We have big news to share. On September 15th (09/15/22), we’re inviting all of you to the “first look” at NEW’s next big evolution. Our programming and reach are expanding, and our commitment to building a beloved community is deepening. In recent years, we’ve been thinking about how our physical container, The NEW Center, can host, inspire, nurture and evolve our work.
When I came to NEW fifteen (15) years ago, it was a thriving organization serving local nonprofits. At the time, we had a strong focus and history in supporting the arts. Over the years, both our team and work have continued to grow and evolve. Along the way, we’ve reflected on our purpose in Washtenaw County, and how we can make real impact. Now, it’s time for our building and grounds to begin inspiring and equipping people, organizations and communities in new ways. Our container must nurture the ideas and connections that will transform social justice in Washtenaw County.
As NEW always has, we’re placing our values directly at the center of this process of expansion. Our values were central as we reflected on our needs to thrive and grow. They were central in our community engagement and design processes, and now in the first architectural drawings. And they are central in our fundraising practice, too. We’re “walking the walk” as we enter into a fifteen million dollar ($15M) campaign to expand our programs and evolve our physical space. As we do, we invite you all into the process with us.
Traditionally, nonprofit fundraising is something separated from the organization’s work. Often, its practices come with alternative sets of values and mores. NEW’s fundraising practices put our community and our core values at the center. This is going to be uncomfortable at times. It requires us to name and confront the deep power imbalances in the current practice of philanthropy. Still, we are naming them and taking steps to counteract them in our own fundraising.
As we began this endeavor we needed a framework for our values-centered approach to fundraising. This is when we developed our Fundraising Manifesto. Admittedly, it’s bold. Thankfully, it has caused many to breathe deeply and say, “Yes, that feels right. That feels like it needed to be said.”
This document, this approach, it’s really about what we believe. What do we believe about ourselves? What do we believe about each other? What do we believe about the broader context? Our stance here is that our values oughta to cost us something.
In that spirit, we recognize that some donors will stop supporting us because of this approach. That’s OK with us, because not everyone is our donor. Turning away from misaligned relationships opens up room for those brave enough to come into this journey with us. We’re eager for partnerships that begin a conversation, one that promises to transform NEW, our work and our practice. We’re ready to be pushed more deeply toward a just and beloved community.
One of my personal mantras is that the revolution is rooted in relationships. In 2020, we proclaimed that we were transforming the future together, not as a single organization. Our vision can only be made real in partnership and collaboration with all kinds of folks across the nonprofit, business, and philanthropic sectors. It was partially this longing for deeper connection and proximity to others that got us thinking about what this transformation might look like. And that theme of proximity just kept coming up.
In our society, we’re siloed by race and class. We’re siloed by geography. We live in a community where there is compounding inequity on one side of the county, and an abundance of wealth five (5) miles away. You can live in parts of Washtenaw County and never come in contact with the disparity nonprofits are trying to address. As an organization, NEW sits at the intersection of this reality. And we have been complicit in working downstream at those issues of racism, of poverty, of trauma, of social justice for almost thirty (30) years.
We know now that transformation requires something more. It means we’ve got to be able to get with each other. We’ve got to get next to each other. We’ve got to have places to connect. We can’t talk about doing board development without having space for boards to gather. We can’t talk about operating in abundance, while making do with resources from twenty-five (25) years ago. We can’t talk about justice without having a physical space that’s accessible to all people, regardless of how their bodies work.
And we certainly cannot transform the future without honoring the past. Especially on land that is stolen, occupied and unseated by our native siblings. Especially in a neighborhood that was historically Black, and that’s virtually been erased and now renamed.
Through our behaviors, reputation, and relationships, NEW is earning the right to continue supporting our sector and community. So we’re coming at fundraising in ways that are authentic to our values and practices. We’re not just talking about race, class, history, or the future. We’re talking about power.
We can sit and lament how messed up fundraising is in its current practice. I’ve certainly done that. But to be honest, it only burns me out. It exhausts me and robs me of creativity. The alternative is to think about how the systems and practices have brought us to where we are. If we commit to unlearning problematic power imbalances when exchanging wealth, then how can we practice new ways of being? Our Fundraising Manifesto was born out of these big questions. It is our first experiment with a new way of being in relationship to power and wealth.
Please hear this too, I believe in attacking systems, not people. I know a lot of people who work in philanthropy and in fundraising, folks like you who are doing their best. There are some behaviors and some practices that just don’t serve us anymore. I’m not interested in living in the past. I want to practice into our collective future. Right now, we’re pushing through the discomfort between our reality and that desired future.
And it’s important to recognize that this is experimental. We’re pushing ourselves – in a healthy and whole way – past what we know and into what we believe is possible. We are going to keep learning and changing as we go.
We’re committed to centering the community and sharing power. We want to be clear and transparent about why we’re raising money, how we’re raising it, and how it’s used. That is to say that there are no strings attached. We are going to honor the donor and we’re going to honor our beliefs, at the same time. We want to be straight up about exchanges of wealth.
And from our donors, we expect the same in return. Either you’re in or you’re out. Either you believe in the vision and want to get behind it, or you don’t. You want to invest in an organization that is striving every day, alongside thousands of nonprofits and leaders, to transform the future. Or you don’t. It’s that easy. For those of us with privilege – whether class, race or otherwise – it’s about learning and changing and adapting and iterating.
That’s moving with power in a new and different way. This is something we must practice intentionally in a societal culture rooted in fear of open conflict. I think this, holding conflict in a generative way, is the next great frontier that we are embarking on. We must find ways to hold conflict that make us curious and comfortable speaking our truths. We must find ways of holding conflict only with consent. To ask for money is to ask another to share power, to redistribute, to repair. Uncomfortable? Yes. Necessary? Also yes.
We welcome you into this conversation about our practice at NEW. Read the NEW Fundraising Manifesto, and come into this ongoing conversation about values, vision, and the exchange of wealth in a beloved community. I look forward to sharing this work with you.
Yodit Mesfin Johnson