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Am I Invited? Fundraising in the Indigenous Community

Resource Center - Foundation

By Sarah Midanik

Sarah MidanikWhen I sat down to write about fundraising within the Indigenous community, I realized that it’s a challenging topic to discuss. I could give a few recommendations for best practices (be culturally aware and respectful; share success stories; and make "the ask") or share success stories of projects I’ve been involved in, but there really isn’t any proven model of success. There isn’t a long relationship and established practice of fundraising within or for the Indigenous community, and to this day there are still aren’t many organizations doing it.

The conversation actually goes a little deeper than best practices and is a bit more complex than I initially realized. Fundraising in the Indigenous community doesn’t get much attention, and Indigenous fundraisers are the equivalent of the beluga whale – they exist, but are a beautiful rarity for sure. I can personally count all the Indigenous fundraisers I know in Canada on one hand (and several of us are in this program!).

This issue creates another set of challenges when fundraising within the Indigenous community. Non-Indigenous fundraisers tend to have to overcome skepticism about their motivation for advocating on behalf of a community that they do not necessarily belong to. This can be a real challenge to their success and can make it challenging to attract top fundraisers to positions within Indigenous organizations.

I think a major part of what makes fundraising in the Indigenous community interesting is that Canadians at large have never been invited to participate. Historically, Canadians have not been invited to engage with Indigenous issues, nor were they asked for help or support. Even the terminology surrounding the Indigenous community can make Canadians feel uncomfortable. Aboriginal, Native, Indian, First Nations, Status, Indigenous—what’s the correct terminology? (For those of you wondering, Indigenous is currently the most politically correct choice these days and in this context is defined as the First Nation, Inuit, and Métis peoples of Canada). A lack of knowledge and the fear to ask can be such a huge barrier to fundraising.

Canadians have lacked an awareness of issues within the Indigenous community as well, although this is changing. Public knowledge around Indigenous issues is deepening and includes the history of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples in Canada. With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canadians are learning about residential schools – a piece of Canadian history that has not gotten much attention. With the launch of the Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Canadians will soon be educated about the horrific national tragedy that includes more than 1,200 victims. With more awareness of the social injustice and inequalities within the Indigenous community, Canadians will want to be involved.

The keys elements to fundraising within, and for the Indigenous community, are to nurture conversations, connections, and relationships among Indigenous communities and philanthropic organizations—not so different from most other fundraising! But cultural sensitivity is especially critical.

Fundraising efforts must recognize deeply rooted injustices and model respect for First Nation, Inuit, and Métis cultures, practices, and institutions. This can be as simple as ensuring that campaign marketing materials are sensitive to cultural appropriation and stereotypes. For example, just because it’s Indigenous, it doesn’t mean it should be a feather or teepee. There are many different identities and cultures of Indigenous people in Canada.

It can always be helpful to go a little deeper to actually help share knowledge and inform donors about the rich history and culture of Indigenous people. This sort of education can go a long way in helping build bridges between different communities and showcasing the need for fundraising for Indigenous communities and cultures. Additionally, it is always beneficial for fundraising efforts for Indigenous organizations to be done in consultation with Indigenous people.

In conclusion, I encourage organizations to approach Indigenous communities and make the ask, but make sure you’re prepared and your fundraising is appropriate. Start with asking about culture and needs and understand the community you’re asking for support.  As with all fundraising, whether it be for more information about the culture, for help and support, or for a donation, it’s all about making the ask.

Sarah Midanik is the executive director of the Native Women’s Resource Centre and a Fellow in AFP's Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy Program.

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