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This Time It's Personal: Implementing Community-Centric Fundraising in Practice
by Roselle Tenorio

For many, 2020 brought a racial justice awakening that made it cool to be better at advancing diversity and social equity. Have the philanthropy and nonprofit fundraising sectors finally jumped on board? 

As a queer, working class, Tejanx woman, it appears to me that while these issues are gaining in popularity, there is still uncomfortable work to do, starting with the personal. Over the last year, the Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) movement has provided me with a space of learning as well as actions and practices that I can implement in my day-to-day contributions to the sector. The CCF movement was formalized in order to evolve how fundraising is done in ways that reduce harm and further social justice in the nonprofit sector. To aid in how we aspire to transform fundraising and philanthropy, to co-ground them in racial and economic justice, CCF proposed 10 principles

One of the byproducts of the heightened focus on diversity and equity in the field is a growing number of fundraising professionals who have lived experience directly related to the missions of their organizations. This is not a new phenomenon, as individuals often feel called to purpose based on their experiences. Having experienced a broad spectrum of roles in the philanthropic/nonprofit sector myself—donor, nonprofit staff, funder staff, board member, giving circle member, volunteer, client, community member—I have always felt purpose alignment and the personal benefits of engaging in the work, but I have not always felt I belonged. 

As an adult, hearing narratives centering the white savior who is “helping at-risk students out of the kindness in their heart” is an alienating experience for me personally because that is not how I saw myself or the generation after me. CCF’s Principle 7, “We foster a sense of belonging, not othering,” may seem simple to understand but requires significant effort to implement into action and integrate into practice. At a surface-level understanding, “we must be careful to avoid ‘othering’ the people we serve and reinforcing the savior complex,” as initially expanded by CCF. We, as a sector, a community, individuals, must also not assume that fundraisers are not someone formerly served by the organization or a similar organization and mission. In fact, centering those with lived experience related to the fundraising being done can be the source of power for dismantling savior complexes and the perpetuated philosophy that giving is just charity and compassion. 

CCF’s 8th principle states that “We promote the understanding that everyone (donors, staff, funders, board members, volunteers) personally benefits from engaging in the work of social justice – it’s not just charity and compassion.” While Principle 8 might lead you to think of donors first, challenge yourself for a moment to center fundraisers with lived experience and community ties directly linked to the mission they are working to advance. My personal experience of taking a self-accountability assessment for roles I hold in the nonprofit sector include considering my own lived experiences as it relates to a mission or organization, my ties to the community that the organization serves, and if there is space and power balance to hold me accountable as needed. For example, I served as a volunteer for an organization that provides quality access to performing arts to youth in North Texas. As a former dancer with low-income origins in the area, I identified with the mission and the community, making it easier to advocate and fundraise for the work. I didn’t need to share anyone else’s story because I had my own. As someone who identifies this closely with current participants, the power imbalance reduces and I feel accountability raised because I have a personal stake in the community I’m serving. 

Through examples of lived experience, community ties, and accountability, it becomes clear to see how we personally benefit, especially through the continuation of various roles at an organization from participant to fundraising committee or even to fundraising professional staff. To be sure, this is not everyone’s path, and it may not even be safe for some due to harm they could experience. However, when I do find myself in these cycles, it is empowering to have agency over my past experiences, to have control over my narrative, and to be able to fundraise to improve the quality and keep open the access for current youth. I have received an educational scholarship, and I have served on many scholarship committees; I have received food assistance, and I have volunteered and worked at a food pantry; I have not been able to afford participating in the performing arts, and now I fundraise so that others have access. To eloquently capture the feeling I have living through these dualities, I quote activist and artist Lilla Watson: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” 

For those who feel left out because they do not have lived experience or community experience, I encourage you to first center those who do and, second, think about your own liberation. Do a self-accountability assessment for yourself and I am sure you will find where your liberation is bound up together. It will not prevent you from causing harm or making mistakes but it is a first step in practicing via the personal to advance equity in the fundraising sector at large.


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Headshot of Roselle Tenorio


Roselle Tenorio has cycled through many different roles in the nonprofit sector from recipient, volunteer, grant writer, philanthropy staff, to board chair. Roselle is an organizer with Community-Centric Fundraising Texas (CCF Texas) and a Dallas Public Voices alumna through The OpEd Project. Roselle graduated from Grinnell College and currently lives in Dallas, Texas, where you can find her enjoying the outdoors or volunteering in the community. Join the next CCF Texas meeting to continue to dig in with Roselle and others.