1.17 Inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement

We welcome guest blogger, Holly Fincke, a fundraiser and fundraising consultant. You can read the full article this post is based on in the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, free if you’re a subscriber or just $3.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday 2011 – A day to remember the leader and the movement that shook the country into making a decisive turn from over 400 years of chattel slavery and Jim Crow.   The day has especially great meaning this year as we face a clear escalation of racism and violence, most notably in Arizona, and reflect on our role to turn it around.

In honor of the day and those who faced down racism in another era, here’s two of my favorite examples of civil rights movement fundraising from The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change, by Aldon D. Morris.  They remind me to reclaim the core fundraising lesson of fifty years ago – that people CAN fund our movements:

o   According to Morris, “A Southern Conference Education Fund publication issued about 1959 reported that ‘since June, 1956, a total of $50,000 has been raised and spent by the ACHMR (Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights), most of it on court litigation.  Most of this has been contributed by the Negroes in Birmingham, many of whom make scarcely enough to live on.’”  That’s over $300,000 in today’s dollars!

o Many different kinds of people were asked, under conditions that are more difficult than those many of our organizations face.  Writes Morris about the United Christian Movement, Inc. in Shreveport, LA, “Teachers were called upon to supply the movement with stencils, paper and money.  At times, professional blacks placed garbage barrels at designated places for movement activists to pick up.  Inside the garbage containers were the names of prominent blacks who wanted to the support the movement in any way they could…The UCMI, then, operated under the assumption that all strata of black society would support the movement…”

You can argue the Civil Rights Movement had a momentum we don’t have today, inspiring participants to high levels of sacrifice.  Fair enough.

But I think if we set our sights on incorporating even some of this movement’s fundraising lessons, the vitality and strategic contributions of our organizations would expand.  It goes deeper than a plan. It’s more profound than a fundraising task list.  It’s a deep faith in the capacity of everyday people to make their own history and support their own organizations.  THAT’S the vision I’m rededicating myself to today.