How can love be a metric and what does it look like to measure that instead of fundraising goals? The Oregon food bank surprised many folks in the nonprofit community when they revealed a new concept, measuring love instead of fundraising. In this episode, Nathan Harris and Vivien Trinh of the Oregon Food Bank, describe the thinking and process around how they changed the practices of the Oregon Food Bank to center love!
We are so pleased to connect with Vivien Trinh and Nathan Harris of the Oregon Food Bank, where they are changing the way our sector works, by developing practices that center love!
References and Notes:
Here are some of the processes and practices OFB discussed within this episode...
Big pieces of wisdom:
Vivien ”you can move quickly and you can leverage the sense of urgency that I think sometimes I shy away from that urgency is important when it is focused on justice. And in that urgency, the point is not to bring everyone along is to center people at the margins.”
Nathan “the power of our people and the wisdom of the collective and the possibilities that live at the intersection of the power of our people and the wisdom of our collective. Like we have so much opportunity in this profession to do something extraordinary, transformational and very, very different than what's been done before.
We're the ones in these roles keep your best practices. I'll take my better practices. They haven't been designed yet, but I believe in the wisdom of our collective to do that kind of designing. If those best practices don't seem to be working. And I don't think the limitation of that is just how we work. I think that our field can transform philanthropy by working differently than we ever have before. Like take back that power. We absolutely have it. And in doing so, I think our communities can be and will be better served.”
“...what harm might we be perpetuating in making decisions... and if harm is going to happen well, then let's focus on who we're going to heal. And really, centering those folks in our decision-making.”
Michelle Muri: Welcome to The Ethical Rainmaker, a podcast that explores the world of inequity in nonprofits and philanthropy, including where we should step into our power or step out of the way. I’m your host and fellow traveler on this journey, Michelle Shireen Muri.
We’re here to bring zero cost information, case studies and inspiration to everyone who wants to do better on this journey in the third sector - you know, nonprofits and philanthropy.
For those listening in real-ish time, it is the height of giving season in the U.S.A - a time when fundraisers work long hours, experience a high stress load and carry a lot of responsibility. So just a reminder to stay engaged with the people and things that bring you personal joy, keeping an eye to what you can let go of and notice what doesn’t serve your ultimate purpose! Oh and a reminder that water is life - so hydrate!
Today I have a somewhat unusual source of inspiration for you…
The Oregon Food Bank surprised many folx in the nonprofit community in early 2021, when they revealed a new concept…measuring love instead of fundraising goals! What does that even mean???
Well, these two lovely colleagues, Vivien Trinh, and Nathan Harris are here to talk to us about how the Oregon Food Bank has changed the way they work based on community (and LOVE) centered principles…
Vivien Trinh, is the Community Philanthropy Associate Director of Operations at the Oregon Food Bank. With 11 years of philanthropy experience, her career has taken her through the many aspects of philanthropy including direct mail, digital fundraising, donor relations, database management and prospect development at non-profits of all sizes. As the daughter of refugees, she is deeply committed to building inclusive communities that honor the dignity of each individual.
Nathan Harris, is the Director of Community Philanthropy at Oregon Food Bank. He has nearly two decades in philanthropic development, working at the intersection of love and generosity to realize transformational change.
Before coming to Oregon Food Bank in 2019, Nathan served as chief development officer at Freedom for All Americans, an organization dedicated to securing nationwide LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections by 2025. He previously served as director of leadership gifts and Centennial Campaign at ACLU of Northern California and was the Director of Advancement at Transgender Law Center.
One of the questions I most get about community centric fundraising and community centered ways of doing things in the nonprofit sector, is THE HOW. So, you two, let’s talk about that!
So thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your thinking, resources, and tools into the public domain to contribute to the dialogue and movement that's reshaping our sector and profession.
Viven and Nathan, welcome to The Ethical Rainmaker
C Nathan Harris: A real pleasure to be here Michelle
Vivien Trinh: Really looking forward to this conversation!
Michelle Shireen Muri: Y'all it is so good to see you and to see your faces and to meet you finally.
Vivien Trinh: It's been a while. This has been a long time coming.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Yes, it has been, but y'all have been doing such good work for a long time, and you've been changing the way that our sector does things.
Michelle Shireen Muri: So I'm really excited to talk to you about it. This...
