Skip to the main content.

8 min read

Community Centric Fundraising: What it is and ideas to get started

Community Centric Fundraising: What it is and ideas to get started

Put community at the heart of your fundraising efforts. How PAC NYC, Circomedia and The Rose Theatre put Community Centric Fundraising principles into practice.

My name is Sara Stevens, and I’m a Senior Consultant and Fundraising Specialist at Spektrix. Before joining Spektrix, I worked in Development at theatres and venues around New York. I continue working in the arts for the same reason I got into the arts in the first place: I believe in the impact that the arts have on their community. Live arts events provide places to gather, a sense of belonging, and opportunities to explore new perspectives and ways of thinking. The work we do as fundraisers makes that impact possible.

Spektrix for Fundraising

"The challenge these days is to be somewhere, to belong to some particular place, invest oneself in it, draw strength and courage from it, to dwell in a community."
-bell hooks, author and social theorist

As fundraisers, we’re tasked with aligning our efforts with our organization’s mission. Though organizational missions can vary, there is one core element that you’ll find most, if not all, missions hold in common: Community. 

Whether we strive to support artists, facilitate access to arts, platform new and exciting voices, or all of the above, we’re all working to support our communities. But how exactly do we define community, what is community’s relationship with arts and cultural organizations, and what are our responsibilities as fundraisers to serve as stewards of the communities that surround us?


What is community?


Let's start by breaking down what exactly we're talking about when we talk about community. As a basic definition, a community is a group of individuals who share common characteristics. These characteristics could be geographical, cultural, religious, or based on shared interests. 

Community is where we may find support, inspiration, a sense of identity. Community can be chosen, it can be inherited, and it can be something that we want to escape from. Community might be tied to spaces which encompass a sense of belonging and shared values, home to experiences that bind us together. 

To be counted as part of a community, participants must have the intention and sense of being a part of a community – being part of a community is as much about peoples’ thoughts and feelings as it is about external characteristics.

Here are some communities your organization might work with:
  • Artists
  • Local schools and youth
  • Local residents
  • Audience members
  • Residents of a local assisted living home
  • Cultural organizations

Every person belongs to multiple sets of communities, which means that, in fundraising, understanding the diverse communities we serve (and their intersections) is essential for building meaningful connections and driving impact. We should challenge thinking that views a community as some distinct characteristic rather than a group of people all with a shared mindset. 

Arts and cultural organizations play a vital role in nurturing vibrant communities. We see firsthand that they can serve as powerful catalysts for connection and expression. 

Spektrix is committed to serving as a partner to the arts and cultural sector. As part of our solution, we facilitate connections within our own community – a community of arts, cultural and entertainment organizations, wider partners, and audiences. 

We facilitate connections among our community through hosting online webinars and in-person events, by attending sector conferences across the global regions we serve, and by participating in events and conferences held by our users and partners. Though we don’t serve your audiences and customers directly, the impact of the work your organization has on your communities is part of the mission of Spektrix.

"The stories told on stages, in exhibitions, and in events can challenge long-held views, inspire action and drive positive change across society and for our planet. Our purpose is to build the reach, health and resilience of this essential sector through great technology designed around their needs and the support to thrive in a changing world." 
-Michael Nabarro, CEO and co-founder, Spektrix


Working with communities – the right way


Engaging with a community requires a deep understanding of its unique needs and perspectives. Program managers and fundraisers must be mindful of motivations and intentions, acknowledging that different techniques, politics and processes can affect how people perceive working with the local community.

Digging into these questions can help frame your community work:
  • What do we mean by working within the community?
  • Are we empowering relevant voices or are we imposing our own ideas of what that community needs?
  • Are we approaching community engagement with humility, recognizing the diverse perspectives and needs of those we may not share common ground with?

The Community-Centric Fundraising movement


Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) is a movement based out of Seattle, Washington which examines the alignment of fundraising with equity and social justice. The movement evolved from articles written by Vu Le in his online blog Nonprofit AF and from conversations he had with women of color and white allies in the fundraising sector about the status of fundraising today. 

These fundraisers reflected that most traditional development thinking tends to be more donor-centric than community-centric. CCF helps fundraisers interrogate the fundraising philosophy and practices they’ve been taught and build new ways of fundraising which reduce harm and further social justice.

CCF has ten key principles. Here, we’ll dig into three, and how they can help inform work at your organization:

  • Individual organizational commissions are not as important as the collective community
  • We treat donors as partners, and this means that we are transparent, and occasionally have difficult conversations
  • Nonprofits are generous with and mutually supportive of one another


Individual organizational commissions are not as important as the collective community


Fundraising should be mission-driven. As a fundraiser, you will have financial goals, but those goals are not the sum total of your mission. Sometimes this truth gets lost in the pressure to hit targets, so it's crucial that we remind ourselves of what our work is really for. If we as fundraisers don’t understand why we are doing something, how could we measure or communicate the impact of our work and show up authentically? 

Part of this work comes from acknowledging the benefit of our organizations on the communities they serve. Why are the arts important? How does entertainment foster a sense of identity? Only by doing this can we acknowledge the role of our organizations as part of a wider cultural community. 


“Building community really does start at the human level” 
Rebecca DeMarco, Development Operations Manager, PAC NYC


An organization can live this principle by upholding active processes of making sure the intended outcome of your work is aligned with the actual impact. 

