A monthly reflection on feminist fundraising written by Mama Cash director of partnerships and communications, Amanda Mercedes Gigler (@amandagig).
How many times has a donor, potential partner or journalist asked you: what makes your organisation unique? Different from “everyone” or different from those two or three organisations whose taglines and logos look a bit like yours?
When doing feminist fundraising we want to be both unique and also collectively supportive, and we strive to be part of the movements we exist to serve.
Thank you letters or congratulations?
This has come up a lot in my work. Fifteen years ago, I was coordinating resource development at Semillas women’s fund in Mexico, where we created a network of “women investing in women”, called Red MIM. At that time, it was a way to both mobilise individual donors and recognise that some people give money to the cause and others give their life's work. The Red MIM was created by feminist fundraisers to give structure to our work and to be a space for us to explore the politics of being feminists who moved money. We challenged the idea that donors should be thanked for their donations. And we actually tested a non-thank-you note for a while, where we congratulated new donors for investing in the social change that benefited them.
“Some people give money and others give their knowledge and labour.”
In the Red MIM, feminist donors and activists were invited to share and learn from each other about their motivations for doing what they did. I recall one person saying that “some people give money and others give their knowledge and labour, and this all contributes to social change for women’s rights”. I can’t remember if this was said by a donor to Semillas or by a person representing a group funded by Semillas. The analysis of the Red MIM by activists and donors tended to be similar.
But are these just fundraising feel-goods? Or does the way we frame and organise our resource mobilisation also impact the politics and power dynamics inherent to any situation related to money, privilege, having, giving and receiving?
Do donors really give as much as activists? How often do we (or does anyone) write a thank-you letter to a local feminist organisation for the work they do to change the world? A social movement representative said at a recent meeting to an audience of 200 funders: “I dare you to match what we give. And I doubt you can.”
“We are giving people the opportunity to realise their deepest desires by transforming money’s transactional value into a tool for social justice.”
Over the years, I’ve thought, written and used lots of words in my work as a feminist fundraiser: mobilising, developing, sharing, gifting, investing, redistributing. And other words come to mind like wealth, accumulation, guilt, debt, privilege, scarcity, want. The recognition that there are power dynamics at play in fundraising (and funding / grant-making) doesn’t mean that there’s political awareness. You don’t have to be a feminist fundraiser to be an effective fundraiser. And I think this is one of the things that makes feminist fundraising different: it requires political intention.
Today, we explore some of the same subjects at Mama Cash. We start with the basics – many of which come (for me) from Kim Klein’s book, Fundraising for Social Change; US-based fundraising gurus like Elizabeth Seja Min, Kathy LeMay; Latina community organiser-fundraisers such as Maria Mangual and Eva Gonzales (my mom); and Dutch activist and Mama Cash founder, Marjan Sax. The donor is a person, not a check-book; invite engagement, go beyond the donation; always thank volunteers; feminist movements need resources, not just funding. And one of my favourites: fundraisers are not asking for money, we are giving people the opportunity to realise their deepest desires by transforming money’s transactional value into a tool for social justice.
Doing the work justice
In addition to these principles, at Mama Cash we also explore and debate about how to make our fundraising actively non-offensive. It’s the depth of our exploration and debate that make this aspect unique to feminist fundraising. This may sound pretty easy but if you could be a fly on the wall in our office, you’d quickly find out how much work goes into this (and how we usually get this part right, but admit we don’t always).
We seek justice in imagery: close-ups where a person is looking at the camera invite engagement with the viewer, but beware of images that present a picture that does or could be perceived to present a stark power differential between viewer and viewed. We also strive to embody justice in words and have a long style guide that informs how and why we support activist groups and don’t help individual women; serve movements rather than empower people; provide accompaniment support instead of capacity building. The words are important, but the intention and the actions that precede and follow their utterance make the difference.
A Dutch civil society expert said a few years ago at a meeting with international NGOs that individual donations to NGOs were decreasing because our fundraising images and slogans had become less victimising and were focusing more on the power of the people.
“Feminist fundraising creativity knows no bounds.”
Yet all I could think of were the successful fundraising actions that donor-activists have come up with over the years to support Mama Cash and other feminist women’s funds: sponsoring a team to row a bathtub down an Amsterdam canal on International Women’s Day, strip-tease tip-donations, gender-non-conforming stiletto races, tupper-sex parties where vibrators replace Tupperware, proceeds of the sale of a book of short lesbian erotic stories, just to name a few. Feminist fundraising creativity knows no bounds.
Only fundraising that is done in a way that respects and contributes to feminist movements will actually be supportive of those movements. Only fundraising that is done well, with political honesty and unapologetically will result in the money and resources our movements require. And this is what makes feminist fundraising unique.
On that note, stay tuned for next month’s blog on Feminist Fundraising: can’t be nice all the time. And leave a comment below, whether you’re raising money or passing it on!