C Nathan Harris: Do know that for a fact? ...that we’re changing the way our sector does things?
Michelle Shireen Muri: You're literally doing it at your organization.
C Nathan Harris: Yeah. I was looking for impact metrics.
Michelle Shireen Muri: I mean, not yet, but...
C Nathan Harris: ...against multi-year strategic priorities.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Oh, absolutely. ;D
It is a pleasure to talk with both of you because honestly, I mean, I can, I can just see eyes rolling, when I think of people who have not been exposed to this concept yet around focusing on fundraising goals as harmful. That's basically what our sector has been centered on. You know, as we try to do good work for our communities, fundraising goals have been so central to part of, part of how we measure metrics. So thank you for coming and sharing what this process has been like with us.
Vivien Trinh: Yeah, you touched on it where, we say love, there's an assumption that we mean love in the woo woo sense of kumbaya. Let's all hug it out and it's gonna to be great. And what we're talking about is love in the, bell hooks sense of the extension of oneself for the spiritual growth of another. It is about being willing to have hard conversations, rolling up our sleeves and doing the work. And so when we're talking about measuring love, that's the type of love we're talking about
Michelle Shireen Muri: That's amazing. Let's let's talk a little bit about that journey. Where did it start with y'all?
Vivien Trinh: So I've been at Oregon food bank for almost seven years, which is a long time to be in an organization.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Its a lifetime, it's like dog years, Okay?
Vivien Trinh: Yeah. I've been at OFB for one dog year. Wait. No, that's the opposite. Is that right? Yeah.
Michelle Shireen Muri: You basically made it into the winter of your life at Oregon Food Bank. If it was measured that way. Okay. We've got what I learned is called the sugar face, you know, like the white hairs are coming in. Yes. Seven years is a long time at one non-profit.
Vivien Trinh: I explains all my gray hairs.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Right.
Vivien Trinh: So, when I first got to Oregon Food Bank, the organization was really starting on its equity journey. We started with, a three-day all staff training. And then from there, the infrastructure started to be slowly built over the years to integrate a lot of these concepts into our systems and process.
Through that journey, through that multi-year journey, a lot of folks have contributed to creating that foundation where these conversations could happen. Myself and a few other folks started the "equity in fundraising work group" within our department to really casually explore a lot of these ideas, in a time when, community-centric fundraising wasn't out there in the ether. It wasn't as established as it is now. And so it was really just a place for us to bring up random thoughts or ideas that we had explore it together. And then when Nathan joined Oregon food bank, it really took this energy and crystallized it to have focus and direction. And it is through that vision and leadership, that Nathan brought to Oregon Food Bank that we've really been able to move quickly over this last year and a half, two years into this direction of measuring love.
C Nathan Harris: Nearly two years. And I think it's... thank you so much for tha. like, very generous accolade, Vivian. And I always remember upon whose shoulders we stand and those who came before us, and including all of the work that was happening Oregon Food Bank years before, before I arrived..
Michelle Shireen Muri: We can back up just for a moment. Why don't you tell us a little bit about Oregon food bank? Just a little bit about the background, the mission and what y'all do.
C Nathan Harris: So for over 30 years, the mission of Oregon food bank has included, ending hunger today and ending hunger for good, by ending hunger's root causes yet that aspect of our mission, sometimes feels at tension with food today.
C Nathan Harris: So it's always been a part of our mission, to enter the conversation around food justice, as a means to advance racial justice, gender justice, and economic justice.
C Nathan Harris: So we're both providing food assistance and we're engaged in community organizing policy advocacy, and more to end hunger for good.
C Nathan Harris: . And at this point in our life, our expense budget is about $34 million dollars. This fiscal year, we have over 200 staff, 63,000 annual donors, over 40,000 annual volunteers. Working with a community of I would estimate. Nearly a million people who experience food insecurity throughout our region. Before the pandemic, it was 860,000 or one in 11 Oregonians. Through the pandemic, we estimated one in five Oregonians. So near doubling of food insecurity throughout our region, which then puts Oregon Food Bank in relationship with, you know, at least a million people who are collectively, you know, potentially working together, building community power to, to end hunger.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Well, thank you so much for that background. You know, one of the criticisms that is easy to hear when you first learn about community centric fundraising is okay, you know, this is great theoretically. This is great for small organizations. This is great if you XYZ, right. Reasons why we can't do this work or reasons why this, you know, following 10 principles are thinking about being more community centered would be damaging to an organization. We can't possibly risk it. But one of the reasons that I've been so excited to speak with you is that there is no more tangible type of nonprofit work that one can see than food banks literally feeding people.
