Editors’ note: This article, first published in print during July/Aug 2018, has been republished for Nonprofit Quarterly with minor updates.
SR: I AM TRYING TO REMEMBER when I first met you, because it has to be almost 20 years ago. So, tell us a little about how you came to work, the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, because this is prior to GIFT, and what interested you in the organization?
JB: I first got to know the Grassroots Fundraising Journal (GFJ) in 2000 when I was a student in the MSW program at San Francisco State. I had an internship at Race Forward (then called the Applied Research Center or ARC) where the GFJ and Klein & Roth Consulting shared office space. One of my fist experiences with fundraising was co-leading a fundraising training for some environmental justice organizations. Gary Delgado, then director of ARC, believed in “baptism by fire” and sent me off to assist in this training even though I had almost no experience. This is also when I first met you, Stephanie, and I don’t know if you remember helping me and Andrea Cousins, my co-trainer, create the curriculum for the training
SR: I don’t remember, but I can imagine that happening. And maybe you saw that while fundraising is hard work, and requires people to be willing to confront their taboos about money, a lot of the core principles are just common sense.
JB: I got through that training and found that I liked fundraising more than I might have imagined. Then, in 2004, I was looking for part time work after my daughter was born. Because I knew you and Kim (Klein) and liked what the GFJ was about, I took a job with you. At that time, you were also publishing books through Chardon Press, and I was involved in a variety of things –fulfilling book and GFJ orders, ad sales for the GFJ and other administrative work. Over time, my responsibilities expanded. The Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO) and Southern Empowerment Project (SEP) along with a number of people including you and Kim, had created GIFT and it was growing right alongside the Journal. Two years after I started with you, GIFT and the GFJ merged and I became coordinator of publications.
SR: What kept you at this job, which was actually a dozen or more small jobs that all required a lot of attention to detail, good customer service skills, ability to create systems, money management, and fundraising? I can imagine other people running screaming from the volume and constant change of your job.
JB: Even though I didn’t set out to work in the field of nonprofit fundraising or publishing, I knew I wanted to do something that then does social work in the more traditional sense of casework). I liked the people I worked with and I could see that the GFJ and GIFT did make a difference in the lives of many people and organizations.
SR: As someone who came into this work not because you wanted to be a fundraiser, but to support what you thought was a good organization, how did your experience and thinking about fundraising shift over the years?
JB: When I first started, I was more of a support person and didn’t have the fundraising expertise that the rest of the team did. As I got more involved in the Journal and then GIFT, I started learning more about fundraising through my work producing the Journal. I actually learned a lot about fundraising through reading the articles in the GFJ.
Then, I really got more involved in fundraising for GIFT in 2009 when you stepped down as GIFT co-director. We did a big “Generations” campaign and it was the first time I made personal asks to my friends. It was early on in the use of online platforms for peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, and we had great success using one.
I was inspired by the stories people told about raising money, and felt it was an honor to be part of elevating and highlighting these stories. I got to know so many great organizations and I have been part of getting their experiences out to a broader audience. When I hear from GFJ readers about the lessons they learned and also from attendees at the Money for our Movements conference, it is very validating. I know what we do at GIFT allowed fundraising and other income creation to be understood as part of movement building, and it encouraged organizations that worked with low-income communities and communities of color, to realize they could raise the money they needed by being mission driven. We take this for granted now, but in the early part of this century, that insight was still new.
SR: You also had a lot of responsibility for the earned income side of the Journal and GIFT. How did ad sales contribute to your confidence in fundraising?
JB: One of my fist tasks at the Journal was selling display ads. Then when you stepped down from your position of co-director at GIFT, I was responsible for selling ads for the program book we created as a send-of to you. It was a really rewarding experience because so many people were happy to donate and send a message of appreciation to you and to GIFT. It felt great, almost like a runner’s high, to have so many people willing to support us. It was especially exciting when someone who hadn’t made a very big gif previously took out a half page ad.
And of course, selling ads while not fundraising per se, had a lot of the same elements of relationship-building, making a case, and making the ask.
I began to realize that I really liked the project management side of my job. I’m good at juggling a lot of balls at once. It gave me confidence to take on other new tasks, like the production and editorial side of publishing the GFJ, which involves a lot of moving parts. That is one thing that kept me at this job all these years—it was not just one job!
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SR: As you indicate, one of the core beliefs at GIFT is that fundraising is not a separate, hidden and thankless task that organizations have to do to bring in much needed money for their work, but instead a form of organizing and of building community support and power. Having people engaged in a variety of ways, including giving money, is an important factor in an organization’s overall success. How does this philosophy play out within GIFT?
