Finding Your Own Kind of Beautiful

I’ve come to realize that—as with so many jobs—unless you’ve worked as a fundraiser it may be a mystery what a fundraiser’s day-to-day work entails. Of course, this makes it even more challenging to articulate the importance of beautiful fundraising, or the significant value that art and design provide in the broad scope of our work and our organizations’ missions.

Over my years in the field, I’ve learned to embrace and welcome the questions about my profession as a fundraiser, and, more recently, about my newest journey: my quest to explore the interconnectedness between fundraising and art, and to help organizations and individuals make fundraising beautiful.

Inevitably, my non-profit friends and colleagues ask me: “What do you mean by ‘beautiful fundraising’?” It would be an understatement to say that I’m familiar with this loaded question. I’m familiar with it, because I’ve asked it a million times over.

Of course, if you want to get all “meta” about it, the work non-profits do, by nature, is beautiful. It is bold, creative, imaginative, courageous work. It is work that, often, is fought on the front lines, surrounded daily by intense risk and incredible reward. It is work that can be controversial and disruptive, or universal and harmonious, or both. It is—at it core—layered and complex, no matter the mission. It is compassionate, responsive, important work that shapes, challenges, and transforms the very fabric of our communities, and our world.

For certain organizations, it’s easy to see how the standard definitions of “beauty”, “art”, and “design” can be applied to their development work.  It’s easy for all of us to wrap our minds around heartwarming visuals of children’s paintings on a responsive website, a captivating photo of clean water arriving to a village for the first time on an Instagram feed, or an inspirational performance by a theatre company’s dance troupe at a donor event or gala. Although beauty within art and design is subjective, almost all of us would agree that—on some level—each of these experiences can foster a beautiful emotional connection to an organization’s mission.

But, what if your organization is like Invisible Children? What if you are working to end some of the worst atrocities existing in our world? What if instead of something easily digestible, the mission and work of your organization is gritty, gutsy, and raw? What does beautiful fundraising design look like in that context?

It looks authentic.

Beauty is not a synonym for “pretty.” We respond to something that is beautiful because it holds the lasting and substantive qualities that make things beautiful. This is why we can hear a sad song and tell others that it was beautiful, even though it didn’t make us happy.

In the same respect, beautiful fundraising isn’t all about pretty collateral pieces, attractive images, or glitzy gala table settings. Fundraising, like any art, is a means of communication. It is a medium for expressing feelings, thoughts, and observations, and connecting those expressions with outward action. Our work as development professionals, as artists, is not to make things pretty; more often, it is about helping people make sense of the ugly.

Some of the most beautiful examples of fundraising can be found in organizations that deal with some of the heaviest issues of our day. Spend a few minutes on Invisible Children’s website, and you’ll immediately see that they don’t sugar coat the truth. Their images are graphic, their videography is compelling and emotional, their narratives are strong and vivid.

Yet, they also recognize that a significant player in the art of fundraising is to create a space to practice and embrace the art of active listening. Of all the things Invisible Children does authentically and beautifully, their Fourth Estate Summits may be their most innovative execution of transformational, beautifully designed fundraising.

The Fourth Estate Summits are yearly gatherings designed for Invisible Children’s top fundraisers and core supporters—many of whom will never set foot in the war-torn regions of East Africa. Some years these gatherings are strategically designed to be intimate, and other years they are designed as 4-day, spectacular conferences for over a thousand people.

Regardless of size, what happens at these gatherings is something beautiful:

– Authentic conversation.

– Connection.

– Inspiration.

– Valuable takeaways for both donors and staff.

These summits—whether sensational events with live bands and breakouts sessions led by nationally renowned experts, or small, intimate gatherings (a 2014 retreat was held in a garage!)—are thoughtfully, artfully, beautifully designed experiences that completely revolutionize the donor/organization relationship. Most importantly, they are authentic to the core values and mission of Invisible Children. .

Authenticity—no matter what your organization’s goal—is beautiful. Real images, real emotion, real narrative, and real conversation are beautiful. Beautiful fundraising is an art—it makes you feel something, it makes you act—whether due to a captivating photo or a captivating conversation.

Need some other ideas of authentic, gritty, beautiful fundraising? Check out some of my other favorites:

YMCA’s first-ever commercial advertising campaign 

How Humans of New York raised $750,000 for Syrian refugee families

Love 146’s Tread on Trafficking – exercise and fundraising! (almost as good as wine and chocolate!)

Falling Whistles’ unique way to share their voice while spreading their message

Do you have some favorite examples of authentic and beautiful fundraising? Share them in the comments, and we can look at them in later blog posts!

“Beauty isn’t only found in sweet, soft and pretty. It’s also found in that which is simple, gutsy, provocative, distinctive.”

– Carla Aston, Interior Designer & Design Blogger

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