When community-centric fundraising launched their content hub and 10 principles, thousands of organizations and people took note - and many took action. Lea Whitehurst-Gibson and Bekah Kendrick of Virginia Community Voice talk about how they built and delivered their Courageous Fundraising Principles and how they center community in their work based in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy. Learn about strategy and tactics in this story!
Lea Whitehurst Gibson and Bekah Kendrick talk to us about the processes they created and used to develop a community-centered organization with courageous fundraising principles…
Virginia Community Voice “So our mission overall is to equip neighbors and historically marginalized communities to realize their vision for their communities. And then the second part of our vision, our mission is to prepare institutions to respond effectively.” Learn more and follow them on socials: Facebook, Insta, Twitter, LinkedIn and of course, you can donate here.
Lea Whitehurst Gibson is the Executive Director of VCV and is a seasoned community organizer. Priori to leading the VCV, Lea was the Director of Community Engagement at Thriving Cities Group. She also worked for Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities (RISC) where she organized 1,000 people in 20 diverse congregations to stand together for just practices. Lea has a degree in theology from Elim Bible College.At VACV Lea oversees the organization’s operations, fundraising, staff and board development, and leads Community Voice Blueprint training and coaching. Lea and her husband are foster parents and live on Richmond’s Northside.Contact Lea at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bekah Kendrick is an experienced nonprofit professional, grantmaker, and grant writer. Prior roles include: Technical & Grant Writer for Thriving Cities Group, Director of Community Impact: Education at United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg, and Director of Programs at MentorVirginia. Bekah has a Bachelors in American Studies from The College of William & Mary and Master’s in English from Virginia Commonwealth University. She manages fund development and communications for Virginia Community Voice. Bekah enjoys reading, hiking, and being near the water with her husband and son.Contact Bekah at email@example.com.
Find the Community Voice Blueprint here
Virginia Community Voice was inspired by Community Centric Fundraising and its July 2020 launch!
Here are the 10 principles of CCF, and here are the Courageous Fundraising Principles of Virginia Community Voice
Virginia Community Voice equips their neighbors to realize their vision for their own neighborhoods. Locally they work with marginalized communities that have not historically been listened to or heard and implementing the solutions they think best for their communities. And they work to prepare the official decision makers and traditional positional authority to listen and implement those solutions. All of this is towards a commitment for equity for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia - and specifically in Richmond, which is the former capital of the Confederacy.
It's important to know their programs:
1) RVA Thrives, has a goal and mission of equipping neighbors to realize their vision for their own community and to make sure they have resources and coaching to engage in what is happening in the neighborhood (food access, affordable housing, gentrification etc.)
2) Community Voice Blueprint (downloadable for free) is a four-step guide to community engagement around which they offer coaching and training.
As they are a Black and woman led organization, they wanted to make sure that their inception did not include the traditional racist and donor-centric practices that most npos use.
Here are a few notes about what Bekah and Lea describe as part of their process:
They set the intention of dismantling old ways and centering racial equity, and “injecting equity into our entire process”
They questioned whether they needed to start another nonprofit
They looked for resources and saw no documented path towards equitable community engagement
As they formed the organization (as a spin off of a white-led organization) they took the time to research fundraising norms and ways of working that they disliked and are rooted in white supremacy.
In doing research in current norms and racism in philanthropy/fundraising specifically, they identified the most problematic:
Donor centric fundraising only presents one model of who a donor can be. Said Bekah: “we knew we wanted to have a more democratic and accessible model in which all gifts are valued equally, no matter whether they're small or large, whether they're monetary or time. “
Avoid communication that objectifies people, is myopic, acts as poverty porn or tourism, charity model or promotes white saviourism. Said Bekah: we wanted to move away from that toward communication storytelling that is affirming, that is telling a more complete and complex picture. Even if it's one that is uncomfortable.”
Wanted to acknowledge and talk openly about how wealth is accumulated, the racist roots of nonprofits and philanthropy and how wealth is extracted through genocide, extraction of labor, and enslavement of people, and how foundations were founded.
In summer 2020, they are inspired by the community centric fundraising principles and were already in the process of developing their own Courageous Fundraising Principles and their fundraising model.
Once they had formulated their thoughts, they spent a lot of time working with all staff members, to make sure all felt invested and were engaged. Their staff include neighbors, considered community engagement specialists or community advocates (and they are at every staff meeting.)
Then they went to their neighborhood steering committee
Then they worked with their board as individuals, and then as a group
They also took the time to talk to Spanish-speaking communities - translating the work and receiving feedback. And Black communities as well.
They took their time!
Once the Courageous Fundraising Principles were finalized, they threw a virtual party on Giving Tuesday to share with board, neighbors, investors and answered the following:
What does it actually mean to invest in local community?
