Equity-Focused Nonprofit Finance

How a 140 year-old poverty-fighting organization made a dramatic shift to antiracist fundraising


When Kids Forward announced in 2020 that their organization would transform into an antiracist policy center, focused on the people most impacted by racist policies in Wisconsin, they knew their model of finance and fundraising would have to change as well. But how can an organization that needs sustainable revenue streams let go of typical “best practices” in nonprofit fundraising, without putting their work, and the communities they serve, at risk? 

In a recent Equity Leadership session with the Partnership, Kids Forward CEO Michele Mackey and Strategic Growth Director Nicole Hoffmann shared their journey to build an antiracist financial infrastructure. Watch the full webinar below:

Taking a community-centric fundraising approach

A dramatic catalog of historically-unjust practices underpin so much of traditional philanthropy in the US. That history means that today, the most wealthy and powerful folks are frequently the ones to determine what our communities need. This hierarchical model does not reflect many organizations’ commitments to racial or social justice, but it’s a difficult one to escape. Like it or not, every organization still needs money to pay staff and run programs. 

The team at Kids Forward moved very intentionally away from donor-centric fundraising to a community-centric fundraising model that would help them lay the foundation for a new way of thinking about and raising money. Rather than risking all unrestricted funding to the organization at once, Kids Forward decided to start by moving step-wise with some specific cuts.

  • First they cut specific fundraising events that center and celebrate wealth, eliminating the typical “Gold, Bronze, Platinum,” donor recognitions (the pandemic made this one easy).
  • They also cut the spring appeal. 
  • These changes put about one-third of the organization’s unrestricted fundraising budget at risk.

The Spring Appeal gives way to a dynamic Give-Learn-Act program

Kids Forward replaced their spring appeal with a new program called Partners in Equity, which rolled out in October 2021. Partners in Equity uses a Give-Learn-Act model, inviting donors into a learning process with the organization. As such, they created lots of materials and web content to promote the program widely.

Partners in Equity recognizes donors equally at all levels, and a gift as little as $1/month welcomes a donor into the program. Every Learning Session includes opportunities to take action. The results: The spring appeal had been bringing in about $5,000/month for the organization. Partners in Equity is now bringing in over $7,000/year (and growing!).

Antiracist Leadership Discretionary Fund

Another step forward for the Board was giving the new CEO, a person of color, discretion to allocate funding to antiracist activities on behalf of the organization. These include internal learning, professional development, and appropriately valuing the contributions of community members and staff with lived experience. Kids Forward set a goal to secure up to $150K in funding through a special group of supporters committed to building Kids Forward as an antiracist policy center.

Unlike with Partners in Equity, Kids Forward specifically decided not to create special materials for this program, and were clear with donors that there would be no public recognition of gifts. Instead the team created opportunities for donors to have coffee with the CEO to discuss the impact investments would have on the antiracist change work happening within the organization. The strategy worked, and Kids Forward brought in $125K for the fund in 2021.

Results matter

When Kids Forward set out to transform their fundraising model, they believed they could be risking significant funding by making such bold moves. Instead just the opposite happened. Before 2021, the organization’s budget for unrestricted gifts had made up 10% of their overall budget. Since these changes were enacted, unrestricted gifts now make up 30% of the overall budget.

As Nicole Hoffmann said, “doing the right thing” can be very different from “doing things right.” Kids Forward’s new fundraising and finance model doesn’t necessarily reflect what the mainstream considers to be “best practice.” However it is a powerful practice that is getting strong results, while allowing the organization to live into its antiracist values

Communication is key to success

The team attributes their success to clear messaging, and speaking very openly about the transition to antiracist work and antiracist fundraising. A new agreement between donors and funders, Fundraising Policies Centering Justice, spells out their commitment to community-centric fundraising principles.

Kids Forward shared the agreement widely, sending it directly to donors in the 2022 year-end appeal, as well as including it on their website. They ended the year by beating their fundraising goal.

Transformational change

“One of the key aspects to doing anti-racist work is having courage,” says CEO Michele Mackey. The Kids Forward team is honest in recognizing that it has probably lost some donors as a result of this dramatic shift. However, the organization has also gained new donors, is having transformational conversations, and making real change as an organization.

Many thanks to Michele Mackey and Nicole Hoffmann of Kids Forward for generously sharing their expertise and insights with Partnership members.

Join the Partnership’s next Racial Equity Leadership session!

Thursday, September 7, 12pm ET

In this meeting, leaders within the network will lead a discussion on how to manage Boards in centering race equity. We will review a board equity assessment so members can better understand where their Board stands in the race equity journey. We will also discuss the role of the Board in an organization’s race equity journey, including when to involve the Board in making challenging decisions to further achieve equity. The discussion will explore how to address white supremacy in action within Board culture and how to foster an environment that allows Board members to ask permission and invite forgiveness, recognizing that these conversations are complex.