Welcome to Fundraising Update. This week, we bid a fond farewell to Eden Stiffman, who created this newsletter and is taking on a new challenge at the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Then we talk with the founder of Somos El Poder, a membership organization for Latinx fundraisers. Plus, we tell you about a Chronicle investigation on corporate money in nonprofits.

I’m Emily Haynes, staff writer at the Chronicle of Philanthropy. I’m looking forward to writing to you each week. If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, please write me.

Changing of the Guard

Eden Stiffman, your longtime newsletter correspondent, is taking on a new beat here at the Chronicle. She’ll be writing in-depth stories about a range of issues on where foundations and individual donors invest their charitable dollars. Her goal is to help readers understand what happens after major philanthropic commitments are made.

I’ll be taking the helm at Fundraising Update. I’m really excited to dig into the most important issues in development today and to learn from all of you. It’s going to be a blast!

In the meantime, I hope you’ll join me in wishing Eden well on her new endeavor! Have a tip on her new beat? Want to share a good dog photo? Drop her a line.

Helping Latinx Fundraisers Connect

Armando Enrique Zumaya made a name for himself raising big gifts for universities and teaching others how to research prospective donors and ask for contributions. But his journey to professional success has been lonely. “For years, I was the only brown guy in the room,” he told me.

After more than three decades in fundraising, with two $1 billion capital campaigns under his belt, he wanted to leave a greater legacy. He wanted to challenge assumptions about who philanthropists are and which nonprofits deserve funding. In 2018, he established a professional development organization for Latinx fundraisers like himself.

“I want people to self-empower. Stop waiting for something from a white-led foundation. Stop waiting for help from elsewhere,” he says. “We are the power.”

In that vein, he named his new organization Somos El Poder, which means “we are the power” in Spanish.

Thirty-six nonprofits have now joined Somos El Poder; Zumaya hopes that number will top 50 this year. Membership is open to all charities that serve Latinx communities, with annual fees ranging from $100 to $900, depending on the size of the group’s budget. Individuals can join, too. Zumaya and his trustees provide two hours of consulting to each member every month. While the pandemic has kept the nonprofit’s programs virtual, Zumaya hopes to hold an in-person conference when the public-health emergency subsides.

This year, Somos El Poder will expand its offerings, thanks to grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The $175,000 MacArthur grant will enhance the charity’s online educational opportunities in areas such as how to identify new donors, deepen supporter relationships, and create a planned-giving program.

The $50,000 Silicon Valley Community Foundation grant establishes a program for 10 nonprofits that serve the Latinx community. Each organization will choose a piece of its development program to improve — such as corporate giving or individual major gifts. Over the course of a year, each nonprofit will have access to a Somos El Poder trustee as an adviser and a freelance prospect researcher to help reach more donors.

“Does it mean people are going to raise billions? No,” Zumaya says. “It means there’ll be a few of those organizations that actually bring in some gifts and go, whoa, wait, wait — we can do this.”

Want to learn more about Somos El Poder? Read my full story.

A Cautionary Tale About Corporate Dollars

We often talk in this newsletter about the nitty-gritty of how to win more donations, but raising money can also bring up deeper philosophical questions. My colleague Jim Rendon spent more than two years digging into one particularly hairy example: pharmaceutical companies that used donations to patient-advocacy groups and physicians’ organizations to sway doctors, patients, and policy makers to create broad new markets for opioids.

Jim’s investigation into these relationships shows the potential for corporate money to manipulate nonprofits and raises questions about whether organizations can withstand the pressure and potential conflicts of interest that come with such financing, particularly when it is undisclosed.

Pouring money into nonprofits was one of the key ways companies sought to boost opioid prescriptions and sales.

Over the course of two decades, opioid manufacturers awarded more than $60 million to nonprofits, according to a 2020 Senate Finance Committee investigation, gaining influence with and access to patient advocates and physicians’ groups that could be credible messengers for the manufacturers’ business strategy, according to government investigations and internal documents made public as a result of lawsuits.

While patient-advocacy groups and their leaders may view themselves as independent actors with their own missions and agendas that sometimes line up with those of pharmaceutical companies, opioid manufacturers saw things differently. They saw nonprofits as instrumental to achieving the business goal of boosting prescriptions and sales of opioids. Internal documents disclosed in lawsuits describe nonprofits as “partners” and refer to them in company business-strategy plans.

For more of the Chronicle‘s investigation into the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and pain nonprofits, read Jim’s full article.

Need to Know

“We’re surviving. … But we have felt the hurt.”

— Rev. Kevin Riggs on the drop in donations to his church, Franklin Community Church in Tenn.

Diminishing contributions to houses of worship are nothing new, but some congregations are feeling a tighter financial squeeze because of the pandemic, according to our reporting partners at the Associated Press.

The coronavirus hit at a time when already fewer Americans were going to worship services — with at least half of the nearly 15,300 congregations surveyed in a 2020 report by Faith Communities Today reporting weekly attendance of 65 or fewer — and exacerbated the problems at smaller churches where increasingly lean budgets often hindered them from things like hiring full-time clergy.

During the 15 months that services at Franklin Community Church were online-only, some members left for other congregations or got out of the habit of giving, according to Rev. Riggs. Weekly attendance is down from around 100 to fewer than 40, and the Omicron spike recently forced the church to go virtual again.

The impact is felt at the collection plate: The money coming in now is just about a third of what it was before the pandemic, the pastor said. The church has cut spending where it could, turned to grants to try to make up the difference, and worked to raise more money from community members who don’t attend but who support the church’s ministries, such as serving homeless people. Read the full story here.


    Advice & Opinions

      What We’re Reading

      Gaming tournaments have become popular fundraising events. One of the biggest, Games Done Quick, wrapped up last weekend. Gamers raised money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation by competing on “speedruns” — vying to place first by advancing through the levels of different video games fastest or completing a game blindfolded. This year’s tournament raised the most money for charity yet: nearly $3.5 million from more than 49,000 people. It reached $1 million faster than any previous year’s tournament.

      This fundraising powerhouse has a home-spun origin story, launching in the basement of the founder’s mother’s house in 2010. Since then, the competition moved into hotel event spaces and is now fully remote due to Covid-19. Even without the chance to gather, gamers are just as motivated as ever. “Every year, we wonder if this is it: Did we finally top out,” said Mike Uyama, the tournament’s founder. “And then it goes even higher.” (Washington Post)