How does VCV understand its relationship to money and to donors?
What is a true investment?
Why is this important? Why are old ways unethical?
Where does VCV believe it should we be investing its time?
They also asked folx to give feedback. (And they raised money)
As part of tactics, they intentionally began using the term “investor” - investing time and money.
They ask for folx to become “members” and membership includes a monthly recurring investment as well as three hours a month, amplifying the voices of people of color. They promise to honor these investments equally.
They continually ask themselves “Is this the right way to do this? Is this causing harm whose voices are not at the table?”
They respond to the community and are transparent with their budgeting process and budget
In working with institutions, they envision that when they sign a grant agreement with grant guidelines, the funder will also agree to guidelines from VCV, affirming what they are doing.
In creating their board of directors, the based their board on the community itself. With at least 75% people of color, who have lived experiences in marginalization. They deprioritized wealthy folx and report that they have not suffered from that choice. With a board that comes from the community, they have more equitable outcomes!
In giving advice, Lea says: “You will get pushback from people saying, like, I'm not sure!...Are you sure?” People of color were worried. Not because they didn't think it was the right thing or it was the right way to go, but they were worried for us as an organization because of potential retaliation that could come from something like this.
But here's the thing - we have not seen that, we have not seen retaliation. We have seen our capacity grow. We have seen, investment stay and in some places grow because we've chosen to do the bold thing. Again, when you hit a point of tension on the other side, there's beauty. It is also still scary. But we're going to push forward because we know that there is something more beautiful on the other side. And that has been true of my life in general. But specifically in this space, it was scary, but also right.”
So much wisdom in this episode but I love this quote:
“For us, this is not about just doing this work, doing you know, our courageous fundraising principles, , focusing our work around equity, focusing our work around the community, rooted solutions to the problems that we face every day for the sake of doing that. We are doing it because our lives are at stake, our communities are at stake, our families are at stake. And that is the reason for this. It is not about what we think the next big thing is or how we want to move, you know, in the world differently. It is about, the very soul of our spaces, of our communities, of our lives, of our children's lives. What I want to say is this, this is real life. It affects real people. And if we don't start to change things, our children are going to keep dying in the street. That's, what's going to keep happening. If we allow our culture to support in equitable outcomes and equitable processes and equitable policies that is what's going to keep happening.”
Okay also this one:
“...you have the opportunity to pivot and to say, we need to do something differently or to kind of stay the course along the norms that are continually hurting our communities. And so we made the choice to pivot and that's, and that's actually where the beauty came from. Cause you know, it's, it's a point of tension, right? Like you get to a point where you're like, oh, we're doing something that's not fully equitable. Do we cover it up? Do we like, you know, wash it over or do we, or do we lean into the tension and say we didn't do something right. We admit to it and we want to change it. And what I find every single time is that there's beauty on the other side of leaning into that tension.”
Michelle Shireen Muri: This is Michelle Shireen Muri, your host and fellow traveler on The Ethical Rainmaker, a podcast, exploring the topics we don't often visit in nonprofits and philanthropy, including the places we can step into our power or step out of the way. And today we're going to share a case study! In July, 2020, a content hub centering the voices of people of color in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors was launched at www.communitycentricfundraising.org In the first two weeks, 10,000 people join the mailing list. Within the first few months, over 16,000 people were visiting the hub monthly. In the first eight months, more than 6,000 people joined social media channels and a Slack community of more than 2,300 people was created with 76 city-based affiliated groups, which were connecting with each other. Over 60 pieces of content, featuring the voices, experiences, thoughts and tactics of people of color in and around fundraising have been published with more coming out weekly, including this podcast.
As the co-chair of this effort, community-centric fundraising.org. I've had an incredible window into how organizations all over the world are taking action around this fundraising model. And today we're going to start sharing case studies. Now, a few quick definitions before we get into our. Community-centric fundraising is a fundraising model, but upholds 10 ever evolving core principles that have been aggregated and developed from conversations with many fundraisers of color over the past few years. These principles demonstrate what it could look like to transform fundraising and philanthropy so that they're co grounded in racial and economic justice.
It's not a one size fits all model. It doesn't fix the racist roots of nonprofits in philanthropy. But the principles are an attempt at bringing greater equity to this work. These principles cover complex and nuanced ideas like treating donors as partners, but in that being transparent and occasionally having difficult conversations that we often avoid pushing back when donors do or say things that are detrimental to our work or our community principles that suggest prioritizing the entire community constellation rather than glorifying an individual organization might be the better road. Presenting our work holistically instead of a piecemeal way, we often feel compelled to do. Defining and centering our community's needs rather than centering donor's preferences and solutions to a community issue…bringing a political and economic analysis of our work and understanding the ways in which our capitalist and transactional ways are diminishing the humanity of our community.