If there is going to be something to be risked, if there's going to be a risk to be taken, that's not going to work out...the impact is huge, right? So I'm just thrilled to talk to you today. And especially as you are at a larger organization, based on the average nonprofit size, you're on the larger side. And so really excited to hear a little bit more how y'all have made changes.
C Nathan Harris: Michelle, can I say I have so many thoughts about risk? Maybe even questioning the assumption that risk exists. I mean, firstly that my response tends to be, what are you risking by maintaining a status quo that we understand we know through empirical research? Not that it has to be empirical, but we have it. So why not use it? We know it's driving people out of our profession, which puts at risk nonprofit missions to serve some of the most challenging issues that we face societally and morally. You're essentially saying that there is less risk in doing something new that doesn't put the entire nonprofit sector at risk.
I would say like, what do you risk by kind of committing to a status quo structure that doesn't work. Secondly, like I don't, I also don't understand where risk truly lives. I've heard people ask whether or not the size of a donor base matters when you're assessing risks. Like, oh, you have a big donor base. Well, what do you know, the political ideology of our donor base? Like, might that be one way to assess risk? And I think, thirdly, that it is one of the reasons why Vivian and I and our entire team in community philanthropy of Oregon Food Bank have been very committed to telling our story that we believe Oregon Food Bank operates from a place of privilege in a couple of regards.
One is that we can provide political cover to other organizations by demonstrating that a... By perception, mainstream organization is able to make these kinds of changes and weather whatever risk may be associated. Again, I don't think there is a risk, but we'll just say we can weather. Right? And secondly, that there is a lot of room here to develop new tools, resources, practices, ways of doing the work aligned with our values.
And we have a kind of privilege because of the size of our team that we can kind of experiment, create those tools, share that learning and let other people iterate forward on what it is we build. That they may not have the same capacity to be able to build as quickly as we can.
Vivien Trinh: Yeah.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Hmm, well said, thank you for mentioning this. Yeah,
Vivien Trinh: absolutely. And I think I, I actually hear a lot more from smaller organizations that we can't do that because we're not as well resourced as Oregon Food Bank. And so I think it is, it, it, to me, that signals everyone is nervous about it regardless of the size. And that is a question that we ask ourselves all the time in this work: what harm might we be perpetuating in making decisions, knowing that harm happens and what we're trying to do is identify if harm is going to happen well, then let's focus on who we're going to heal. And then really, centering those folks in our decision-making. And so when you're talking about risk, that's the type of risk you're thinking through, is, if we can, bring about healing for anyone we want to make sure it's the folks that are most impacted by hunger.
C Nathan Harris: Yeah. What is your sense of what the perception of risk is? Is it losing donors or not raising as much money?
Michelle Shireen Muri: Yeah. You know, I think that it remains undefined. We're always scared of the things that we don't know. Right? We're always worried about what thing might be lurking that we didn't see coming. And I think when I get to hear about, well, you know, like some of these things that you're bringing up and you know, Vivian mentioning, you know, some, a smaller org might say we can't do it we're too small. A big org might say, we're too big, we can't do it. But really , I think it's in the visioning. It's in the visioning of what it can look like and , how do we define risk and at what cost
Michelle Shireen Muri: ...for listeners, as we keep referring to community-centric fundraising, community centric, fundraising is a model of fundraising that has 10 principles. There is a content hub where you can find information, but centers, the voices of people in our sector who are trying to do things differently, especially centering the voices of people of color. There are a set of 10 principles around what it could look like if we were doing fundraising in a more equitable way, also just nonprofit practices in general. So it's a model of grounded in equity and social justice. Things like prioritizing the entire community over individual organizations or presenting our work that is individual transactions, but holistically, and really thinking about, again, the ecosystem that we exist in. Who else is in there and who are we serving and how. So that's a little bit about community- centric fundraising.
I wanted to ask as Oregon Food Bank decided to move into this different direction and really talked about, centering love and centering healing, I would love to know a little bit more about, you know, is there more to that theory of change?
