Editors’ note: This article is from the rich trove of the archives of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, which is now available to you on the NPQ website. First published in print during Nov/Dec 2006, it has been republished for Nonprofit Quarterly with minor updates.


Sonya Garcia-Ulibarri

It is amazing for me to be here with you today, to look out at this crowd of fundraisers, organizers, activists, and allies. It is also amazing for me to have the opportunity to share the podium with a woman who has been so influential in my career and my life, as I’m sure she has been for many of you—Kim Klein. When I met Kim, I was at my first event as a fundraising intern with the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT).

I remember coming into fundraising with reluctance. Reluctance about asking for money. Reluctance about the abilities and skills I brought to the table. Reluctance about straying too far from my roots and commitment to community organizing and being down for a march or protest any day of the week. I remember asking the question, “Will I have to sacrifice my politics to be a fundraiser?” And even though I did need a job, I thought for a moment that fundraising might be too excruciating for me and my family. My dad, confused, asked, “Mija, are you going to beg for money every day?” This was even before I knew about the long hours, loads of stress, and little sleep that were ahead for me.

But something changed.

I sat in that GIFT training completely blown away, first, by the facts. Most of the money given away in the United States is not given by wealthy individuals. Donors are not restricted by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or any other category. My community was not just a recipient of other people’s giving, but givers themselves. In a way that still seemed strange, I was a philanthropist, just like many, if not all, of you.

I am sure that many of you remember the amazing story of Oseola McCarty, the 87-year-old black woman who donated $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi. It was written, “Miss McCarty’s gift has astounded even those who believed they knew her well. Customers brought their washing and ironing to her modest home for more than 75 years. She did laundry for three generations of some families. In the beginning she charged $1.50 to $2.00 a bundle.” Speaking about her gift, Miss McCarty simply said, “I want to help somebody’s child go to college.”

I use this story not to say that everyone should give at this level, but as an example of how the most unsuspecting and generous individuals among us are often overlooked.

The second concept that blew me away was the idea that grassroots fundraising is political. Fundraising is organizing. Fundraising is activism. Fundraising is building a movement. And more specifically for us here, fundraising is about building a movement for social change, a movement that addresses the injustices that exist in our neighborhoods, our cities, our countries, and our world.

The opportunity to be a fundraising intern was in itself a response to an injustice — the lack of people of color in the field of fundraising. Even among social justice groups and organizations rooted in communities of color there is a racial disparity that exists in fundraising and other key leadership roles. GIFT empowered me to be an active participant in this work. I saw not only a change in myself, but the transformation of class after class of interns, all people of color, whose reluctance turned to fearlessness, to ganas. I realized how imperative it is for the most affected communities to have the opportunity to raise funds for their own struggles.

It is my hope that this conference will provide each of you with the information, tools, and skills you need to be effective fundraisers. But even more than the practical information, I hope you walk away inspired to continue your work knowing that fundraising was central to movements in history and is central to movements today.

Here are two brief examples I want to share with you.

The first is an excerpt from the book, Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching (published by Teaching for Change and the Poverty and Race Research Action Council). It says, “The [Civil Rights] movement depended on many people who organized fundraising activities, car pools, and coordinated taxi service. [Martin Luther] King’s oratory skills and leadership helped sustain the movement, but its victory was built on the daily contributions of many unsung activists.”

The second is a quote that reflects on the beginnings of the United Farm Workers Movement. Cesar Chavez said, “I remember with strong feelings the families who joined our movement and paid dues long before there was any hope of winning contracts. Sometimes, fathers and mothers would take money out of their meager food budgets just because they believed that farm workers could and must build their own union. I remember thinking then, that with spirit like that…we had to win. No force on earth could stop us.”

Not glamorous. Often unrecognized. Grassroots fundraising is a core component of the struggles we endure and fight.