There are 10 principles. Those were just a couple. And of course you can learn more about community centric work and its history at community-centric fundraising.org. And in earlier episodes of this podcast, featuring some of the voices of our co-founders. And as always in this episode, there'll be robust show notes.
At community centric fundraising, we've heard that the movement has provided folks with the language and tools to create change. From the many interactions I've had, I know that folks across the globe are taking action and others in our community want to hear about it. Beginning this season, The Ethical Rainmaker is going to start peppering in stories of some of the strategies and tactics that are being created and experimented with and utilized since the launch of community centric fundraising, providing inspiration and real life examples of how one can apply more ethical, equitable, and community centered principles in our work. This brings us to our guests today: Virginia Community Voice equips their neighbors to realize their vision for their own neighborhoods. Locally they work with marginalized communities that have not historically been listened to or heard and implementing the solutions they think best for their communities.
And they work to prepare the official decision makers and traditional positional authority to listen and implement those solutions. All of this is towards a commitment for equity for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. In December 2020 Virginia Community Voice through their own lunch parties, sharing their courageous fundraising principles, which they developed after experiencing the launch of community-centric fundraising.org together, they framed a set of principles.
They created as an invitation to their community to recognize that when you build towards equity, we must apply principles around equity and every aspect of the work. And one of our guests today says fundraising is not typically a place where equity. Lea Whitehurst Gibson is a seasoned community organizer with over a dozen years experience and she's the executive director of Virginia Community Voice. She oversees the organization's operations staff and board development and leads the community, voice blueprint, training. And Bekah Kendrick is a seasoned grantmaker and grant writer with years of experience within local nonprofits. As the development director at Virginia Community Voice, she leverages philanthropic resources to implement the vision neighbors have for their community.
Together Bekah and her team challenged the racist and colonialist norms that typify nonprofit development through the organizations, courageous fundraising principles. Both women are talking with us while their babies are asleep. Leah and Bekah, thank you so much today for joining us on The Ethical Rainmaker.
Lea Whitehurst: Thank you for having us.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Great to have you. So I was just completely touched, moved and inspired. When I heard about what you'd created at your organization, using community centric fundraising as a source of inspiration. First, let's talk a little bit about what Virginia Community Voice does. Leah, can you tell us a little bit about Virginia community?
Lea Whitehurst: Sure. Virginia Community Voice was founded in 2019. We have two programs. Our first is RVA thrives, which is our program where we're actually working with neighbors in the community every day. And RVA Thrives, goal and mission is to equip neighbors, to realize their vision for their community and making sure they have say over the decisions that often in communities happen to the community versus the community, having a say in what's going to kind of transpire within their neighborhood. And so our work is to equip neighbors to make sure they have. The resources and our coached with them knowledge to speak to the things that are happening in the community, gentrification, affordable housing, food access, all kinds of things that are happening, that neighbors want to have a say in.
And then our second program is our community voice blueprint. Which is the program that once we started doing community engagement, we saw that like, we really needed to put this down on paper, our process for doing community engagement, because what we realized was that people are doing community engagement, they're doing community organizing, but there's not really a document that people can go to and say, okay, here's what we can look at and have some guidance on how to do.
[00:07:06] Lea Whitehurst: Well, and how to do this with equity. And so we put together a community voice blueprint, which you can find on our website and download for free. And it's really our guide to community engagement. We have a four-step process in community engagement. And so we've taken that process, put it in a document and we've created training and coaching around that. And that part of our second program is around preparing institutions to respond effectively. So our mission overall is to equip neighbors and historically marginalized communities to realize their vision for their communities. And then the second part of our vision, our mission is to prepare institutions, to respond effectively.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Ah, That's so beautiful. Fully community centered model of creating change.
Lea Whitehurst: That's the goal.
Michelle Shireen Muri: So I understand Virginia Community Voice has two programs, RVA, Thrives, and community voice blueprint. Bekah, is there anything that you wanted to add?
Bekah Kendrick: As a new organization, we had an opportunity to build our fundraising and communications from the ground up in a way that we felt worked against some of the norms of nonprofit and philanthropic culture and embodied equity. And so we are also trying to live into those principles, these courageous fundraising principles in how we raise funds and steward resources for the organization.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Oh, thank you so much for sharing that. Yes. I look forward to getting into that a little bit later in this episode. And I'm wondering first, if Leah, you might tell us a little bit about how this organization started.
