I’m thankful to have Lilya Wagner as a mentor, colleague, and generous friend. She’s been an encouragement these past several weeks but has also been challenging me (in a good way) as we work together on a project. Recently Lilya forwarded me a link to an article relating to our project.
The article, Who are we to talk?, is written by Emily Cavan Lynch, a public health consultant and freelance writer. She poses the question, “would development aid be more effective if it was delivered by people whose life experiences are more similar to those of the supposed beneficiaries?” I find this question quite intriguing.
It has been several years since I took the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) exam but I vaguely recall one of the questions asking about the demographic profile of a board of trustees. This particular question related to the fact that one of the potential members under consideration to join the board represented, not wealth but, the perspectives of the non-profit’s beneficiaries (if memory serves me correctly, the potential board member represented a racial profile).
In my research of the culture of philanthropy in Ghana and my Ethiopian travels to work with an NGO located there I’ve learned that the best practices of the West don’t translate well to the circumstances of the cultures represented in these countries. I agree on the importance of making a priority to use cultural perspectives to inform the programmatic/strategic aspect of the NGO. The fundraising strategy is no exception to this and should also mirror the cultural characteristics of the native demographics… but how is this done?
Research can get you quite far, but it is no substitute for active listening and deep engagement with benefactors and beneficiaries that represent a different perspective. A fundraiser’s perspective would be greatly impacted if they let the experience and judgement of beneficiaries help guide their work.