Grassroots fundraising is:

  • A neighborhood alliance advocating for decent, safe and affordable housing
  • A coalition fighting for a living wage
  • An organization working against the toxic pollutions that disproportionately affect their neighborhood
  • A clinic breaking patterns of violence and addiction
  • Our young people organizing in their schools
  • A rally for the right to marry
  • A march of hundreds and hundreds of thousands for immigrant rights
  • A journey of indigenous people demanding their sovereignty
  • And so, so much more

Even though I love fundraising with all of my heart, I hope that someday none of us ever have to raise a dollar, secure a sponsor, pass the hat, or do a pitch again. I hope that the movements for justice we have committed weeks, months, years, and lives to succeed and our communities can simply celebrate that fact. But until that day, you do not have to sacrifice your politics in order to fundraise, you have to fundraise in order to live out your politics. As Maya Angelou so eloquently noted, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

So go out from here and liberate some souls.


Kim Klein

When I think about fundraising, I see it is mostly about questions: What is our goal? Whom shall we ask? What strategy shall we use?

I have come to believe that questions are more important than answers, particularly questions that are invitations: Will you join us? Will you help us? Can we talk? These are fundraising questions, certainly, but they need to be the questions of social justice also: Will you join us? What do you need to know? What would you like to say?

So often fundraising has been portrayed as the reason that something didn’t happen: “We would have stopped pollution but we couldn’t raise the money.” That notion has to be abandoned and has to be replaced with the fact that fundraising can be a leading component of social change.

I want to go even further and say that lessons from fundraising can inform all of life, thus the title of this speech. The six points I will make here I learned from you and from people like you, all over the world.


The great science fiction writer, Ursula LeGuin, said, “I never learned much from my teachers, but I learned a great deal from my un-teachers — people who said to me, ‘You shouldn’t have been taught that and you don’t need to think it anymore.’”

We must apply this lesson to money. We must once and for all stop learning—and stop teaching—that talking about money is not to be done in our culture.

It is considered as rude today to ask people what their salary is as it was when I started in fundraising 30 years ago. The inability to ask for money remains the major block to organizations raising the money they need. Yet like all taboos, what we think and feel about money is learned. Children don’t have this taboo—they talk about money and ask for money—until we teach them not to. We have to deliberately and thoughtfully construct a new relationship with money. We can’t wait for the culture to shift — it is not shifting fast enough. And there are too many people who want it to stay in place. Around the world, an elite and fairly secret class controls most of the wealth, either by inheriting it or by earning it, but most important, by being willing to understand everything they can about money and to actively campaign for policies that will increase their wealth.

It serves the interest of this ruling class of people for the rest of us to act as though money is not important to us. For example, as long as we cannot ask about other people’s salaries, we will not be able to find out that someone is being paid more because he is white or less because she is a woman. As long as we do not understand basic economics, we will not be able to know what economic model to advocate for. It serves the interest of the ruling class for us not to be able to finance our nonprofits adequately, because then we are no threat to them.

Without understanding money we will be unable to create a society in which wealth is more fairly and equally distributed — a main underlying goal of social justice movements. We must make not knowing everything we can about money a sign of gross political incorrectness and a sign of someone who is not serious about social justice. If we don’t, we collaborate with the very system our work is designed to change.

Stop counting donations and start counting donors.


Every organization must know why it exists: its mission and vision. But equally important, every organization must know how it wishes to be supported over the long haul. To be an effective force for change, an organization needs to have as much diversity in its income streams as it can possibly manage. In order to be mission driven, to do what needs to be done, to say what needs to be said to those who need to be told without fearing financial repercussions, you have to not care if someone stops funding you.

For maximum stability and flexibility, an organization’s core operating income must come from a broad base of individual donors giving varying amounts, through a variety of strategies. Fundraising and program must be integrated, and everyone must accept a role in fundraising.

Most money given away in the private sector comes from individuals, and most of the gifts are from middle-class, working-class, and poor people. That’s most people: 91 percent of Americans earn less than $100,000 per year, and 70 percent of adults give away money. More than half receive no tax benefit for their giving because they file a “short” tax form. More people give away money than attend a house of worship, vote, or volunteer.