Lea Whitehurst: As an organization we're founded in 2019 by a team of all women - women of color, which already kind of flies in the face of the ways that most nonprofit leadership is not women of color. Most of the time it's white women or men that are running these spaces, but really it was in response to the community needing a space where there was equipping that needed to happen. We also rolled out of a primarily white institution, which was a process where we learned a lot about the things that we want to be and how we want to think about the ways that we interact in the world and do things differently than nonprofits typically do things because we had that conversation - we really did have a conversation about “Do we need to start another nonprofit? Do we need another nonprofit in the world? Do we need another entity pulling on resources?” and all of those things. And when we started to really look at the values and the priorities that we wanted to bring to bear in this organization, we realized that one, you know, this blueprint that we had created, there really wasn't a space for a documented path toward doing equitable community engagement. And that should be a thing in the world. And there are lots of amazing community organizers out there doing the work of trying to equip the community, but in Richmond, on this very kind of distinct neighborhood level, like we have been kind of engaging.
Lea Whitehurst: That was the thing that we didn't really have or see. And so we really wanted to take the things that we had learned from the institutions that we had been a part of in the past. And apply those things to a new organization, thinking about things differently and thinking about things from an equity perspective, from not just equity, you know, we're not about equity-washing in our organization, but we are about racial equity and thinking about very specific, ways to inject equity into our entire process. And that's really how the courageous fundraising principles came about is like, how do we inject equity into everything that we're doing? And what does that look like for us in our world?
Michelle Shireen Muri: Thank you for that.. So you do all of this work based off of what you know about how institutions typically get in the way of equity work. You create a new model, you pay attention to all of the different pieces. That can be frustrating when we're talking about moving forward towards a more equitable environment to really bring justice to our communities and you create Virginia Community Voice and fast forward in 2019, it becomes official and fast to December, 2020.Which is when I learned about you, because you created a launch event specifically for what you called your courageous principles. And I'm wondering Bekah, if you can talk a little bit about that lunch, what happened at your launch in December?
Bekah Kendrick: Sure. So in December on Giving Tuesday, we had a virtual party, to share with our board with stakeholders, with investors. What it means to invest in Virginia Community Voice. So it was really an invitation, as Leah says to the world, as it should be so inviting people to come and learn about how we understand our relationship to money, and how we understand our relationship to donors. What we are asking of people who invest in us and also what we are promising to those who invest in us. And so we really sort of laid out our philosophy for giving back on giving Tuesday , and it was stepping through each of those principles and our promises. And then having an opportunity for people to respond to them, and to , hear what we're offering , and then also to ask people to invest in us that day. and so , in that sense, it was also, , a successful opportunity for raising funds around these new principles that we launched.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Hmm. Tell us a little bit about those principles back.
Bekah Kendrick: We developed these principles last year after. It sort of coincided with the launch of the community centric fundraising principles. And it was, it was during this time when we were really building our fundraising model, we sort of starting to talk about what we wanted that to look like, how we wanted that to work. And in doing that research around, current norms and the history of philanthropy, we started to realize that there were just so many things. We felt were problematic from our past experiences, in the ways that nonprofits raise funds and steward resources, namely that donor-centric fundraising was problematic because it really was.
Presents one model of who a philanthropist can be. And we knew we wanted to have a more democratic and accessible model in which all gifts are valued equally, no matter whether they're small or large, whether they're monetary or time. We also knew that we wanted to avoid. Communication that objectifies people that is myopic and only tells one part of the story that's designed to pull at people's heartstrings, you know, and, and that sort of poverty porn or poverty tourism, it's really rooted in white supremacy and in a charity model, we knew we wanted to move away from that toward communication storytelling that is affirming, that is telling a more complete and complex picture.
Even if it's one that is. Uncomfortable. And so we also knew that we wanted to be able to acknowledge and talk openly about the racist roots of philanthropy and about how wealth was accumulated through. The extraction of labor and through enslavement of people and through genocide and through, um, taking land and, and how, you know, early foundations were founded and many of the things that we've actually learned from listening to your podcast and doing research around philanthropy and bringing those ideas to the conversation here in Richmond. And the response we've had is that people are really loving. Things they've not heard before and are starting to ask questions about the norms and about the donor centric model, that tends to, you know, center wealthy white men.
Michelle Shireen Muri: What was the process of developing those principles? Like how did you come together to determine what those principles were going to be?
Lea Whitehurst: A big part of our model and the way that we do things in the community is focused on, making sure that voices are heard. The organization. And so, Bekah mentioned we invited neighbors and our board and all of these people to come to the launch party. Almost as a celebration of what we had created. There were people that came that weren't, you know, part of our internal structure, but we spent quite a bit of time working with our staff, working with. Community. We have a neighbor led body that we call our, steering committee. We spent time like putting this before them, um, working with our board with individual, like doing individual conversations with our board and then full conversations with our board before we got this approved.