C Nathan Harris: When I think back to your original or your, your very first question, Michelle. When I arrived at Oregon Food Bank in the year prior, particularly after experience at Rockwood leadership Institute with a cadre of, resource mobilizers across a variety of movements.
My vision stance in that space was around this idea of de-centering money to center, love and equity. During my interview process at Oregon food bank, after spending a year, sort of thinking and writing about it, I interviewed, and I was asked if I'd ever developed an inspirational and motivating new approach to the work.
And my response was I have never had a chance to implement this with a team, so I don't know if it will inspire or motivate anybody, but I talk about it using a lyric from the Broadway musical rent. How do you measure a year? What about love? Which frankly, if
Michelle Shireen Muri: I mean, that's like, that's what plays in my head. When I read these titles. When I think about the food bank, you know, like that's exactly it, “Seasons of Love” from Rent is exactly what plays in my head. When I think of you.
C Nathan Harris: I have not been approached by legal counsel copyright or intellectual property infringement yet. I hope not to be, but I do kind of shamelessly use it. And it felt like a pretty significant risk at the time being interviewing for sort of the lead fundraising role of a mainstream nonprofit. And to say, I don't think we'd benefit from measuring our success by financial outcomes, I think we need to reclaim philanthropy's true meaning and root ourselves in our work in love. And on my arrival then January of 2020, the Oregon food bank team appeared to me to be very ready for a change. And I'm not sure I would initiate a change process like this in the same way again, but emailing the team to say, we will no longer be evaluated based on our financial outcomes from this work as a team or as individuals. Instead, we'll co-create something different and something better than we've known before.
I think that there's a, there's a perspective on risk that you mentioned, which is a fear of change or a fear of something different. And I think a change process like this, doesn't inspire us to question our relevance in a world of best practices, designed to generate as much financial outcome from your direct mail appeal from your ask of a major donor and and and from your research.
What I think we have co-created is a model that is rich in terms of its theory of change. And it is interdependent that community centric fundraising, that the idea of love centrism, the idea of equity, all weave together in a really powerful theory of change that, we try to shorthand de-centering money to center love and equity.
But that to me is sort of a facade for something that is more complex and deeper in the ways that we work and think about the work.
Reset: We’re speaking with Viven Trinh and Nathan Harris of the Oregon Food Bank, today on The Ethical Rainmaker. I’m your host Michelle Shireen Muri and we’re talking about changing the culture and practices of fundraising to center relationships within our community, with the unusual metric of love. Find all our shows and more at the ethical rainmaker dot com.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Now, Vivian, I can just hear the question, right? Love is amorphous. How does Oregon Food Bank measure it or, you know, love is... love sounds great, but does it feed people? How do you, how do you measure love and how do you make that pitch to your donors and board? That love is a valid metric.
Vivien Trinh: That's a very good question. I think that was why it was such an interesting journey because especially when you're pulling reports from the database, which is numbers and ones and zeros. And then you introduce something that is so nuanced and complex is love. Those two systems seem incredibly incompatible.
And one of the challenges was to really, for ourselves understand what love meant in our work, individually, and as something that can be transformational out in the world. And, through that, unpacking of love of that word, that introspection, that Nathan mentioned of really bringing it in internally and then allowing it to inform how you think about your work...in letting it inform your values and, changing what philanthropy could mean for you, is that kernel that really helped us move forward in designing ways of measuring it. And so we have a couple of things that we've tried. We have a staff self-assessment. Really, it's an opportunity for them to deeply reflect on the work that has happened in the past six months.
Vivien Trinh: Do I feel like my work as a relationship manager or a gift entry specialist is values-aligned with myself in this moment? Do I feel like I am, making meaningful change in the world? We have in our database, the ability to code contact reports that our relationship managers have with their donors around these indicators of love.
Am I having hard conversations with donors? Am I bringing them along a political journey? And the hope is that we're collecting this information so that we can pull it out and analyze, not like in a punitive way of like, you're not having enough hard conversations with donors, but, if you're not able to code your contact reports with these indicators, what is that telling you about where you are in your professional career at this moment?
Do you feel like you're Yeah. Do you feel like you're engaging in the work in a way that's meaningful to you and if not, how do we make it happen? What do you need personally, in order to grow, in your career in a way that is pulling away from that centralizing of money? And so it's really, again, it's rethinking about the data as, a way to, encourage behavior toward financial goals and encourage behavior toward growth and self-reflection.