People always tell me, “Grassroots fundraising is so hard. It is so much easier to get a large grant than attract lots of donors.” It is hard when you just look at the money. But when you look at movement building, you see people, and fundraising brings in these people who then can give time, give more money, turn out for demonstrations, write to their congresspersons, talk to their friends.

We need to see our donor base as central to our movement base. Stop counting donations and start counting donors. Even if most of your donors never grace your door, they are at home, reading your newsletters, passing them on to friends, bookmarking your website, forwarding your action alerts.

So fundraising becomes a way to do several things—raise money, raise awareness, build a movement. Suddenly grassroots fundraising doesn’t seem so unpleasant—in fact, it seems like organizing, and that is what it is!


Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, said, “We must always aim for the impossible: if we lower our goal, we diminish our effort.” Che Guevara said, “Be realistic. Do the impossible.”

We need much bigger goals. In fundraising, people love big goals. People are more likely to give to something big than something small.

Over and over I see organizations set fundraising goals and then fall short of them. Their board doesn’t rise to the challenge, their development efforts don’t yield enough, the executive director is pulled in a million directions and can’t make the time to raise the money. So the next year they set the same goal, or possibly a lower goal. And what happens? They have the same experience.

But what is the problem? The problem is that meeting the goal would only give them the organization they have now—overworked, underpaid, poor infrastructure, old computers, too much to do and too few people to do it. Small victories, large losses. What is the incentive to meet a goal that gives you that? We must think much bigger.

Over the last 30 years, we have been worn down, and our ability to think big has been affected. For example, I started my fundraising career while working against domestic violence in a shelter for battered women in San Francisco. At that time, many of us believed that domestic violence would end in our lifetime. Now we see domestic violence programs that start endowments and plan to exist forever. Homeless shelters, which should exist, if they exist at all, as a temporary solution to a temporary problem, now implement planned giving programs. I saw in a brochure the other day, “Your bequest will ensure that homeless people will always have shelter.” But I want my bequest to ensure that there will no longer be homeless people.

So let’s summarize our goals under these scenarios: women are still being beaten, but have better services afterward; people are still homeless, but have more access to shelter; environmental destruction will still be rampant, but there will be more recycling. It is no wonder we have a hard time mobilizing people.

We need to start with what we want, not what we can get funded to do. We must ask, What would it take to do the job? It is often surprising how little money is really needed. For example, according to the British health journal, the Lancet, it would take $6 billion more per year to provide basic education for all people in the entire world and $9 billion more per year to provide clean water for everyone in the world. $9 billion is about what the US is spending each month on our bloody and pointless war in Iraq.

In other words, the money exists. Huge fundamental change doesn’t have to cost that much, and that is why grassroots organizations can be instrumental in bringing it about, if only we set big enough goals.

We need to start with what we want, not what we can get funded to do.


The charity model must be deconstructed entirely. At its extreme, charity means that I, a good person working for a good organization, help you, a sad sack of garbage. You do not help me because I don’t need help.

Organization after organization provides services, training, tutoring, leadership development, organizing—all for free to a constituency they describe as having no money. “The people we work with can’t afford it.” That is both condescending and patronizing. No one wants to be on the receiving end of charity.

It is not just that people value what they pay for. I do think people can value what they get for free. But when a person pays something, even a small amount, he or she now feels free to ask questions, to disagree, to complain. We disempower when we don’t ask, and we need to ask ourselves, why would we rather not know what our constituency thinks?

Many of us are “greedy givers.” A greedy giver can only give, and cannot receive, cannot ask for help, cannot acknowledge need or weakness. This is a charity model. A new model of engagement must take the place of this old model, and fundraising must take the lead. In the old model, the staff of the organization knew best what was to be done. People were encouraged to be grateful. In the new model, we encourage our constituents, who are now also our donors, to ask questions, to form opinions, and the gratitude is mutual.