So by the time we got to the launch party, it really was a celebration of the work that we had put in. It could have very well been Bekah as the development director saying, you know, I'm going to take. Th this approach. I really like this approach and this is what we're going to do now, but that's just not the way we do things. It's not, it's not our process. Our process focuses on making sure that we hear from everyone we spent a lot of time working it through with all of our staff members and trying to make sure that we all felt invested in what we were saying and what we were doing.We then, Took what we had done with the staff and went to the board. And at first we had, I don't know, Seven or eight principles or something like that. One of our board members is like, you gotta take it down. We need like, we can, and we can incorporate some of these things. Right. And so we worked through that and we worked on language and we wanted to make sure it was accessible.
And then also thinking about you know, making sure that all the communities that we serve. So, the Spanish speaking community had. That are, that the Black community had access to it. And when we put it in front of people, people understood what we were talking about. And so we did a lot of that work.
And then the launch party was really kind of a celebration. we came together as an organization and we did this, and we want to tell the world, okay, Why this is important and why it's important for so many reasons is like things haven't been working the way that they've always been done. Right. You know, we can talk about fundraising , and funding the community, but the needles haven't really moved in the way. They need to, and Bekah talks about this all the time, coming from kind of the fundraising world and stepping into the space that I don't want to tell your story Bekah, but it's so impactful for me to hear someone who's been in that world for so long, kind of saying you know, we've been funding stuff for a really long time, but the needles haven't moved what's wrong. And I think what's wrong is that community voice is not an incorporated and all of the people who should be, engaged in the conversation about what philanthropy looks like about where we should be investing our time and our dollars are not at the table. And so things are not changing because we don't have that experience at the table.
That's a big part of why we created these principles is to say: There are lots of voices that are not at the table and that we are saying, we intentionally want those voices at the table. And we're creating policies and processes that are going to bring those voices to.
Michelle Shireen Muri: You're creating policies and processes and one thing. Going to is that you really took your time.
Lea Whitehurst: Yes, we did it. Wasn't it intentional. And that's the thing. A lot of times again, not to get to stand on the soapbox for too long. But.
Michelle Shireen Muri: go right ahead. Go right ahead. It's all right.
Lea Whitehurst: But I think, again, that is the problem. We want these quick solutions we want to invest in say, oh, we're going to have these outcomes in 12 to 18 months and everything's going to be better.
Lea Whitehurst: We're going to fix the problem. And the reality is, is that's just not, we, and I said this in a, in a call I was on earlier today. There was, you know, we really put our backs into it to create an equity. Right. We really, we really did a lot of work to build the systems that we have built, that oppressed people and, and push us down.
And so it's going to. As much time to dismantle those systems. And not that we have that time, um, there needs to be urgency about it, but we also have to realize that in the urgency there's also patience. And there's also a reality that like that is going to take time to dismiss that. Things. And if we're going to do it, it's going to take intentionality. And I think that's a big part of our processes. A big part of the way that we do things is with intentionality. And when realizing all of the things that we have to build in to pull apart the systems that we've built that are inequitable, like we've done that intentionally and we have to dismantle it intentionally.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Hmm, thank you. That's right. We do have to dismantle it intentionally and it sounds like. Y'all took the time you rolled out of a different organization, you took the time to really set what it is you're going to do, how it was, you were going to do it. You took a look at fundraising, which again, you've mentioned is a place where there isn't really an equity or racial justice lens applied. Most of the time you took the time to build some courageous fundraising principles. And you shopped it around to the community, building with community, getting feedback from community, taking the time to do the language translation needed, taking the time to meet with people so that you had full buy-in and full community support to build this, to build the way that your organization was going to operate, including.
Lea Whitehurst: Absolutely. I think if it was imperative, We got to a place where, we. And I tell the story a lot of times when we start to think about how these principles came to be all of the things that Bekah said earlier, but also , we, as, as people of color trying to do things differently are not immune to white supremacy, cultural norms, like we are not immune to operating in the way that we've been taught to operate. Right. Of course. Right. That's the way we've been taught. And unless there's a different paradigm, there's, you know, which is, I imagine part of why community-centric fundraising exists because you're offering a different way, but many of us can fall into the trap of, of operating in the white supremacy and the way that it has been handed to us and the way we have been conditioned. And we as an organization led by Black women actually focusing on equity and thinking about equity. Um, we're in a conversation with some of the neighbors that neighbor led steering committee that we had. We were talking something about a program and how much money had been spent in that program. And one of the neighbors said, well, can, can we say the budget? Like, is that something we can see? And I said, oh, well of course, like, yeah, we can see the budget. And then from then on, we said like, oh, well we need to have some intentional time in our steering committee member meetings to go over the budget, talk about the budget, talk about what money's coming in and talk about all these things. But it wasn't that we didn't want to do that. It was that we just hadn't thought about it because we were operating in the way that things have always been fundraising is over here, programs over here and.
