Two years ago, as one of Creating the Future’s first efforts at doing anything at all as an organization, we attempted a year-end appeal. Long time friends may recall that we shut down that appeal moments before “the biggest giving days of the year.” *
We shut it down because it didn’t feel right. As a barely-born organization (we didn’t even have a board yet), we weren’t sure why it didn’t feel right. We just knew that if something felt that misaligned with our core values, that we should stop first, and ask questions later.
We immediately shared what we’d learned, at least as deeply as we could understand it at that time. And then we set out to build Creating the Future.
It has now been 2 years. We have a board, an active community that is already taking charge of many of the functions of this still nascent effort.
And we are still not going to do a year-end appeal.
This time we know why. Even better, this time we know what we will be doing instead.
If you’re pressed for time during this busy holiday season, print this post out right now, and mark your calendar to read this on January 1. Because we will not only want your participation as the new year begins – we hope that you will embark on a similar journey alongside us.
Why We’re Not Doing a Year-End Fundraising Appeal
There are several reasons we hope to move social change efforts towards something potentially more powerful than the all-too-common year-end appeal.
First, there is the obvious – the fact that year-end appeals are timed for tax breaks. While it remains unclear whether tax breaks actually motivate donors, fundraising systems are nevertheless set up to push push push against this often meaningless fiscal drop-dead date. As a result, a full 10% of online donations occur in the last 3 days of the year. *
So then why do we believe year-end funding appeals are counter-productive for accomplishing social missions? Because these appeals exemplify fundraising at its most scarcity-and-competition-driven worst.
Regardless of how well-crafted, year-end appeals feel desperate, and the reason for that is easy to see: these appeals are 100% about money, as organizations seek the means to keep doing the good work they do. Inherent in those pleas for funds is the assumption that orgs don’t have the means themselves – they must seek those means from outside sources – donors. We all know the ask line by heart: “Without your help, our organization will not be able to do its work on behalf of fill-in-the-blank .”
As a result of that sense of scarcity and dependency, we build walls, seeing other groups as competition for “scarce resources” as we strengthen our fortresses and silos. Anyone who has had help from a fundraising consultant knows that organiations are exhorted to differentiate themselves from others working towards the same goals, with the textbook question, “Why should a donor give to you and not another organization doing similar work?”
All of which leads to organizations launching their best competitive efforts against the very groups who could, all of us together, actually accomplish this amazing thing we want to accomplish for our communities.
And so, driven by the end of the tax year, all that intense competition and feeling of desperation comes to a head during this last month of the year.
If Not a Year-End Fundraising Appeal, Then What?
Imagine a campaign that is not about closing out a year, but about beginning a new one.
Imagine a campaign that is not an appeal to people outside the organization to help “we who are doing the work” inside that org, but instead a campaign that is about all of us linking arms together to accomplish what none of us can accomplish on our own.
That’s what we are envisioning. And that is what we are going to spend the entire month of January (and probably the whole year and then some) exploring.
In our post about engaging publicly with everything we do, we called that Full Frontal Engagement. Our goal is nothing less than all of us together participating in building and maintaining and sustaining strong, healthy, vibrant communities.
We don’t pretend to have the answer to exactly what that will look like. We do have a vision, though – and the intent that we will walk a talk that is aligned with that vision (rather than having the means define our actions – the need for money overriding our need for modeling the future we want to see…)
As part of that vision, we see people participating fully in accomplishing the mission of Creating the Future – a mission that is about accomplishing all the missions of all change organizations everywhere.
We envision people participating with who they are as well as what they have. Their wisdom, their ideas, their desire to accomplish more, combined with their talents, their skills, their time, their dollars, their stuff we haven’t even envisioned because no one ever asks for it.
We envision modeling what it looks like to build a bigger “us” – an “us” that is all of us, working side by side, building on our strengths in a spirit of interconnectedness and abundance.
Because we believe that engagement in one’s own life and one’s community is a prerequisite to all beings living well individually and collectively, we envision participation that means ALL of us together creating something that none of us could accomplish on our own. We envision a Stone Soup approach that says, “We are all contributing to making this kick-ass soup, which means we will all partake in both the cooking AND the rewards” (instead of the current approach, which is to ask folks to give us the carrots and the onions, so we can then cook those on our own, handing the result to a 3rd party recipient and then providing a report to the carrot and onion donors, describing what we did as stewards of their vegies…).
We envision seeking ways we can participate together with “funders” and “investors”, where all of the work done by both entities is enhanced by the experience. We envision eliminating the word “volunteer” and “donor” – words that by definition suggest YOU outside helping US inside (which perpetuates not only that separation but the assumption that there even is an inside and an outside!). We envision replacing it with the word “participant.” Or citizen. Or something we haven’t even thought of that says, “We the people are all exploring and learning and co-creating what it means to build strong communities together.”
Our Year-Beginning Event
And so, this January, we will kick off an event that we hope will move quickly from an “event” to a “way of being.”
We will kick off an exploration, and we will invite you to join us on that journey to discover, “What would full participation look like?” Or perhaps more to the point, “What would it look like for all of us – and not just social change efforts – if we all participated more fully in our own lives?”
So – stay tuned. This party is about to become even more fun!
To keep posted and participate alongside us,
• Subscribe to this blog – we’ll be sharing right here as things unfold
• Let us know if you have particular gifts or talents or skills or resources you would like to share
• And please share your thoughts right here in the comments!
* See page 10 of the report at the link