We treat donors as partners, and this means that we are transparent, and occasionally have difficult conversations


It’s important for your donors to feel that they’re a part of something when they donate to your organization. Transparency with your community of donors about your organization's goals, priorities, and challenges not only strengthens and relationship with them, but allows them the agency to act as ambassadors for your organization. When donors share the values of your organization and are aligned with your mission, they become your partners. And as partners, you and your donors share a beneficial mutual investment in your organizational impact. 

But sometimes, there may be a lack of alignment between certain donors and your key principles. In fact, a donor’s words or actions may directly conflict with your organizational values. When this happens, we need to be able to meet that conflict head-on and have what can be difficult conversations to parse out whether it makes sense to continue the relationship with that donor. There may be a decrease in funds in the short term by deciding to no longer partner with a certain donor, but ultimately this can be the right long-term outcome for organizational health and strength.


“In some sense there's a way of protecting the community that you've established by politely excusing someone from the conversation. I think that that's really important to remember because we have our values, we have our mission, and we want to develop a community that is in line with that.” 
Rebecca DeMarco, Development Operations Manager, PAC NYC


Nonprofits are generous with and mutually supportive of one another


What can we do as fundraisers to champion the wider community of arts and culture in our day-to-day? We can see ourselves as part of a collective, a collection of individuals in a team, departments in an organization, as part of the local community, as champions of arts and cultural education and outreach in general. We are not in competition with other nonprofits. And by working together and sharing expertise and resources, we can maximize our collective impact and best serve our communities.

A great example of an organization which has a strong commitment to local nonprofits is the World Trade Center PAC. We spoke with members of the team at the Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center to learn more about their approach to community. 

What centering community can look like in practice

Welcoming all at the World Trade Center PAC


The construction of the PAC was part of the project to rebuild the World Trade Center after the events of September 11, 2001. As such, even before the actual building existed, there was a community closely tied with their work – the community of people who lost loved ones and were impacted by 9/11. Jenna Chrisphonte, Director of Civil Alliances, also shares that she and the rest of the team were very intentional about ensuring that New Yorkers from all five boroughs were actively welcomed into the space. She emphasizes that “communities in need are always welcome”.



How does the PAC live this commitment? They have five key alliances with organizations around the city representing different key New York communities. 

There are many ways to center community in your work. The strategies that are right for your organization will depend on multiple factors, like the kind of organization you are and the communities you seek to support. For example, organizations with a physical venue have an immediate community of folks who interact with their space. These people might include local residents, workers, and visitors. You could support these groups with public access to toilets, a coffee shop, or by hosting a space for quiet reflection. 

“Once our doors open at noon, our doors are open. Someone can just walk into the building, sit down, take shelter from the rain or the sun, use the restroom, just walk around and inhabit the space… you can walk in and you know you're welcome. You know that you're safe. That's the spirit I always invite in the work that we do on behalf of civic alliances.” Jenna Chrisphonte, Director of Civil Alliances, PAC NYC


Putting your community front and center at Circomedia

For organizations who provide artist support, artists are both a key part of your mission and your best advocates. 

Circomedia, the Center for Contemporary Circus and Physical Theater located in Bristol, England, provides artist support, mentoring, residential programs and development spaces. Their mission is to ensure that the art of circus and physical theater continues to push boundaries. Circomedia provides classes through their Circus Academy, but keeps their artist support open to anyone. They define their artist community as open to anyone who shares in their ideological commitment to artists as creators engaging with embodied art forms to convey meaning. 


Circomedia displays their artist collective community on their website right next to their fundraising efforts: “Supporting You” right next to “Support Us”. This communicates an idea of mutual support between your organization and your communities. Just as you serve your communities, your communities also support you. 

Promoting accessibility at The Rose Theater


To best serve the community of our audience members, it's important to listen to their needs and understand their values and priorities. This puts us in the best position to facilitate their engagement with and enjoyment of the art. Accessibility campaigns are a great way to invite more members of your audience to engage with your work without barriers, and are a way of actively working to meet the diverse needs of audience communities. 

The team at The Rose Theater in Omaha, Nebraska engage in multiple initiatives to serve audience members with a range of access needs. They are “committed to removing obstacles and opening up new opportunities for people with disabilities.” 



Some of the initiatives they’ve implemented include:
  • Sign language interpretation
  • Classes for students who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • Audio description services
  • Large print and braille programs
  • Sensory-friendly programs  

By implementing these initiatives, Rose Theater works towards creating a theatre space that means no one in their community feels excluded from their work.


With community at the center, we all win


“At the end of the day, we have our mission, we have our values, and if we don't have those, then we're losing our community. We lose the trust that our community is building for us too.” 
Rebecca DeMarco, Development Operations Manager, PAC NYC


By really working together to understand communities and listening to what the members of those communities really want and need, we can maximize the impact of our philanthropic efforts. The examples here all come from theaters and arts centers in the UK, US, and Canada who work together as fundraisers through the Spektrix Community. 
Spektrix is a purpose-driven company helping arts organizations better manage customer relationships through fundraising, marketing, and ticketing technology. Fundraisers who use Spektrix come together regularly to share inspiration and examples through the Philanthropy Series of online events - no matter what technology you’re using, why not join us for our next gathering?


Sara Stevens (she/her) is a Senior Consultant and Fundraising Specialist at Spektrix.