You know, two shall meet. Right. And that's not how we want it to be, but we hadn't thought about it. And then when it was came up and we could see it, we were like, oh no, this is not okay. And that was part of the catalyst along with all of the work that Bekah had been doing and thinking about the ways that we need to, to do fundraising, it was just kind of those things came together and, and kind of pushed us into this place where we're thinking about, um, Drastically differently than what the norms are. And so I like to tell that story to say that. We're not, you know, as organizations run, I like to be honest with people like that, we don't have it all figured out. We don't always know the answer until sometimes we're presented with a situation. And that's you always, you, you know, you have the opportunity to pivot and to say, we need to do something differently or to kind of stay the course along the norms that are continually hurting our communities. And so we made the choice to pivot and that's, and that's actually where the beauty came from. Cause you know, it's, it's a point of tension, right? Like you get to a point where you're like, oh, we're doing something that's not fully equitable. Do we cover it up? Do we like, you know, wash it over or do we, or do we lean into the tension and say we didn't do something right. We admit to it and we want to change it. And what I find every single time is that there's beauty on the other side of leaning into that tension.
Michelle Shireen Muri: hmm. So it sounds like it took a lot of courage and a lot of bravery and a lot of time, a lot of conversations with folks representing all different parts of your community. How did it feel, Leah? Like how did it feel to make this happen?
Lea Whitehurst: Uh, that's a great question. It felt very scary for me. And I'll tell you why, like, um, you know, I'm a Black woman and. I live in Richmond, Virginia, which is the former capital of the Confederacy. I know the culture and our community and not to say that that culture is not, trying to change, but I know it's, it's really hard to change. And, you know, we have lots of trainings where we talk about white supremacy, cultural norms that impede community engagement. And one of those norms is, comfort with white leadership and how people of color start to say things like. The system is flawed and things like, , we think about, we think about this a lot where Bekah will, will, will say something that she knows that we need to say to white people, but I can't say it because it's going to be too confrontational, and not too confrontational, but , it won't be received in the way that it needs to be received so that we can get the point of. Um, we're not afraid of confrontation, but yeah, there was just a lot of fear for me in this, in this space to say, listen, philanthropy is flawed, deeply flawed, and we need to do something different. And we're talking about inviting people of color. Women LGBTQIA, like inviting all of these people into a place that they have not often been, um, invited, and pushing back on the racist system is not something that, you know, usually invites more funding!
So. So I was worried about that. I was up nights about that, talking to my husband about it, like, is the right thing? And at the end of the day, realizing that it was, it was the right thing. But the right thing often is hard and it's scary and makes us want to lay it down. My advice as people is, as, as people kind of move into this space and start to think about this space, that it will be scary.
You will get pushback from people saying, like, I'm not sure we have lots of people that we talk to about it. And they were like, wait, are you sure this doesn't feel? right Are you sure? People of color, other people of color who were like worried? Not, not because they didn't think it was the right thing or it was the right way to go, but they were worried for us as an organization because of potential retaliation that could come from something like this.
But here's the thing we have not seen that, we have not seen retaliation. We have seen our capacity grow. We have seen, um, investment stay and in some places grow because we've chosen to do the bold thing again, when you hit a point of tension on the other side, there's beauty. It is also still scary. But we're going to push forward because we know that there is something more beautiful on the other side. And that has been true of my life in general. But specifically in this space, it was scary, but also right.
Michelle Shireen Muri: So powerful. Thank you for that. And y'all are crushing it. Now. I know, I know y'all are crushing it. Bekah. I'd love for you to talk a little bit about the fundraising model, how you built it and how it's been going.
Bekah Kendrick: Yeah. So as Leah was describing the process, it made re it reminded me too of, you know, how neighbors on our committee. And, you know, we also have a model in which we hire neighbors from the community to be community engagement specialists, community advocates on our team. So they're with us, you know, in every staff meeting and so when we were even developing just our monthly investment program, we were doing that in collaboration with neighbors on our steering committee, with neighbors on our staff, even just down to the name of that group, what do we call it? And what are the benefits that are conferred to that group?
And what does membership mean? And, you know, we've done things. Differently, like in our community, voice amplifiers, that's our monthly investor group. We're asking people to invest both time and money. So they make-up a monthly recurring investment, which, you know, is so important to sustainability in a nonprofit. Um, and at the same time, we're asking them to amplify the voices of Black indigenous and people of color three hours a month. So we're asking for both that monetary and that time investment. And then we're also saying that, you know, if you're a member of our steering committee, you are automatically a community voice amplifier.
So in that way, honoring both monetary and time investments because, folks on our committee give a lot of time. So I think that's just an example of how. Like Leah said, we make every decision in a very democratic way. And, and I will admit , as a white woman and as someone who has come up through white led institutions and very old institutions, like, my family are mostly like Presbyterian ministers so we're talking about like really old institutions. Um, and I've worked for like large funding organizations and been a grant maker myself. And so I've learned all of the norms of white supremacy culture. And like, I felt very comfortable in that bubble, and have had to learn how to pivot away from it.
