Guest blog with Michelle Muri
One of the core questions of the Evolve conference is how to balance your need for income with your charity's value system. When we first spoke about it, she said 'just because it's working doesn't mean it isn't broken' - and this has stayed with me since.
The rest of this post gives you a taste of Michelle's insight, drive and value when it comes to evolving fundraising.
I’m Michelle Shireen Muri, Co-Founder of Community-Centric Fundraising - a dynamic hub encompassing content platform, a thriving Slack community, a set of guiding Principles and a globally expanding movement. In my work as a consultant and speaker, I am seeing patterns in our concerns - and one concern is around the juggle of our need for funding and ethics of accepting funding…
If we are supposed to work and live in a way that is aligned with our morals, what happens if the source of the money we use is unethical?
What happens when we need money, but the corporations that harm our communities are the ones offering funding?
The answers, like the work we do, are rarely cut and dry.
I began my third sector career volunteering, and then working for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project - a legal aid service for immigrants and refugees thousands of people called every week, looking for direct, legal aid, resources and ways to support their families. An overflowing waiting room greeted me as I arrived at work, a feeling, my own desperation, to help my community, my family or immigrants too.
What would you do to help your community in the situation?
Within the Community-Centric Fundraising movement, even among its Co-Founders, there are different views. Some advocate the acceptance of funds from any source to bolster community causes, while others state that aligning with corporations that don't share our values makes them look better than they actually are ("charity washing").
During my collaboration with Edgar Villanueva, author of the enlightening "Decolonizing Wealth," on the Decolonizing Wealth Project, we faced an offer from a major financier linked to a highly controversial crude oil pipeline jeopardizing the Standing Rock and Cheyenne Sioux tribes' safety and environment.
The tribes vehemently opposed the pipeline, deeming it a grave threat to their survival and cultural heritage. Nonetheless, in 2016, the US government prioritized greed over native sovereignty, water rights, and environmental safety by approving pipeline construction for cross-country crude oil transport. Backed by over 75 law enforcement agencies, personnel and equipment, including concussion grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets, the government turned Standing Rock into a militarized zone. This militarization aimed to stifle water protectors' speech and hinder their right to protest the pipeline, resulting in hundreds of injuries and dozens of hospitalizations.
You can read more about this here.
If you were offered money from a corporation using these practices and values, when would you accept their money and when wouldn't you?
Edgar, guided by solidarity with the water protectors and tribes, declined. But he did so after looking at the situation through a lens of transformative intent. Could he do or say anything that would spark a fresh perspective in the financier? Could he use his position to be a catalyst for re-evaluation, analysis building and change?
As those who raise money, we do not often consider or use the power we have, to negotiate change, as Edgar did.
Is there another path?
One organisation I worked with has been approached many times by corporations who want to fund Indigenous Heritage while carrying a history of community harm. In one instance, one such corporation wished to fund a book tour across Canada. The charity arranged to accept the money under the condition that the corporation remain anonymous and excluded from promotion. Clever.
Most wealth is made from different types of extractive practices - whether made on the backs of enslaved people 100 years ago, or made today as we order products made through sweatshop labour. Whether made by stealing land through war and genocide or weather made through abusing the land through agricultural extraction and over-harvesting.
Though capitalism and imperialism often underlie these dynamics, the third sector isn’t completely powerless; there are ways to operate with autonomy and influence change.
Here are three questions to take on with your team to help you begin to negotiate your way:
Does accepting money from this source align with our organizational values, mission and ethical standards, or does it potentially compromise our integrity and reputation?
Have the source’s actions or values undermined the health and well-being of our communities or allied communities, and the positive outcomes we hope to achieve?
Can we offer the funder a new perspective and catalyze transformative change in their analysis and conduct?
These decisions should be conversations informed by the community you serve and whenever possible, its representatives - not relegated to the responsibility of a single staff member.
With analysis, we can organize substantial changes, and promote values alignment and community safety beyond financial figures.