Breaking down this charity model is not easy and will take the same discipline as deconstructing the taboo about money. The first and possibly most important step in breaking it down is to allow yourself to receive. To ask a question: “Will you help out? Will you contribute? What do you think we should say or do?”


For the first 10 or 15 years that I did fundraising training, I was completely confident, based on the evidence, that if people did what I said, they would raise money. But starting in the mid-1990s, I began to see organizations that were running their fundraising programs almost flawlessly, yet were not able to raise the money they needed.

Increasingly, I had people in my trainings from public schools, public parks foundations, public libraries. Why? Because of the cutbacks in government spending. But these cutbacks cannot be made up by the private sector. In fact, recent research has shown that private-sector giving would have to go up three times as much as it has every year just to meet current needs, with no money for new programs.

Where this privatization becomes most real is in the military, where we see soldiers and soldiers’ families raising money to buy Kevlar vests for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And over and over we hear donors say, “I used to give to environmental groups or to the film festival, but now I have to give to my child’s public school.”

All of this, points to the fact that taxes are a part of fundraising and those of us in fundraising must take the role of taxes seriously. Here’s an example of the results of tax policy: In 1986, according to Forbes magazine, there were 13 billionaires in the US; worldwide there were perhaps 20. Then the Reagan administration introduced tax legislation that favored the top one percent of taxpayers. In one year the number of billionaires in the US almost quadrupled, to 49! More tax favors followed, so that today there are 230 billionaires in the US and 793 billionaires worldwide. They are the fastest-growing class in the world. These people own $3 trillion in wealth. The combined wealth of these 793 people is about 30 percent more than the income of the 3 billion people worldwide who live on less than $2 a day. The GDP of the poorest 48 countries in the world combined is less than the wealth of each of the three richest people in the world.

Again, we come back to the point: the money exists to solve almost every problem in the world, and it is not hard to figure out where it is. It is a question of creating policies to distribute it. Congress was recently debating a raise in the minimum wage. I am sure all of us would agree that at the least the minimum wage should lift a person out of poverty. But as housing advocates well know, the minimum wage does not provide enough money to pay the rent on a one bedroom apartment or house anywhere in the US. So the minimum wage needs to be raised significantly.

But as United for a Fair Economy has proposed, progressives like us should propose a maximum wage as well—a point at which there would be a 100 percent income tax. In order for the maximum wage to rise, the minimum wage would have to rise because the highest-paid person could not make more than a certain percentage more than the lowest-paid person.

What are we going to do about taxes? Like other things related to money, the first step is talking about them. We must understand how tax policy is created and how our taxes are distributed. We must work against a bloated military so that so much of our tax dollar is not spent there. We must work to have taxes used instead for universal health care, education, the welfare of all people.

For those who say these goals are unrealistic, consider that many countries in Europe have tax policies that provide a meaningful social safety net. Finland, for example, recently named the world’s most competitive economy, has a 50 percent income tax, universal social services, and zero tolerance for poverty. In the US in the 1950s and 1960s, those in the top tax bracket paid 90 percent in taxes, which explains why there were few billionaires.

Beyond the US, we must work across national boundaries for a worldwide tax on income and capital gains, so that people and corporations can’t simply move their assets from one country to another to avoid taxes.

The money exists to solve almost every problem in the world, and it is not hard to figure out where it is.


Money is a lot of things, but money is not everything. Time is not money, for example. Time is our most precious non-renewable resource. When this day is over, it’s over. We can’t get it back. We can earn more money, but we can’t earn more time.

Money can help with happiness, but money can’t actually buy happiness. Happiness is a social justice value. We must see being happy and helping others to be happy as social justice work. We must claim that kindness, patience, forgiveness, and generosity of spirit are just as important as integrity, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.

We have to love each other and we have to love those who are difficult to love. Love is hard. That’s why in every religious and spiritual tradition, love is a commandment. You don’t have to command people to eat or sleep or gossip—people do that. We have to be commanded to love.