And in those moments, it can be very, it can be frustrating. It can take more time than I think it should. We always talk about how efficiency trumps equity. So there's so many points along this way, along the way where I could have and whatever in my past life, since. Well, this is how it's supposed to be done. I've looked at the evidence base, I've read some academic articles about it, and this feels good to be I'm going to move forward with it. And that's not how it works and that's not how it should work. And as Leah has said, the end result is always something stronger and always something better. I'm learning that I have learned that, and it does take more time and it means as a white woman to like de-centering myself, like it's not about me and in my ideas, it's not about what I think we should do.
It's about what the community says that it wants and what the community, what people , who are ultimately, you know, impacted by the resources that we're able to leverage, want to see. And so it's definitely been a learning process. I think even just for myself in, in this position, within the organization,
Michelle Shireen Muri: Leah. What else would you say about the way that you've created fundraising practices or how it's going to.
Lea Whitehurst: For us, this is not about just doing this work, doing you know, our courageous fundraising principles, , focusing our work around equity, focusing our work around the community, rooted solutions to the problems that we face every day for the sake of doing that. We are doing it because our lives are at stake, our communities are at stake, our families are at stake. And that is the reason for this. It is not about what we think the next big thing is or how we want to move, you know, in the world differently. It is about the very soul of our spaces, of our communities, of our lives, of our children's lives. What I want to say is this, this is real life. It affects real people. And if we don't start to change things, our children are going to keep dying in the street. That's, what's going to keep happening. If we allow our culture to support in equitable outcomes and equitable processes and equitable policies that is what's going to keep happening.
I feel really passionate, especially. This moment about the work that we do, because we're not trying to just, do something because it's the cool thing to do. We're doing it because it's imperative because we have to, because it is. Our lives and our community's at stake. And we don't have the luxury of the status quo. We just don't have that luxury anymore.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Powerfully said, thank you. I'd like to go back to tactics, for a moment. Bekah. I'd love to hear you talk a little bit about what it means to be an investor in Virginia Community Voice and how it is that you deal with different forms of.
Bekah Kendrick: Sure as I mentioned, we created a monthly investment program. We intentionally use the language of investor that rather than donor, trying to move away from a model and language that's really rooted in a charity mindset to one in which we're thinking about people as investors who also receive. Some benefit from investment in us. So we have a monthly investors model, which I described as both investing your time and your money. And then we also have, you know, opportunities for people to attend. One time. And we promise in our courageous fundraising principles to honor those investments equally.
We also of course, invite people to invest at a, at a higher level, like a thousand dollars or more. And again, we aren't really lifting up or showcasing those donors in a different way. So we've moved away from, you know, you might see in an annual report where you've got listed by the amount that they've given and we are not doing that we haven't yet had the opportunity or the challenge of having sort of an event in which you typically lift up investors, but we've talked already just when we do that, what will that look like for us and how will we be honoring people's time?
Equally two large investments, because it's one thing to say that every investment is honored equally, but then it is a different thing to operationalize it.. And so we have to be thinking about , what are the ways that we make ourselves available to be in conversation with, and build relationships with all of our investors, regardless of their level of giving. A lot of this we're building out and I think it's actually a really great opportunity to have not inherited a model of fundraising, but to be constantly be able to ask. Is this the right way to do this? Is this causing harm whose voices are not at the table? Like, what does it mean if we ask this person to come to this we're constantly wrestling with all of those things.
Michelle Shireen Muri: I know our audience is thirsty for tactical solutions. Thank you for talking about that Bekah. I know that, you know, especially myself as a fundraising consultant and being a part of CCF, the way that I am, folks are really thirsty to understand, you know, now what do we do now? How do we deal with these questions about giving our time? For example, again, the powerful example of spending time with people, how do we prioritize who we spend time with when we have limited time, but we have so many folks who are giving at a variety of levels and I've, I hear that, you know, Oh, the person at your organization that gives $5 versus $500 and the person giving four hours of their time, they're all considered monthly investors in the cause.
Which is really powerful. And, you know, there was one thing that I heard y'all talking about. I'm tempted to continue to go down the road of tactics, but there's one thing that I want to address as we wrap up here. So there's something that you said, Leah, that really struck me in earlier conversations that we've had, and that is talking to, and having difficult conversations with folks and not marginalizing the roots of wealth, not upholding colonizer mentalities, and there's a lot there, especially around how you're able to even get to those conversations inside the context of your organization. And I say that because as a fundraising consultant. Again, one of the things that I see and hear, uh, one of the most common issues that are nonprofits actually is when a community wants something to happen or takes a stand around something. And maybe the staff does too. What's often getting in the way is the board. Now there can be a variety of reasons for that, from the way that we choose board members and what it is that we choose to prioritize and value, to a lack of the board, you know, , being brought along in a journey, et cetera.
