Conference Recap: Fundraising IS Community Organizing

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network’s Leaders Conference and  one of the amazing people I met was Renee Bracey Sherman, today’s guest blogger.  She mentioned that she would be attending this amazing conference, so I asked her to share some of what she learned there with you.  As always, share your thoughts and responses below in the comments section.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training’s Money for Our Movements fundraising conference in Oakland, California. This wasn’t your average fundraising conference – it’s a conference specifically for grassroots fundraisers and community organizers working in social justice movements across the country. Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training  (GIFT) is “a multicultural organization that promotes the connection between fundraising, social justice, and movement-building.” GIFT’s vision for social justice fundraising includes working to break down the stereotypes about who can give and who cannot and working to ensure social justice organizations are owned by the communities they serve.

Previously, I attended GIFT’s Fundraising Academy for Communities of Color in Fresno, California and learned how to create a community of donors among my organization’s constituents and how to create a culture of fundraising with all staff in my organization – including how program staff can talk about their work and make a basic ask of community members. As a fundraiser of color, I often feel left out of the typical fundraising training because they are teaching how to talk to the stereotypical White, older donor; however, they are rarely my organizations’ communities of donors or constituents. GIFT’s trainings also address the power and privilege, as well as the oppression felt when discussing money and asking for large gifts – something not taught at any other fundraising training. GIFT changed my fundraising life and helped my colleagues feel at ease when talking to donors – which can be scary for non-fundraising staff. The most important thing I learned, and taught my colleagues, was that ANYONE can be a donor and invest in your organization and the larger movement. Fundraisers should never forget that donor relationship building IS community organizing.

At Money for Our Movements, attendees had the chance to attend workshops of all levels discussing everything from how to raise $300 to $10,000 online in six weeks to how to have a 100% grassroots fundraising program at your organization. They also had workshops that focused on the history and politics of fundraising including how fundraising and organizing go hand in hand, the history of people of color and fundraising, and an anti-racism for White folks in in fundraising. As you can tell, all of these workshops dealt with everyday issues that arise in our society, but often aren’t discussed or taught in most fundraising spaces. The conference was also simultaneously translated in Spanish for Spanish speaking attendees and also had several workshops only held in Spanish and had childcare for attendees – a direct effort to engage more communities and accommodate more attendees’ needs.

On Friday morning, the conference was keynoted by Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), an organization that fights for the rights of restaurant workers across the country, and by Attica Woodson Scott, the District 1 representative to Louisville Metro Council and former coordinator of Kentucky Jobs for Justice. Both women spoke eloquently about how organizing workers and community members can create sustainable change in local communities and on a larger scale through laws. However, while change can be made politically, implementation is a very different game and that is where community involvement and education is important to change the day-to-day experiences of your constituents.
One of the highlights of the conference each year is the Saturday morning debate. This year, the debate, “From Moment to Movement”, featured two teams debating the Occupy Wall Street movement – is it a moment to be captured in history or is it a long-term movement for social change. They also debated whether it being helped or hurt by nonprofit organizations, which are seen as organizing in silos. Saturday afternoon, the conference was brought to a close with Kim Klein’s keynote, “What is Our Demand?” Klein is an internationally known speaker, author, and fundraising consultant, as well as the co-founder of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal. Klein discussed with the audience how as fundraisers we can change our movements with the power of our constituents’ dollars. She noted that we have to be conscious of who we raise money from because they are the people we are accountable to – if we raise the majority of our money from our community, we stay accountable to our community and our organizations’ missions.
Klein also tied in the earlier discussion of the Occupy movement and said, “We’re not going to turn this [our movements] around with money. We’re going to do it with people. The 1% doesn’t have people!” Her last point was about educating our constituents and movements about our nation’s current tax structure. She reminded us that you can see a nation’s values based on what they fund through their tax structures – education, roads, healthcare, firefighters. Klein also said that as organizations “we will only raise the money we need when we have a fair and just tax structure” since many of our organizations replace the work once done by the government or the work they never had the funds to do. Klein stressed that we as leaders in our communities need to start having more conversations around our values and taxes. By simply having conversations or thinking about it ourselves, we become more engaged in the larger movement in society.
GIFT puts on several amazing trainings and one hell-of-a conference. Sadly, their conference is only every other year, so your next opportunity is in the summer of 2014 – which I highly recommend you attend! Until then, check out their amazing and insightful tips on their website, in their newsletter, and subscribe to their magazine, Grassroots Fundraising Journal which has practical ideas for grassroots fundraising as well as case-studies of organizations all around the country in all social justice movements. GIFT has turned me in to a better fundraiser and gave me practical tools to share with my community. I am thankful for their great and continued work.

To learn more about Grassroots Fundraising Training, visit or follow them on Twitter @gift_tweets. To see some of the Twitter conversation from the conference, search the hashtag #mfom12.

Renee Bracey Sherman is from Chicago, Illinois where she graduated from Northeastern Illinois University, studying economics and sociology. Renee found a passion in working to break down barriers of multiple oppressions that women/people of color/LGBT/low income/immigrant folks face each day through story sharing. By day, Renee is a fundraiser for Wikimedia Foundation and in her spare time, she volunteers with ACCESS Women’s Health Justice, serves on the Board of Directors of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, and is a Pro-Voice activist with Exhale.
Follow Renee on Twitter: @rbraceysherman
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