Fundraise in total honesty. This seems easy and obvious til you get into sticky situations you want to hide from donors or foundation funders. A case in point is a friend who’s been writing me this week about a network in the process of being founded whose aims are vitally important to the beloved community. I’ve omitted any identifying detail in this story. I’ll call my friend (a core member of this network) “Rhino” for her/his thick skin.
Rhino wrote to ask if I thought funders we know in common would be receptive to supporting the network, and to ask how to approach them. Some background: funders fund either individuals or organizations, sometimes both. If you aren’t legally an incorporated organization (and don’t have a fiscal sponsor who is), a funder has to be willing (and legally set up) to fund you as an individual. (And if you don’t know what a fiscal sponsor is, see Fusion Partnerships. They’re a great example!)
My first response was to fix it and find a way to get Rhino and the network some cash. Then I took an important step back. I wrote Rhino something that surprised even me, that it was unlikely the network had no funding. I have heard wealthy, middle-class and poor people all say, “we have no money,” and all of them believed it. “No money” means radically different things to different people!
Members of networks come from somewhere. In other words, they have connections to people and organizations that do have funding. Sharing some of this would help pay Rhino to fundraise, as well as give the network a funding history and credibility that inspires potential funders. Money is a precious resource and we should always invest it wisely. I won’t recommend others invest in something I won’t invest in.
Then I asked about the network’s leadership structure. Just because they aren’t formally constituted doesn’t mean they don’t have one! As you know five minutes after you walk into any new group, every group has a leadership structure. True democracy requires not only a participatory leadership structure, its first requirement is a visible leadership structure.
I reminded Rhino that the network’s purpose was to build the beloved community in its particular way, so it was consistent for me to ask if they “have a liberated, consensual decisionmaking structure that is open and clear to all of you? Or, again, my dearest [Rhino], are you being used? You are a worker no less than any other worker.”
Now this point, You are a worker no less than any other worker gets back to a saying of one of my all-time favorite beloved-community builders, Jesus. (I didn’t tell this to Rhino.) No matter how we see Jesus, from what tradition and through what eyes, Jesus was a star healer and organizer of human beings. The Gospel of Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, ‘The worker is worthy of his support.” (Mt. 10:10). Rhino is deeply committed to workers’ rights. Sometimes Rhino forgets Rhino is a worker too! (Don’t many of us?)
I pushed back even more boldly, telling Rhino, “What I would do, as an organizer, is organize upward first, before I organized outward.” I had hit the nail on the head apparently: Rhino’s response was an email describing the power dynamics in the network in excruciating (and common) detail. This email started with a complaint about my asking so many questions and not providing any answers.
I wrote back, “Honeybunch, those questions were my answers! You can’t raise money with a structure set up the way it is now (even if no one acknowledges how it is overtly). The power dynamics are poison to fundraising! Your organizing for transparency and respectful mutual treatment are what will change that.”
Rhino responded to specific quotes of mine (in italics):
“The power dynamics are poison to fundraising!”
Hmmm. No way to hide that?
“Your organizing for transparency and respectful mutual treatment are what will change that.”
Rhino noted he had tried to push this but
On the other hand, the present lack of defined structure means it is still possible for me to take initiatives on my own, present them to the group, and basically dare anyone to block or oppose them.
“Yikes!” I thought, and wrote this post about why. I can’t convince my friend my approach to building democracy through open, participatory democratic decisionmaking is right. It’s simply the only way I can act if I truly assume everyone concerned-the other members of the network, the people the network exists to serve, Rhino and their potential funders–are “on the side of the angels.” I simply closed by affirming to Rhino that honesty is the best policy in practical terms: “It’s one thing to tell funders things are in process/progress! It’s actually quite a refreshing thing for them to hear sometimes, exactly where things are at (in summary detail so their eyes don’t glaze over).” And asked permission to share this dialogue!