And so that is a radical shift in I think the use of, for us, the use of data, the use of performance metrics, and then how we want to define love.
C Nathan Harris: Yeah. Yeah. I, I love that Vivian. Because you're not talking about, we're not, we're not designing the work for ourselves to generate database outputs that replace money, but instead are indicators of love. What we are doing is shifting psychologically the way we approach the work oriented to love, and then determining through our inner wisdom and our work with donors, what experience, how would we define the experience?
And early on in this process, Vivian was talking about our collective definition of love. We established a measuring a year. The love working group alongside the equity and fundraising working group that Vivian had been facilitating discussion in for years, the measuring it you're in love working group. I remember Vivian saying in this space, we got at scope and define this thing love. So we did, we created a collective definition through every individual providing their definitions, and then it generated a series of. Kind of aspects of love that seemed to somatically percolate up through the collective. So some of those, one of those is community centers. I'm one of those as respect. One of those is, do you remember some of them Vivian
Vivien Trinh: Growth, shared values,
C Nathan Harris: care?
Vivien Trinh: care. We also have, at least in the database, on the flip side of that harm in transactional. So that if for whatever reason, and we can get into this later, we have a relationship manager who experiences harm with a donor, we can track that too. But in terms of love those, that those pieces are, have become the framework in which we have created the coding structure in the database to provide at least, a common understanding within our department of what love looks like.
C Nathan Harris: Yeah. Yeah. The antithetical to love could include transactional, exploitative, harmful others. So The point isn't to get as much good indicator out of the database at the end of the year, as you can. The point is to get try to create experiences in our relationships with donors and for donors that over time look more like those indicators of love through a process of learning.
And if you didn't know, like your database does not currently track love. It's very difficult to de-center money when all of your systems point to money in their design and in their purpose and the reports that auto-generate and, and, and on and on. So from a systems level, and I just want to say to them that it's not just through the database that we track love. Right? Because we're also create, we've also created instruments that allow us to assess other aspects of love from a staff member's point of view about their experience in the work and tools that ask donors to express whether or not they are experiencing love. And Michelle, you asked a question which was like, how are you convincing donors about this whole love based model? The thing is we didn't have to. We've just asked them if they consider their support, a form of love and a variety of like 10 to 15
Michelle Shireen Muri: that's so sweet. I
C Nathan Harris: do! Are donors like , I think like on average for each of the contexts in which we're like, do you consider your love for example, or do you consider your donation to work in. An expression of your love for the organization,
Michelle Shireen Muri: wow.
C Nathan Harris: mission, for the vision, for your neighbors, experiencing hunger for your neighbors, experiencing systemic inequity that drives hunger, like in all of these different arenas. Do you experience your supportive Oregon, Oregon food bank as an expression of love? And I think on average 60% or more of our donors agreed strongly, like, yes I do.
Michelle Shireen Muri: my gosh. Of course they did! I've got like goosebumps and tears in my eyes. Just hearing that because I can't imagine getting a survey as a donor asking me because, because of course I think of it as lab. Right. But asking me
C Nathan Harris: should donate to Oregon food bank, then you would, we would send you such a survey, Michelle.
Michelle Shireen Muri: what I will, , I will, and I'd be happy to receive a survey as well. Absolutely. That is, that is just so powerful. And,, thank you for bringing the survey as a tool. Yeah, just incredible. And the idea is that, we, in our design of metrics for our team, we are informing the experience of donors. That donor survey is meant for us to, in some ways measure how that is progressing as we really implement this theory of change in our work for ourselves. and I think one of the wonderful things about a survey is that much to Nathan's point, it takes the guesswork out of it.
Vivien Trinh: We can be bolder because we know where our donors are at. We know our donors, understand that hunger is not a result of personal choice, and that allows us to be much bolder in our messaging. It allows us to feel like we are not risking anything when we are, leaning into, lifting up immigrant and refugee communities and their experiences with hunger. And so I think, that piece is so important for, it was really important for our team to feel validated in this direction.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Oh, Yeah,
C Nathan Harris: of On that point too, I think earlier Vivian was talking about. Our facilitation of political journeys as being an important part of the work, which marries very nicely to bell hooks, definition of love as the extension of oneself for one's own or another spiritual growth.
