Stop focusing on empathy and promote justice instead, fundraisers told

Vu Le
Vu Le

Fundraising appeals should stop focusing on empathy and promote the idea of justice instead, the American charity writer Vu Le has said.

Speaking at the BAME Fundraising Virtual Conference 2021, Le told delegates that traditional fundraising had trained donors to believe they could only care about something if it pulled at their heartstrings – but pointed out that donors’ feelings “are not relevant to justice”.

Le and his fellow panellists were asked what they believed was needed to make fundraising more supportive of the anti-racist movement.

“I would really encourage us to move away from empathy as the basis of fundraising and move towards justice,” said Le.

“Empathy is great – but we have been training each other to pull the heartstrings of donors and over a long time we have trained them to believe that something has to pull their heartstrings for them to care about it.”

He said ultimately empathy was limited because “there’s a lot of things that people do that we will never be able to empathise with – but just because you can’t empathise with something, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t support it”.

Le compared such donors with political leaders who only supported the gay rights movement after their child came out as gay.

“That’s why we have to train people to believe they’ve got to do something and that they’re the right things to do because they are grounded in justice, not in your feelings,” he said.

“Your feelings are not relevant to justice.”

Le also said the sector needed to “disconnect the unconscious belief” it had that “if someone has money, they have the knowledge and authority to make decisions”; a concept he said applied to both foundations and major donors.

“In many ways, major donors, who are mostly white, have the least knowledge in the sector and yet the most power, and they get to set priorities and we have to align with them. That makes no sense whatsoever.”

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