What if we are the problem?


On Monday, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Evelyne Guindon, CEO of Cuso International. I was recording a podcast for Blakely and Evelyne was my interviewee this time around. (Stay tuned for the podcast, by the way!)

Evelyne said something that really resonated with me. She referred to the beneficiaries of their work as “assets”.


I absolutely loved that.

Here’s an example: one of Cuso’s focus areas is Livelihood, including the development and financing of enterprises for individuals living in poverty. So if a young woman has the spirit of entrepreneurship and wants to start her own business, Cuso’s programs – supported by donors – can help.

But this young woman isn’t the beneficiary of donor support; she is an asset that’s been tapped into through donor support.

It’s like she’s a natural resource that just hadn’t been discovered yet. I find that it’s a much more empowering way of talking about it.

Besides just loving the way Evelyne spoke about assets, it made me pause and think about the language we use as fundraisers and whether the gap between where we are and what we really want to accomplish is created by ourselves.

I once heard someone say that donors don’t give to charities that have needs, they give to charities that meet needs.

I also often think about the ripple effect millennials have had on the world of charitable giving. No I don’t have the silver bullet to ignite millennial giving, but I do know this group is skeptical about where their money goes when they give, and therefore when they do give, they expect to see a return on their investment, shall we say.

Some donors have always been like that, but I believe millennials as a group really do think this way, and that’s spread to more demographic donor groups over time.

So as fundraisers, if we don’t adapt to be seen in that lens donors are now looking through, we won’t accomplish our big goals.

This is all to say that donors are – and have for a while – thinking differently about their giving. And like Evelyne, we need to change the way we’re talking about our work and our “beneficiaries” to meet donors where they are, and inspire them more than ever before.

Food for thought…


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Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

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13 thoughts on “What if we are the problem?

  1. Thinking about the beneficiaries as assets is a really interesting perspective. I work in fundraising for a community college, so that line of thinking definitely applies here. Our students, the ones who benefit from the scholarships we award, become assets to the greater community once they graduate and are able to join the workforce.

    I also agree with you about millennials. I’m right in between being a millennial and whatever comes before (I can never remember), but either way, I do want to know where my money is going when I give, and I think that’s become even more magnified now that I’ve started working in fundraising. I’m starting to get a deeper understanding of the importance of giving and WHY people give, so of course donors at all levels and in all age groups should want to know how their dollars are being invested.

    • Hi Sue! So glad to meet another fellow in the trenches. Before this, I did fundraising for the libraries at a university. I feel like the only people I know in fundraising are the people I work with or used to work with. It’s nice to meet others, even if they live online.

      • YAY for fundraising connections online! I met some of my best (fundraiser) friends online… it’s a great place to start a friendship.

        Sue — I’m so glad “asset” resonated with you as much as it did with me. Use it widely! :)

        • Use it widely (and wisely!!!).

          I agree about online friendships. I think in this day and age, sometimes we have no choice but to begin by making friends online. :)

  2. I think this is a terrifying vision Maeve. The dark side of donor centrism, which is that the people who we are seeking to help through our fundraising become little more than ‘resource’ to help us satisfy what we take to be all-important donor expectations.
    I hope I never refer to beneficiaries, or think of them, in this way.

    • Thanks for reading, Adrian.

      I understand what you’re saying completely, but I didn’t mean to articulate that kind of vision here… and I think it’s a result of me not explaining myself well enough, and not a result of the thinking at Cuso.

      Because in fact, referring to beneficiaries as assets actually started with the individuals receiving the support. It’s like that saying, “It’s not a hand-out, it’s a hand-up”. The individuals formerly known as beneficiaries felt more empowered to be called assets, individuals who could change the world if only they had some support, from donors.

      But what you’re saying makes complete sense, and it’s a fine line I think every organization has to be mindful of.

  3. Pingback: 5 fundraising lessons I learned from causing a stir | What Gives???

  4. Pingback: Turning Beneficiaries into Assets (and Why It’s Not a Good Thing) | Rev. Christopher Marlin-Warfield, CFRE

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