C Nathan Harris: And the survey results that the Vivian is alluding to did indicate that our donors understand hungered, not as a result of personal choice, but of systems failures. But when it came to immigrant and refugee communities in the same survey, they felt less confidently, that was true. And this is a hard reality to express, so forgive me, but our donors thought that more likely immigrant refugee communities were hungry because of their personal choices. For example, to migrate into the United States without documentation. So to Vivian's point, it allows us to be. And to the point of political journeys and bell hooks, definition of love it allows us to be bolder in our messaging because we know where our donors are and it allows us to be more strategic in our messaging to facilitate the political journeys that need facilitated as an expression of love for the growth of others, so that our donors can better understand ‘No. Too [also] true also for immigrant and refugee communities, hunger is not the result of personal choices.
Reset: You are listening to The Ethical Rainmaker and I’m your host, Michelle Shireen Muri. Did you know The Ethical Rainmaker is now accepting sponsors? You can join our community of support on Patreon and if you want to find out how to get your name and work out to our ever expanding community, drop us a line at at email@example.com. We’d love to have you. Now, back to our conversation with Vivien Trinh and Nathan Harris of the Oregon Food Bank...’
Michelle Shireen Muri: So you've talked a little bit about this and I wonder if there's more to say around how fundraising and your core mission work has been impacted by the shift in focus to love. And is it working so far? I mean, it sounds like it is.
Vivien Trinh: So here's a concrete example for the prospect development team. For folks who are unfamiliar with what prospect development is, is a field a specialty within philanthropy that focuses on, researching donors and prospective donors, as well as supporting relationship managers in moving those donors through a moves management process. And this theory of change has allowed that team in particular to have very different conversations about who gets to be assigned into a portfolio, what a portfolio looks like, and then supporting the relationship managers in, navigating the intended outcomes of what that relationship is supposed to produce. In the past it would have been, "Do you know if they're going to be a major donor in the future?" And if not, they're not supposed to be in here. They can go into the direct mail program. You don't have to call them or talk to them ever. And now the conversation is, " What could you potentially see the transformational outcome of this relationship to be?"
It doesn't have to be money. It can be a sharing of a story that helps us move, our donors through a political journey, because they have either lived experience, with hunger or with, discrimination or lived experience of systemic oppression. It could be, they have a rich network of, or they have a community that we haven't engaged with in the past that they can introduce Oregon food bank to...it provides an opportunity to recognize all the different ways that people can contribute to their community that can, they can take action.
And it de-centers money. And it really , allows the relationship manager to enter into relationships that can be, you know, well beyond that transactional money centered situation where power dynamics can happen it allows you to show up in a relationship in a more authentic way, because you're not automatically trying to listen for like, what kind of car do they drive? Where do they vacation, what's going on with their family and their parents. I mean, you still want to listen to those pieces because that's part of the relationship building, but it's more for the interest of building that relationship and connecting to that person as an individual, rather than someone that you're trying to cultivate for a major donation. And so that's how it shows up for the prospect development team. And then that in turn shapes the experience for the relationship now.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Yeah, I hear authenticity. I hear a lot of authentic relationship building.
C Nathan Harris: I agree.
C Nathan Harris: I couldn't tell if there was like awkward eye contact happening through the screen. So I was like, am I supposed to say something now?
Michelle Shireen Muri: Nah, I just leave pauses in there. Cause’ I'm like, ‘shit, I got like 12 questions to ask you. And we don't have like three hours so I'm what, when, what, when next, which question?? Right? Because, I tend to go in the two directions, one myself as a fundraiser, I think. Okay. But when you have such a large list as y'all do then how do you segment people and think about relationship building, you know, how do you categorize them? If you have limited time in the day or limited staff members or limited whatever, how do you do that?
Michelle Shireen Muri: And then. Another part of me wants to go in the direction of how is your community, you feeling the love and you know, what does it look like to measure love with the populations that are being served? So I'm of two minds here and I'm going to let you pick which one you, which direction you'd like to go in.
C Nathan Harris: I had thoughts in response to the first question and Vivian as the Associate Director for Operations, overseeing database and systems and prospect research management may have a lot of perspective too, on that question of how we work with a variety of donors and who we prioritize in that work. I want to talk about an answer to that question at a 60,000 foot level, which is that we operate in a spirit of equity, which is not equality.
