Fighting Poverty with Passion
Prior to my year of service at Covenant House, I had very little experience in development and fundraising, and while my daily tasks now certainly aren’t centered on major fundraising campaigns and development strategies, I dabble enough in it to have to flex some new brain cells. Most of my role lies within volunteer management, but our development team is largely tasked with tracking, organizing, and soliciting donations to keep the wheels greased and turning. This is a highly simplified explanation of what my development team does – as it turns out, it isn’t simply just posting on social media or sending a lot of mail to donors (though I did help stuff about 1000 envelopes last month to send our annual report to those flagged as our most important donors). In most of our campaigns, we attempt to connect with donors on a personal level, and oftentimes this includes highlighting a resident at Covenant House. The residents’ stories are simultaneously heart-wrenching and inspiring, and often are great tools to garner interest in potential donors, and then subsequently their money. But therein lies the problem – when does someone else’s story stop existing as a piece of that individual, but rather as a means to an end?
This has been on my mind a lot lately as we are gearing up for our largest fundraising event of the year. As I mentioned, I don’t have experience in fundraising and development. I took two marketing classes in college, which hardly makes me an expert on non-profit development strategy, other than I know it is deeply tied to psychology. How do we tap into the subconscious of a person to convince them to buy our product, purchase or service, or donate to our cause? When the cause is youth and young adults experiencing homelessness, does that change things?
My personal opinion is that no one’s story should be taken from them and told in a way that boils down to pandering for monetary support. Stories are sacred. But, how then can we advocate for these individuals in such a way that people of privilege know that others are surviving through a lot of trauma and oppression? I, if I am being honest, don’t have a lot of patience with this nuance (which it is good to know that my passion doesn’t lie in non-profit fundraising – discernment is a gift!); however, I am very grateful to exist in a space where I can ask these questions, discuss, and then learn how to be a better advocate for others. My supervisor, Rachel, and I have discussed this issue a lot, focusing on how this practically applies to our site and how our development strategies could be better aligned with principles of ethical storytelling. In the Tulane VISTA community, I have a space to share thoughts and resources, like this article on ethical storytelling here (thanks, Sarah V!).
I don’t believe I am solving this dilemma in real time, but I, ever the optimist, do feel confident that these skills and considerations will allow me to be a better advocate in the future, as well as in the present. Protecting others isn’t passive; it requires active reflection and honoring of others, especially if those telling the stories and doing the advocating are people of privilege.