, I’ve been to my share of “fancy” parties. Each time, I rummage through my closet trying to find the perfect outfit that will look sufficiently dressed up, professional, and that shows off my genderqueer style. 
I want to fit in. As a cisgender, white, queer person, I might look the part, but deep inside, I fear that people will judge me because I don’t come from wealth. 
Many of the fundraisers I know are like me — people who got involved in the development profession out of a love of doing good. We are not always wealthy and don’t always come from family money. This creates a tension as we navigate spaces of wealth and interface every day with philanthropists who may have very different class backgrounds than ourselves. The tension is compounded for fundraisers of color who must contend with blatant racism, microaggressions, being passed over for jobs and promotions, and more.
How do we honor and uplift our lived experiences of socioeconomic class, and turn them into a source of strength to become fearless fundraisers?
In the field of nonprofit fundraising, I’ve grappled with overcoming my class shame in order to operate as a bridge builder. I’ve learned to move among wealthy people so that I can raise money for social justice movements. I’ve learned how to use my privilege as a white, cisgender queer person to teach others who are like me—from un-wealthy backgrounds— to become donors and fundraisers themselves. It’s a gigantic feat given that regardless of our socioeconomic backgrounds, we’ve all grown up under capitalism and have been taught not to discuss money. 
We’ve got to dig deep to name and reconcile our class shame, and to uncover our belonging. 
People who do not come from wealth contribute a ton to this field. We know how and where to move resources, and we are donors of time and money ourselves. We make gifts that are meaningful to us, whether it’s $1 or $1,000, whether we volunteer for our community mutual aid or serve on a board. People with lower incomes give a higher percentage of their resources than people with high net worth. But regardless of levels of financial giving, everyone should see themselves as a valued donor, and everyone should feel comfortable asking people with wealthy backgrounds to give to their cause.
Here’s how I propose we start to overcome class shame in fundraising to build true equity and justice:
  1. Make space to be curious and talk candidly about class differences 
  2. Debunk the old myth of donor solicitation that peers must ask peers (wealth asks wealth)
  3. Redefine philanthropy to include contributions beyond the financial— people and families give in many ways and traditional philanthropy is trapped in a “charity” mindset that consolidates power with the wealthy instead of distributing it equitably
  4. Implement all the community-centric fundraising principles at our organizations
We must free ourselves from class shame so we can care for the people in our movements, innovate for the future, and liberate everyone.
Christa Orth (they/she) serves as the Co-Vice Chair of AFP-NYC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access committee. They are a lifelong fundraiser who has worked with hundreds of nonprofits in staff roles at StoryCorps and Streetsblog, and as a consultant to social justice orgs like Campaign for Southern Equality, Drama Club, First Peoples Fund, Third Wave Fund, and Trans Justice Funding Project. You can read Christa’s writing on Community-Centric Fundraising, in the Grassroots Fundraising Journal archive, and on Candid. They live on Canarsie Lenape land (also known as Brooklyn, NY), and they just launched Seaworthy Fundraising, a consulting practice providing joyful strategy and implementation for community-centric giving. You can follow Christa for very infrequent tweets @christamaeorth, email them, or connect with them on LinkedIn.

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