So if Oregon food bank has 63,000 annual donors, we will not treat 63,000 annual donors the same way. For example, we will not hire 120 portfolio managers to each manage a portfolio of 500 donors because we are committed to creating a particular kind of experience that looks like equality. Instead, we were going to have to steward donor resources and effectively in managing the programs that engage our donors. So the question might be not, do you treat 63,000 people the same way? Or how do you prioritize? Yes. How do you practice is a good question, but over the, over the breadth of programs we design, what we might ask is within the grassroots giving program, how do we move the experience from transactional toward transformational. As much as we can within the context of direct digital, direct mail, civic engagement...how do we increase the likelihood that that individual is going to have an experience that feels more love centric and less extractive for them, and then through the variety of programs?
C Nathan Harris: So what I would say is that within the realm of sort of relationship portfolio management and the department, we're seeing the size of portfolios decrease, so that relationship managers can spend a bit more time with those they are assessing. And within portfolios, which is one way that Vivian could also help answer this question... there are different kinds of influences that drive the composition of the portfolio. But I would say is that with the kinds of systems that Vivian was describing earlier, all of that data that we're beginning to build in the database, that includes the indicators of love in the interactions with donors over time, you should start to see, well, is Michelle generating extractive, transactional kinds of interactions with, with the individual managing that relationship, or is Michelle generating more care, community centric, respectful, interactions.
C Nathan Harris: And then when I'm looking at a portfolio of relationships, it may be easier for me to decide when I'm balancing out my portfolio. Do I have more donors like Michelle or more donors, not like Michelle. Do I, do I want an experience in the work as a portfolio manager that looks love centric or transactional exploitation and harmful. And I think that becomes an easy choice, although I don't think it's always quite that clear, but that is sort of where I think we're headed in terms of how do you prioritize and how do you manage a breadth of relationships with donors giving across the spectrum? If you're centering love and not money?
The other thing I would say is that Oregon food bank is currently in the silent phase of a very significant campaign. So we are both holding this significant campaign goal and our fledgling evolution into a love centric community philanthropy department... and that has to sort of happen concurrently in that process our team is going to ask, well, how do I, how do I prioritize campaign prospects? And I would sort of answer the question the same way. Like, of course we need high capacity campaign prospects to move toward our goal, significant and swiftly. And within the universe of individuals who are giving at a particular level, where are we starting to see indicators of values, alignment, love, centrism sort of like shared a shared sense of possibilities for them.
Vivien Trinh: Yeah. So when it comes to prioritizing within a list of known donors, understanding of how they're interacting with Oregon food bank through love indicators is super helpful. For the thousands of other donors we might not be deeply familiar with, there are other ways that we can approach the segmentation and prioritization of those lists.
And, a big piece of that is, cross-referencing across hopefully only a short amount of databases you might have internally at Oregon food bank. And it is, not as simple as that, but the hope is that we will be able to better understand, our community engages with Oregon food bank in a multiplicity, like in multiple ways.
So that if someone , donates, volunteers, takes action... having someone that is engaging in those three ways automatically makes them a high priority prospect for relationship management. And that is a different way of prioritizing lists as opposed to how much they give and how much their net worth pings on a wealth screen.
And there are ways in which you design your grassroots giving program is what we call our annual fund at Oregon food bank. That helps lay the foundation of building a values aligned network. If you are investing in messaging, that is asset-based, that is really communicating, and building at scale, an understanding of the root causes of hunger, bringing folks along a political journey, people will start raising their hands organically, and you can focus on those folks. And , it's like a shortcut. We don't have to do the guesswork because they volunteered their time.
And there's also this wonderful piece of it when we're looking at, portfolios, the point is to engage, right? And so if, even if someone gives a lot to Oregon food bank, if they are not engaging with us in the ways that really require a relationship manager to be spending that. That's okay. We'll just take them out of that portfolio. And then we can find someone who wants to engage with you. That's not a problem. the point, so, and then again, that centers, like we want folks in portfolios who are going to be who are wanting to be in relationship with us.
C Nathan Harris: So true. I remember when we were, when we were beginning to talk about love, there was a popular idea, which is an important idea. I don't mean to dismiss it, but a popular idea, like, well, some of our donors don't want to be loved. They kind of want to be left alone
Michelle Shireen Muri: Oh, sad.
