Hi everyone, before we get started, here’s a conversation on Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs) taking place on April 21 at 10am PT. It’s free, and auto-captions will be enabled.
Some of you may remember #DAFHobbyGate, where many, many fundraising colleagues got very upset because on an earlier webinar I mentioned that “philanthropy has often become a hobby for the rich and it really shouldn’t be.” Dozens of indignant people told stories of the wonderful donors they encountered who would die before they thought of their charitable work as a hobby. Others called me pretentious, self-righteous, and ignorant. A few demanded I apologize for my thoughtless and insensitive words (which I did, very sincerely).
Here’s the thing, though: Not a single donor indicated they were offended. Or certainly no one expressed they got offended in their role as a donor, as I suspect all of us in the sector are also donors. The folks who were bothered expressed their rage as fundraisers, wealth advisors, and fundraising thought-leaders.
In an earlier post (“White development colleagues, we need to talk about fundraiser fragility”) I mentioned Fundraiser Stockholm Syndrome, this primal urge among fundraisers to protect donors from any and all criticisms and discomfort, as if donors were perfect beings immune to committing any wrongdoings, or fragile baby birds who cannot fend for themselves. It is preventing us from having deep, necessary conversations that would advance our field.
But Fundraiser Stockholm Syndrome may be hard to recognize. So here are some signs you may be afflicted by it, because the first step to solving a problem it to be aware that you have one:
1.You believe donors are somehow superior to everyone else: During #DAFHobbyGate, one colleague waxed rapturously about donors, including these words: “[Donors] share our foibles and failings, yet, through philanthropy, discover the ‘angels of their better nature.’ They are the best of us; they make us all better.” Many chimed in to express agreement. Yikes! Only a few people—namely Lizzo, Malala Yousafzai, Dolly Parton, and Keanu Reeves—deserve this level of fawning adoration.
2.You feel a visceral response whenever donors are disparaged in any way: Whenever you see donors being talked about negatively in any way, your heart races, your face gets flushed, and your hackles are raised, even though I’m not sure anyone actually knows what a hackle is. (OK, I just googled it: hackles are the hairs on the neck or back of an animal, which are raised when the animal is in danger or something, to make them seem bigger and more dangerous.)
3.You often interject with “it’s their money,” especially combined with “hard-earned”: You are indignant that anyone dares to say something negative about how people spend “their” money, something they earned through “their” own hard work. You don’t think about, or refuse to acknowledge in any meaningful way, the fact that significant wealth has been built through inequitable means like slavery; genocide of Indigenous peoples and theft of Native land; tax avoidance; worker exploitation; and environmental degradation.
4.Words like “wealth hoarding” “taxes” “white supremacy” “slavery” “stolen Indigenous land” etc., push your buttons: Words like these threaten the image of donors and philanthropy as benevolent or neutral, and so every time you hear them, you go immediately into fight or flight, like a mama bear getting ready to protect her delicate donor bear cubs from predators called “truth.”
5.You feel the need to attack anyone who leverages even mild criticisms of donors or philanthropy: Mild criticisms (“philanthropy has often become a hobby for rich people”) are a slippery slope. They could lead to more serious criticisms (“philanthropy is a system many wealthy people who are mostly white use to justify the further hoarding of wealth and the consolidation of power”). So you have the urge to put anyone in place who brings these things up.