Community centric fundraising: what it is and how it works

Community-centric fundraising is on the rise! If you’ve worked with charities, nonprofits, fundraising organizations, or community activism you’ve likely heard of the term before. It’s more than just a term for community giving though. Community-centric fundraising is a model that’s fundamentally grounded in social justice and equity. Here’s what you need to know about this growing trend in fundraising.

What are the basics of community-centric fundraising?

Community-centric fundraising is grounded in equity and in social justice. The site communitycentricfundraising.org, a primary leader in this movement, describes it as a movement that “prioritize[s] the entire community over individual organizations.” 

Think of a typical fundraising structure you might find at any nonprofit organization. Chances are it relies heavily on a few “major” donors writing big checks. These types of donations, while great, often come with strings attached. In these types of fundraising structures big-dollar donors, whether intentionally or not, end up having an outsized impact on the type of work an organization does. 

Since nonprofits rely on external donors for funding, they often have to please big donors to make sure they are happy and will keep donating. Additionally, nonprofits often lack the number of donors necessary to be funded completely through small-dollar donations, so big-dollar donations have more impact.

Community-centric fundraising places the causes and communities they work with at the center of the organization, not the donors. While organizations that practice community-centric fundraising still respect and value their donors, their voices aren’t at the center of the work. 

How does this lead back to social justice and equity?

As Communitycentricfundraising.org puts it, “conversations around fundraising must move beyond diversifying donors and tapping into marginalized communities to give. It must move toward sometimes uncomfortable discussions regarding race and wealth disparities, and more.“

All too often nonprofits take advantage of this disparity in their funding structures without acknowledging it directly to their donors. On their site, community-centric fundraising acknowledges ways nonprofits can ground their fundraising efforts in race, equity, and social justice. They mention training staff in social justice areas like anti-racism, systematic oppression, and intersectionality. 

Nonprofits often, unfortunately, fight for donations too. Because there are so many nonprofits in the United States, each covering varying types of causes and missions, many nonprofits intersect. When nonprofits compete for resources, they can facilitate a “tragedy of the commons” effect in which some organizations benefit while others fail.

Instead of competition, community-centric fundraising asks for coalition building. It stresses that the communities nonprofits support are most important and that nonprofits are simply a part of that community. There are a lot of things you can do to prevent this resource hoarding:

  • Be purposeful and mindful about the grants you apply for.
  • Continually check to see if your community is still aligned with your goals.
  • Adjust, merge, or even shut down organizations if you’re negatively impacting a community.
  • Include community members in your organizational structure and decision-making.
  • Work together, not separately to achieve your goals.

How nonprofits can work together to support communities

Another key principle of the community-centric fundraising model relies on nonprofits working together, not apart. This means supporting each other and working together as partners, allies, and supporters rather than direct competitors.

One way to work together is through the use of cause funds or mutual aid. At RoundUp App we practice a cause-fund approach to donating. Cause funds are created with a set goal or mission in mind. They wrap together organizations that are similar or complementary to each other to spread a donor’s donation further and make a larger impact on the community. When using cause funds, we ask donors to think about more than the organization they support. Instead, we ask them to think about how they can best help their community or cause 

Cause-funds might lump in organizations that, at first glance, don’t seem directly related to the cause. For example, a cause fund on environmental action might also include black-run community improvement organizations. At first glance, this could seem confusing or counter-intuitive. However, by digging deeper and understanding the needs of the community you can see how they fit together. Drastic climate change will have an outsized impact on communities of color, so it’s important that movements to end climate change center and support those voices too.

How nonprofits can work with donors, not for donors

In a community-centric model to fundraising, donors are just one part of a larger community. When trying to practice a community model of fundraising, nonprofits need to have open and honest conversations with their donors.

During these conversations, you might find that your donors and your organization have fundamental disagreements about key issues. Your donors might think it’s appropriate to spend money one way, while your nonprofit knows that type of funding is ineffective or actively harmful to the community you serve. While your first instinct might be to avoid these disagreements and appease donors, remember that it’s okay to have disagreements! 


Instead of avoiding potential disagreements, be conscious about the conversations you have. Create webinars or listening sessions with donors to help them understand key differences. Use data collected along with your expertise in the field to respectfully explain to donors how certain actions could harm the community you’re serving. Above all else, be transparent about what you’re working with, who you’re working for, and why you’re doing the work you’re doing.

How nonprofits can learn more about community-centric fundraising

The best resource to learn more about community-centric fundraising is through the website communitycentricfundraising.org. They provide resources and direct ways to get involved. 


Nonprofits can also get involved immediately by having more conversations with their donors and their communities, including difficult conversations around race and racism, including structural and institutional racism that may be ingrained in your organization’s history or current practices. This includes analyzing past fundraisers, donor communications, and even funding structures for any inherent or structural bias. 

By doing this work now, you’ll center your organization as a part of the community, increasing the impact you have and making real-world connections and change.


This article contains general information intended to be educational and does not constitute legal advice. Ribbon is not a law firm nor a substitute for an attorney.

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Community centric fundraising: what it is and how it works

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