JB: Well, of course, we are a Fundraising Institute, so if we can’t build a culture of fundraising, then something is really wrong. And I think there is a strong culture of fundraising at GIFT. When they’ll be doing fundraising. Every board and staff member has a portfolio of donors to stay in touch with.
In addition to working with donors, I have taken a high profile in income generation through ad sales work and have built relationships over time with consultants and other vendors who advertise in the GFJ. Over time, I’ve also taken on more fundraising responsibilities. For the GFJ’s 30th anniversary, I participated in our 30 for 30 campaign where we recruited 30 people to raise $1,000 each to reach our goal of $30,000.
Also, because the GFJ has always had at least a portion of its budget paid for by subscriptions (earned income), I was involved in finding creative ways to expand our subscriber base as well as try to get some of our subscribers to make donations above and beyond their subscription. It has varied but over the years I’ve been at GIFT, we’ve always brought in at least 50 percent and often much more, from earned income (subscriptions, advertising, conference registration fees, and training fees).
One of GIFT’s strengths has been having diverse sources of income. Sometimes when we lost foundation funding or our individual donor campaigns didn’t do so well, we had the strength of having a steady source of income from earned income. Marking anniversaries or special occasions with program books has been a successful strategy for us, and I think this speaks to the community that GIFT has built over the years.
SR: What is different about the field of fundraising now than when you first came to work at the Grassroots Fundraising Journal 14 years ago?
JB: The main difference that I’ve seen is that there is SO much more free information online–you can google “mail appeals” and get a YouTube video on what makes a good appeal. This has been challenging for GIFT, which relies on people paying for our products and services. That doesn’t mean that the free stuff is always high quality but there is a lot that’s useful too.
I’m seeing organizations get more creative to be able to draw more attention to their work and to reach people who may not have been donors before. We published an article in the GFJ recently about the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition that does an annual food crawl that takes place in a place in a neighborhood where there are lots of restaurants run by immigrants. Third last event raised $40,000 and also promoted local businesses at the same time they raised money and built community good will.
GFJ has also featured articles about the work of groups building alternative economic systems like the time banking project of the Womanist Working Collective in Philadelphia, which I loved learning more about. And of course, was so thrilled to share the success of land reclamation efforts here locally in Oakland through the #Liberate23rdAve Building campaign and by Queer the Land in Seattle. The recent Black Mama’s Bail Out campaigns, and the huge outpouring of support for groups providing legal and social services to families being torn apart at the border are also amazing examples of significant grassroots resources being organized in a relatively short time span. It’s interesting that at the same time we’re seeing an increase in crowdfunding campaigns to directly support community members for things like bail, funeral services, medical expenses, and family leave, we’re also seeing an expansion of vehicles like donor advised funds, which seem to put more distance between the donor and the organization.
One thing that I think has had an impact on how social justice organizations have approached fundraising (in addition to the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, our biennial conference and other GIFT programs) are the Underdeveloped and Fundraising Bright Spots reports that looked at the challenges facing development staff when there is not a culture of fundraising in the organization Certainly people’s consciousness has changed, even though there is a lot more work to be done.
SR: What advice do you have for people seeking development positions, especially people of color?
JB: I sometimes get asked by organizations that are trying to recruit people of color to fundraising positions what they can do to be more appealing to people of color. I tell them that as a candidate, I would want to see other people of color on the staff and board of the organization. Also, that there is an explicit understanding that everyone in the organization is going to be involved in fundraising. If you don’t see ANY of that in a job description, if you talk to board members and none of them have any enthusiasm about making asks, I would proceed cautiously. I would also want to know how much support I’d get from others in the organization and would try to talk to former employees (especially former fundraisers) if possible. What is it like to try to move the work in that way?
SR: It’s been a kind of truism in fundraising that these positions are ones with lots of responsibility and little authority. Do you think that’s changing, and what does it mean for people of color getting into the work?
JB: My sense is that not all that much has changed although there’s much more awareness of the issue. It’s generally the fundraising and administrative work that doesn’t get recognized in our organizations or our movements. The people doing that kind of work only get noticed if there’s a problem. There are so many people who are unrecognized in that Back Office work even though their work is so critical in keeping things moving. And of course, sometimes fundraisers have MORE to say because they’re the ones who have a deeper understanding of how to explain the work and connect with potential supporters and funders.
SR: Jennifer, we will miss you so much and I know everyone who has read the Journal over the past many years, or gone to the Money for our Movements Conference, joins me in wishing you well.
JB: It’s been a wild and wonderful ride and I look forward to continuing to read the Journal!