Michelle Shireen Muri: But I would love for you to talk a little bit about the way that you decided to choose your board and how it is that you've come to have so much values alignment in that arena that has allowed you to really move forward.
Lea Whitehurst: I think that's such a great question and, a huge part of. Of being able to go on these journeys. And so I'm, really grateful that she brought it up in our last couple of minutes, because I've run other organizations in the past and have had to think about board development. Organizations that are older and that have a little bit more stability. But I think the way that you really think about it is if you start to engage people on your board that have some lived experience, right? We have spots on our board specifically set aside for community members to be on our board. That's one way that you have to kind of start to think about. And I, and I don't mean an advisory board. It's not, it's not an advisory situation where there's not really any, any power. We're talking about people on your board that have the opportunity to shift where the organization goes, thinking about that as you're building your board and so also when people roll off your board, so our board is 75% people of color. People who have lived experience, people who have lived in the projects, people who have experienced marginalization, people who have immigrated here from other countries. Right? There are there there's a vast experience and so when we go to our board and say, “Listen, we think we should create fundraising principles that are based in your experiences.” They're going to say, “yeah, that makes sense.” Right? Because their experiences that they've had that they've engaged with, and I think the conventional knowledge says well, okay.
But if we start to, if we start to have board members that don't have deep pockets or don't have connections with other people that can help invest in the organization, like how are we going to survive as a nonprofit. So I think a couple of things, one that is making a lot of assumptions about people. And two, I think in our experience, we have not suffered from these decisions. We have not suffered. Our organization has not suffered. Our work has not suffered. We have not struggled to raise money because we don't have board members that have deep pockets. People have connections with other people, right?
Our board is about trying to push the organization in a direction that makes sense for the community. Not about just raising money for the organization. If you start to shift your perspective of what a board should be and how it should support your actual mission of the organization, then you start to see how to build your board and so when people roll off, start to replace those people. With people that have some lived experience that are from the community that engaged with the community, that know the community, and that can start to push the rest of those on your board toward, more equitable outcomes. I think that's a huge thing to remember, especially when you have those board seats that open up. Think about who else in the community who's respected, that you could potentially engage to step into those places.
\Michelle Shireen Muri: That's so great. Thank you so much for answering that. And, um, any, any last, anything that we didn't cover that you, that either of you really wanted to say.
Bekah Kendrick: Oh I just will say that we've shared this with our institutional funders as well. And that's, that's, uh, another big conversation, but we've shared, we've primarily relied on large grants from foundations and we've shared our principles with them as well, and have even envisioned a world in which a time in which, you know, when we signed grant agreements with funding institutions that we also ask them to sign these principles saying, you know, we agree to your sort of guidelines and we're asking and inviting you to agree to ours. We will get back to you on how they receive that. But so far the institutional funders have affirmed what we're doing as well.
Bekah Kendrick: So not just our individual donors, but also the larger institution.
Lea Whitehurst: And I will. Yeah, I will just say, I'll just add to that, that, that that's, again, speaks to the reality of making the hard choices and doing the hard things and how, again, there's something more beautiful on the other side, there's something, um, the tension that you feel when you start to create these changes, doesn't compare to the beauty that you find on the side of, that tension and where you end up is going to support your mission and vision more successfully than just kind of staying with the status quo. So moving in that direction and that we love to be a resource for people. Like we want to, we want to be a resource to start to help community, start to think about how to move in these directions and how hard it is, and to meet you where you are and to work through all those things, but it's really important if we don't start making these changes, like I said before, the needles aren't gonna move and we're just going to be in the place that we've always been.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Lea Whitehurst Gibson, Executive Director of Virginia Community Voice and Bekah Kendrick, Development Director at Virginia Community Voice, thank you so much for the work that you're doing in our communities, for the examples you're setting and the new ways you're creating of doing things that we can all learn from.
It's been such a pleasure to have you here today on The Ethical Rainmaker. Thank you so much for sharing your time.
Lea Whitehurst: You so much for having us. We really enjoyed it.
Bekah Kendrick: Thank you.
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The Ethical Rainmaker is produced in by Giuliana Mayo in LA, Kasmira Hall in Sacramento, and Isaac Kaplan-Woolner with socials by Stacy Nguyen Creative and production assistance by Coco Decker as well as emotional support from foster dog Franco - all of whom reside in Seattle. Thank you so much to Lea and Bekah who recorded this episode twice! As always, find extensive show notes and transcripts at theethicalrainmaker.com.
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