C Nathan Harris: Right? It's like, yeah. I guess like one form of love might take is please don't smother me when I don't need to be smothered. Just move them out of the portfolio. And that can be an act of love.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Right. I love that too. We all like to be loved in different ways.
C Nathan Harris: Yeah. Many love languages, many love languages,
Michelle Shireen Muri: Many love languages...
C Nathan Harris: Don't talk to me is one of them.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Don’t talk to me me IS one. Oh, I love that. Well, I'd like to wrap up with just a couple of questions. One of them is that second question, which is, you know, you're centering on love. It's a, it's a beautiful place to be. What does that look like? What does this love centrism look like in community? How does it affect the community? Are more people being fed? Are more injustices being addressed?
C Nathan Harris: I'll start by saying over the course of the last two years Oregon Food Bank’s donor base grew from 30,000 to 48,000 to 63,000 annual donors.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Congratulations. By the way, that's a huge celebration. celebration to have for that. Yeah.
C Nathan Harris: We understand that our donors knew hunger was a problem before the pandemic. Hunger was certainly amplified as a concern through the pandemic, and that kind of community engagement and community support allowed us to meet the immediate need. While I think the pandemic also shown a spotlight on systemic drivers of hunger too. Right? So I think it gave us this opportunity to draw into Oregon food bank. Those who were committed to helping us in hunger for good for the longterm. And I, I want to be clear that I don't believe there's necessarily a causal relationship between our love centrism and that enormous growth in support.
C Nathan Harris: They do exist still on the same timeline as correlative points of data. So I'll take a correlative like connection there, maybe not causal. But my, my sense is that, we were better positioned, right? We were better positioned two years later to end hunger and hungers root causes than we were two years ago... as one response to your question.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Excellent. I love that. Thank you. Thank you. And one last question for the two of you. In this journey that you've taken together, Vivian, you've been there for seven years, Nathan, you came on in January, 2020, just as the shit storm was about to hit...
Vivien Trinh: Which is funny because Nathan joined OFB because he wanted to work in an office and not be remote
Michelle Shireen Muri: Oh, that's the saddest.
C Nathan Harris: That wasn't the single driver...
Vivien Trinh: No, that was the only thing I remember your interview was like, no.
C Nathan Harris: I'm tired of
Vivien Trinh: And then we were like, okay, join us.
C Nathan Harris: I'm tired of unhealthy living and working remotely.
Michelle Shireen Muri: So you joined in January, 2020 and there are more stories that you have to share. I know there's more information out there and I'm just curious, what has been surprising or what have you learned through all of this reframing process?
Vivien Trinh: Ooh, that's a good question. I think for me, one of the biggest lessons, was realizing that you don't have to go slow in order to accommodate everyone. That you can move quickly and you can leverage the sense of urgency that I think sometimes I shy away from that urgency is important when it is focused on justice. And in that urgency, the point is not to bring everyone along is to center people at the margins. And so keeping that at the center and remembering that allows that momentum to continue to build. And that helps break us from inertia. And I think for me, that , has been the biggest learning.
C Nathan Harris: I think my two learnings are the power of our people and the wisdom of the collective and the possibilities that live at the intersection of the power of our people and the wisdom of our collective. Like we have so much opportunity in this profession to do something extraordinary, transformational and very, very different than what's been done before.
We're the ones in these roles keep your best practices. I'll take my better practices. They haven't been designed yet, but I believe in the wisdom of our collective to do that kind of designing. If those best practices don't seem to be working. And I don't think the limitation of that is just how we work. I think that our field can transform philanthropy by working differently than we ever have before. Like take back that power. We absolutely have it. And in doing so, I think our communities can be and will be better served.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Oh, so powerful. Both of you. Thank you so much for joining us today. It is so lovely to have you and to be inspired by the work that you're doing. Thank you for sharing your stories.
Vivien Trinh: Michelle. Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions and your humor, and you're willing to make fun of us.
Michelle Shireen Muri: Of course.
C Nathan Harris: Yes. For the laughter. And thanks for having us here. I'm super excited about talking about the kinds of experiences rooted in love and equity that we're trying to create for our team.
Michelle Shireen Muri: I love it. Thank you so much.
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