December 13, 2022

FoodShare’s Approach to Fundraising

December 13, 2022

As a non-profit organization working to dismantle the systemic forms of oppression that cause and perpetuate food insecurity, FoodShare is always reflecting on how we approach our work — checking ourselves to make sure we are not just ‘talking the talk’.

That’s why we developed a set of fundraising guidelines: Towards a justice-oriented approach to fundraising which outlines how we remain accountable to upholding our values as we raise funds to support the work that we do. 

Our approach is rooted in FoodShare’s commitment to advance the right to food and the priorities of the communities (Black, Indigenous, people of colour, people with disabilities and people living on a low income) that we work alongside. 

We accept, and expect, that sometimes will mean pushing back when donors ask for something that goes against our core principles. 

Inspiration: Community-Centric Fundraising 

This idea of pushing back against problematic but established norms of donor-centricity in the fundraising sector certainly didn’t originate with us. “When we began thinking about these things at FoodShare, we were taking cues from remarkable leaders in the Community-Centric Fundraising movement,” explains FoodShare’s development manager Sydney Hyatt.

Community-Centric Fundraising is a fundraising model that is grounded in equity and social justice, prioritizing entire communities over individual organizations and encouraging mutual support between non-profits.

Applying this model at FoodShare means “using a justice-oriented approach to seeking support just as we do in our advocacy campaigns, our staffing policies and our programming. It allows our development team to operate with consistency and integrity,” Hyatt says. 

Over at The Stop, a fellow food justice organisation based in Toronto, Maria Rio and her team are also applying the principles of CCF to their work. “I was excited to have the language and tools to implement my values into my work and to remove white fragility and supremacy,” Rio writes in this article for Community-Centric Fundraising’s blog.

A direction decided by FoodShare and its community 

Hyatt says centring community, especially honouring the experiences of marginalised folks, can mean having difficult conversations with prospective supporters, making sure they understand that FoodShare aims to take on the systems that are at the root of poverty and food insecurity. 

“It can be tough, yes, but it’s worth it to build authentic partnerships with people and organisations who commit to appreciating our approach and supporting our work without expecting to dictate our direction.” She echoes the guidelines when she says that FoodShare wants “how we go about fundraising to be a form of social change in itself.”  

That means that donors never “own our work”, Hyatt says, “we are really mindful about where and how we recognise our supporters.” She says that shows up in a variety of ways, like the decision made several years ago to stop putting corporate logos on student-facing FoodShare materials in the interest of priortising a safe, no-strings-attached learning environment.

It also means that when FoodShare takes a strong stance “against police violence or in support of Land Back. When we decide to pay interview candidates. Or when we tell a fatphobic organization like Weight Watchers that we don’t want a ‘wellness’ award we’ve been nominated for, we aren’t looking over our shoulder in fear someone is going to stop their funding.” Instead, Hyatt says, FoodShare engages with funders to facilitate an appreciation for this work and how it intersects with food security and food justice. 

“Ultimately, if our work isn’t for them then they aren’t the donor for us, and that’s okay,” Hyatt says. Developing authentic partnerships, she says, is about working with donors “who are excited about what we’re doing, and being generous with sharing our knowledge and feedback.” 

The real cost of social justice work 

Another important part of FoodShare’s approach to fundraising is managing expectations about where funds are going to be directed. Paul Taylor, FoodShare’s executive director, says that for too long non-profit organizations have been expected to keep their operating costs unreasonably low or to invisibilise those costs in the service of optics. He says it’s time to let folks know the price of advancing justice. 

“We’re going to be honest with those who want to support our food security initiatives or our advocacy or our educational programming and say that operating those things takes dedicated folks who deserve to earn a living wage. We’re not going to devalue the important work of those operating our frontlines by saying it’s unskilled, and we’re not going to download labour onto unpaid volunteers,” Taylor explains.

Taylor says FoodShare aims to model tangible steps that the nonprofit sector can take towards eliminating income disparities that lead to poverty and food insecurity, including becoming a certified Living Wage Employer, providing a transparent pay grid for all roles across the organization and advocating for pay transparency in charities and beyond.

Finding a better way

Hyatt is happy to be seeing changes in the fundraising space around FoodShare; she cites a few examples including United Way Greater Toronto’s decision to stop the use of their agency fundraising blackout period and protected companies list which she sees as “moving from a mindset of scarcity and competition to one of greater partnership with the agencies they support.” 

She says she hears from more and more funders who appreciate the powerful role of unrestricted funds and how it allows nonprofits like FoodShare to pivot quickly and “focus in on what communities need action on right now,” says Hyatt. 

FoodShare’s former advocacy and programs director, Katie German, explained this to The Walrus Lab’s Takara Small in an episode of Bandwidth in 2021, “[unrestricted funding] helps us weather a rough spot, but it also allows us to direct those funds to what we think is important. Which for us, is our food justice and equity work. And you don’t have a donor, or funder, or someone weighing in on whether they think that’s appropriate or not. If it’s aligned with your mission and you think it’s good, you have full control over how you want to allocate those dollars,” German said. 

The rising cost of food and other expenses are one such rough spot, which is why Hyatt says she was impressed when “the Atkinson Foundation surprised all their grantees (FoodShare included) this year with an 8% top-up on current grant amounts to adjust for inflation.” She says their CEO, Colette Murphy, published an insightful piece on inflation, its effect on social purpose organisations and the failures of capitalism, and that “it’s encouraging to see major donors recognise the challenges we are facing in a meaningful way.” 

After sharing our fundraising guidelines publicly, FoodShare heard from others on LinkedIn who want to see fundraising done differently:

“For us, it’s seeing that when financial giving is unrestricted with fewer, hoop-jumping administrative requirements, this equips organizations to operate more effectively, plan ahead, and boost efficacy and agility; thereby improving the impact for its communities as a direct link to these circumstances. On the whole, fixating on financial ratios (like core expenses) as the only proxies for nonprofit and charity performance comes at a cost to the social good sector and ills the ethos of giving and meaningful partnerships. One charity might have higher overhead, indirect expenditures because of complex operational requirements or limited resources—but might also be offering more meaningful services for specific communities and their unique, urgent needs. It’s time to stop asking nonprofits (and people!) to do more with less.” 

– Char San Pedro (Founder, Good to Be Good Foundation)

“Wow! I absolutely love this! Program teams are on the front lines of change, directly impacting program participates/clients. They don’t and can’t do it alone. They need a supportive administrative team around them to ensure the funds needed to carry out programming are available; that the funds raised are handled in a fiduciary manner; and that there is support for everyone in the organization. All departments are critical to for services to be delivered effectively and at the highest standard possible. Program cannot, does not, and should not do the work of development, finance, and operations. These are all functional departments that require their own skill set. The more we underrepresent the true costs, the more we risk delivering subpar programs and stagnate missions.” 

– Sondra Jenzer (Non-profit Development and Fundraising Consultant) 

Learn more: 

Interested in supporting FoodShare and our work toward food justice? Make a donation or reach out to our development team to learn more.