By Maria Rio, for SVA.
If you have worked in-house at a nonprofit, you probably have come face-to-face with many of the issues that keep our sector on the hamster wheel known as the nonprofit industrial complex. These issues are often the effect of a lack of strategy, systems, controls, efficiency, or staff appreciation (if you’re nodding, we see you).
Today, we want to share with you how to design strategy with inclusion in mind. In this example, we will discuss how to create a psychologically safe and collaborative environment in order to build a values-aligned fundraising strategy.
Collaborative strategy building is an incredibly powerful process that harnesses the collective wisdom of your community. However, certain hindrances, rooted in perfectionism and other white supremacy characteristics, can impede the goal of ensuring that everyone feels equally valued in the process.
Developing a robust fundraising strategy is a heavily logistical process and an art, requiring a delicate balance of creativity, data analysis, community engagement, and uprooting outdated processes Let's delve into how addressing hindrances head on can foster collaboration and inclusion while crafting your next strategy.
1. Hinderance: Perfectionism's Grip
Perfectionism sets an unrealistic standard that every idea, contribution, or decision must be flawless. This stifles creativity and creates an environment where team members hesitate to share their thoughts for fear of criticism. When perfectionism takes hold, voices are silenced, and innovative solutions remain hidden.
Solution - Promote Constructive Disagreement
Develop communication norms that value constructive disagreement. Encourage team members to respectfully challenge ideas and engage in open debates, fostering a culture of critical thinking. Allow time for discussions where multiple views are explored in their entirety, rather than rushing to a consensus.
2. Hinderance: Fear of Vulnerability
Psychologically unsafe environments or situations often stem from a fear of vulnerability. Team members or leaders may feel pressured to appear knowledgeable and capable at all times, preventing them from admitting uncertainty or from suggesting unconventional ideas. As a result, the richness of diverse viewpoints is lost, and the collaborative process becomes limited.
Solution - Embrace Vulnerability
Leaders should encourage vulnerability by sharing their own uncertainties and mistakes. This sets the tone for a safe space where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment.
3. Hinderance: Power Dynamics
The power of collective intelligence is undeniable, yet hierarchical structures and exclusive decision-making can hinder collaboration. This is where white supremacy characteristics, often entrenched in organizational culture, come into play. These characteristics undermine the value of diverse perspectives, creating barriers to true collaboration.
This can lead to unequal access to participation in strategy discussions, with certain voices being prioritized over others based on seniority, position, or identity. Additionally, how to engage service users and the broader community is often an afterthought in the development of strategy, and additional considerations around power imbalances are not explored.
Solution - Dismantle Power Imbalances
Perfectionism and white supremacy characteristics discourage open critique and constructive disagreement. Team members may avoid challenging ideas out of fear of causing conflict or being labeled as difficult. As a result, critical viewpoints that could enhance the strategy are left unspoken.
Actively address power dynamics by creating opportunities for all team members, volunteers, and community members to participate and contribute. Ensure that voices from all levels of the organization are heard and valued, regardless of position or identity. Provide opportunities for anonymous feedback that will not result in any negative consequences for the person who provided it.
4. Hinderance: Confirmation Bias
White supremacy characteristics can fuel confirmation bias, where ideas that align with established norms (or “best practices”) are favored over those that challenge the status quo. This closes the door to innovative solutions and perpetuates a narrow perspective that doesn't reflect the diversity of your community or the experiences within the team. Organizations may get stuck in outdated donor-centric practices and resist implementing new fundraising models and ideas.
Solution – Assessing Goals and Exploring Methods
Create mechanisms for challenging confirmation bias, such as a designated devil's advocate or rotating facilitators who encourage diverse viewpoints and challenge established norms. Dedicate a significant amount of time to the pitching of new ideas, more deeply explore any assumptions your team has about your current fundraising initiatives and assess if your goals could be met using alternative strategies.
5. Hinderance: Failure to Learn from Mistakes or Adapt Strategies
Perfectionism often views mistakes as failures rather than learning opportunities. This hinders collaborative strategy building, where ideas are refined through experimentation and feedback. Without room for trial and error, strategies remain static and fail to adapt to changing circumstances.
Solution - Cultivate a Culture of Learning
We must embrace imperfection as a steppingstone to growth. We must challenge the notion that only the "perfect" approach is worth pursuing and shift the perspective on mistakes from failure to growth. Encourage experimentation, provide constructive feedback, and emphasize that learning from missteps is integral to innovation and improvement. Take time to listen, learn, and strategize.
White supremacy stalls progress. In the realm of fundraising strategy, it can manifest as an insistence on rigid adherence to past methods or an aversion to risk. Fundraisers, driven by a desire to deliver flawless campaigns, may themselves inadvertently stifle innovation or work on initiatives not aligned to their values.
In crafting fundraising strategies, organizations must be intentional about dismantling barriers. Foster an environment where everyone's voice is not only welcomed but actively sought. Engage with donors, volunteers, service users, and colleagues from various departments. Their insights can provide invaluable nuances that shape strategies reflective of your community.
By viewing collaborative, values-aligned strategy building as a valuable experience, fundraisers can create strategies that are adaptive and aligned with the goals and the values of their organization.
This piece is a deep dive into one aspect of our values-based approach and our belief in engaging your community during the development of a strategy. For more information on SVA’s Approach, click here.