Is fundraising for small grassroots organizations different from fundraising for a hospital, college, or well recognized college access program? How do you raise funds for an organization that is challenging the local power structure? GIFT – the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training knows how. GIFT has been growing and supporting grassroots fundraisers for over 30 years. They have a great on-line archive of low-cost, easy-to-use tools and guides. Their upcoming conference (August 10th – 11th in Oakland, CA) will provide opportunities for fundraisers, activists and organizers to meet, learn and collaborate. Our interview with Jennifer Emiko Boyden, GIFT’s communications coordinator, will introduce you to the organization. After that, it’s up to you – you can raise the money you need to create social change.
Saad & Shaw: Let’s start with a provocative question – isn’t all fundraising the same?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: While it’s true that all fundraising—much like community organizing—is all about building relationships, skills needed to be an effective fundraiser vary depending on the community and fundraising activity. At GIFT, we feel it is essential for grassroots groups to be supported by, and accountable to, the communities they’re serving; and that a broad base of individual donors is critical for their long-term sustainability. Accountability to the community is not built-in when you receive a foundation, corporate or government grant, for example. In those cases, you’re accountable to the funder. Similarly, the skills needed to organize a special event or run a capital campaign are different from those needed to submit a grant proposal.
Saad & Shaw: What does the term grassroots mean to you?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: The best way to describe GIFT’s definition of “grassroots” is “from the community.” So “grassroots fundraising” involves building our collective resources; and “grassroots groups” are those led by, and accountable to, those who are most impacted by the work they’re doing.
Saad & Shaw: What are the skills that an executive director or development director needs to be successful?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: Executive directors and development directors need to have a strong vision for their work, the ability to build strong relationships with their supporters, and a keen sense for knowing how to energize a fundraising team. Planning skills and the ability to set realistic goals are also essential. One important thing for executive directors and development directors to know is that they cannot, and should not do all of the fundraising on their own. We work with groups so they can create a culture of fundraising, where fundraising responsibilities are shared across staff, and executive directors and development directors are not working in isolation and have more sustainable workloads. Too often, these positions are on a direct path to burnout. With the average amount of time a fundraiser stays on the job being just 16 months, as a sector, we’re clearly not supporting our development staff in the right ways.
Saad & Shaw: How has the recent recession changed fundraising for grassroots organizations?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: With government cutbacks and shrinking foundation dollars, we have sadly seen many groups forced to close their doors. Others have gotten rid of their offices or transitioned from paid staff to being all volunteer. A lot of groups have also intensified their grassroots fundraising efforts, having learned the hard way the perils of over relying on foundation or corporate monies.
Saad & Shaw: What systems, policies or understandings need to be in place before a grassroots organization can be successful with its fundraising?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: Put simply, you need a culture of fundraising at your organization in which all board and staff are involved in raising money for your group. You also need to ensure that you have a diversified income stream, with a healthy balance of earned income, grassroots, and institutional support. And having some kind of database—even if it’s just an excel spreadsheet to start—is important to track gifts, create thank you letters, and store other important donor information.
Saad & Shaw: What is the mindset that a board member must have in order to contribute to the success of a grassroots organization in a meaningful way?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: Having good board members who will follow through on their fundraising commitments seems to be a challenge for almost every grassroots group. Board members need to understand that in addition to their fiduciary responsibility, raising money for the group is an equally important part of the job. However, we acknowledge that not all board members have the same kind of access to financial resources or networks, and we value the time, ideas, and other types of resources that board members have to offer.
Saad & Shaw: What are the three most important things a grassroots organization should consider as it considers launching a fundraising campaign?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: Before getting started, make sure you have the fundamentals in place like a current case statement and a goal or fundraising plan. It is also essential to use all three fundraising strategies (Acquisition, Retention and Upgrading), and have everyone (including your board) actively engaged in fundraising.
Saad & Shaw: Let’s back up a little – how did GIFT get started?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: GIFT was started in 1996 by the Center for Third World Organizing and the Southern Empowerment Project, two longtime organizing training centers. They believed that grassroots groups working for social change needed an organization to teach fundraising skills and support people of color to be fundraisers. The Grassroots Fundraising Journal was co-founded in 1981 by Kim Klein and Lisa Honig, who saw that most of the resources on nonprofit fundraising were not applicable to grassroots groups, especially those challenging and changing the status quo. GIFT and the Grassroots Fundraising Journal merged in 2008. The new organization continues to be called GIFT and the magazine it publishes is still called the GrassrootsFundraising Journal.
Saad & Shaw: What is the mission of GIFT?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: The Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT) is a multiracial organization that promotes the connection between fundraising, social justice and movement-building. We believe that how groups are funded is as important to achieving their goals as how the money is spent, and that building community support is central to long-term social change. We provide training, resources and analysis to strengthen organizations, with an emphasis on those focused on social justice and based in communities of color.
Saad & Shaw: As an organization, what is GIFT seeking to accomplish?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: Our long-term goal is for social justice and progressive groups based in communities of color and low-income communities to depend on the financial support of their community and engage in grassroots fundraising using a social justice framework. We do this by providing resources to individual fundraisers and social justice groups, including our bimonthly print magazine, the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, our free monthly eNewsletter, and training and consulting services. We also bring these groups together at our biennial Money for Our Movements: A Social Justice Fundraising Conference to strengthen our grassroots fundraising skills, build our collective resources, and sharpen our vision for our movements.
Saad & Shaw: Would you provide our readers with some examples of the types of information available through the GIFT website and magazine?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: Our website has a wealth of information available, some free and some for a fee. If you sign up for our free eNewsletter, you’ll get fundraising tips, training opportunities, and job announcements delivered to your inbox each month. We offer webinar podcasts on topics such as “Recruit 4 Great Board Members in the Next 4 Months,” a Spanish language training toolkit called “Comunidades del Futuro: Guia para Facilitadores Capacitando a la Comunidad en la Recaudacion de Fondos” and Special Edition Journals like “Spectacular Special Events.”
We also have over 350 articles in the Grassroots Fundraising Journal archive on topics ranging from special events to appeal letters to capital campaigns. Each article can be purchased for $3 each, but if you subscribe to the Journal, you’ll gain free, unlimited access to the full archive. It’s like having a virtual library at your fingertips! Each issue of the Journal is full of tips you need to be a better fundraiser!
Saad & Shaw: What about the upcoming conference? What can prospective attendees anticipate learning?
Jennifer Emiko Boyden: The Money for Our Movements conference is different from other fundraising conferences in terms of content and participation. The workshops emphasize developing revenue strategies hand-in-hand with political goals. We, provide a space for groups to come together to learn from one another and identify opportunities for peer support and collaboration. Our signature debate is always thought provoking and lots of fun, with debaters tackling some of the most pressing issues facing social justice fundraiser-activists. This year our keynote speakers, Saru Jayaraman and Attica Woodson Scott, will share their vision for how we continue to successfully build out collective resources in this particular moment. We take pride in the feedback we’ve gotten from conference participants—two-thirds of whom are people of color—who say that our conference is one of the few times they get to see themselves, their community and their values really reflected in fundraising.
Saad & Shaw: Thank you Jennifer.
Take a moment to visit GIFT online and subscribe to the journal.