My biggest mistake over my whole life was creating a hierarchy with my time and placing work at the top of it. For years, I worked all the time. Weekends and evenings were simply times to work uninterrupted. Airplane rides were times to read professional journals or political analysis. As I got older, I stopped doing that. But work still took the bulk of my time. There is a lot of talk now about work-life balance, but the point of that conversation is to further happiness.

People who work all the time, like me, are actually kind of lazy. We never have to make decisions about other parts of our lives because when we are not working, we are so tired that there is little else we can do. If I work all the time, I don’t need to think, for example, about whether I should bring my elderly, housebound neighbor some fruit or some dinner or whether I should just go visit with her. I don’t think about that because I have to work, partly for the rights of seniors.

Many of us in nonprofits love people and we work very hard to secure their rights and to make their lives easier, but sometimes we don’t take enough time to show our love to individual persons — often especially our partners, our children, and our friends.

Many of us have become very concerned about global warming, the crisis of environmental sustainability. This is a serious and profound crisis that we must all participate in solving and insisting on policy solutions. However, global warming is related to and exacerbated by another crisis: the crisis of human sustainability—defined by Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting as “a scarcity of the conditions which nurture resilient, secure individuals, families, friendships and communities.” The consequences of the crisis of human sustainability can be found in the rising incidence of depression. It is thought that by 2020 depression may be the world’s most prevalent disease. This is not simply a phenomenon of first-world countries—it is being documented in the rapidly expanding urban areas of China, India, Bangladesh, and Mexico.

Consider how union organizing has changed its focus from time to wages. The first meeting in Britain 140 years ago of what became the First International, a very large union, was commemorated recently with a watch for its members, which had its early slogan printed on its face: “We require 8 hours’ work, 8 hours for our own instruction, and 8 hours repose.” Those were the values of the early organizers. Karl Marx said, “The politics of time is essential to freedom. The shortening of the working day is the basic prerequisite for that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom.”

I would propose a maximum workweek — the maximum amount of time anyone is allowed to work. If you want to work more, you can, but it would become a cultural norm not to. Again, this ideal exists in Europe, where more than 10 years ago, in 1993, the European Union’s Working Time Directive set a 48-hour maximum workweek and included requirements for rest and leave periods.

I want to end with a story that is a parable. It is about a sports hero named Florence Chadwick, the first woman to swim the English Channel both ways. Florence Chadwick held a number of other records, but this is a story of a failure. On July 4, 1954, she attempted to be the first person to swim from Catalina Island to the coast of California, about 22 miles. There was dense, thick fog, and the water was very cold. She could not see the boat that accompanied her. She could hear it and keep on course.

She swam for 15 hours and, exhausted, asked to be taken out of the water. Her trainer asked if she was sure she wanted to come out, but he was not allowed to tell her how much farther she had to go. She was one mile, or maybe 30 minutes, from shore. Later she said, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land I might have made it.” It wasn’t the cold or fear or exhaustion that caused Florence Chadwick to fail. It was the fog.

I believe we are in a thick fog, and we have been in the cold water for a long time, but I also believe we are only one mile from shore—the shore of a new day, of a new world. Unlike Florence Chadwick, we do not swim alone. We can and we must help each other swim this last mile, and once we get to shore, we must make sure that we never enter these cold, foggy waters again.

How will we do this? We must encourage people to do what they need to do to be able to make it. People who need rest must be encouraged to rest; people with energy to forge ahead must not hold back. Most of all, we must resist the temptation to go it alone. We must explore all the meanings of solidarity, of being a member of the community, of offering help and asking for help.

We can have the world we imagine. As the World Social Forum states, “Another world is possible.” We must not be talked out of it or talked down from it. We are in an adventure of fundraising and social justice. Adventure comes from a Latin word, advenio, “I come closer.” Adventure means continuing to go toward that which is unexplored as yet. Let us continue our adventure.