How I Came to Ask for Money- Kim Klein

Almost everyone I know, in whatever profession, will be asked a few predictable questions. For example, a gardener friend says people always ask, “Is it fun to be outside all day?” and a high school principal friend says the main question is, “What are the biggest discipline problems you have?”

Here’s the question I am most often asked: “How did you get into this line of work?” Of course, what people really want to know is, “Why would someone purposely choose to have as a career asking people for money?” But, taking the question at face value, what most people don’t realize is that getting into fundraising is easy: few people want to do it, and everyone appreciates someone who will. Moreover, staying in fundraising is even easier: most people who volunteer to help with one event or one campaign soon learn that their reward will be more events and more campaigns.

I want to reflect not so much on how I got into fundraising, but why I stay in it and have stayed in it, one way or another, for 45 years.

In 1976, I entered the Pacific School of Religion intending to get a Master of Divinity and eventually to be ordained in the Methodist Church. A number of things closed that door, but another door opened immediately, and that was fundraising. While at the divinity school, my work-study job was at the Center for Women and Religion, an underfunded voice for feminism in ministry. I learned my first fundraising lesson there, as I watched the three main staff become increasingly frazzled seeking foundation funding while trying to run programs. 

At the same time, I began volunteering at a newly opened shelter for survivors of domestic violence (or, as we said then, “battered women”) called La Casa de Las Madres in San Francisco. Since I was a divinity student, I was asked to help raise money from churches and synagogues. I had no idea how to do that, so I wrote a pompous and pious essay called, “Towards A Feminist Theological Approach to Ending Battering.”

My essay argued that violence against women was rooted in patriarchy, that all women are battered women in some ways, and that religion had allowed, caused, and tolerated violence against women for its entire existence and this violence had to stop. I said that La Casa was a place of healing ministry 24 hours a day and support for our work was an act of repentance and transformation.

I circulated this essay to women’s groups in houses of worship; amazingly, many of these groups then asked me to speak in person on the topic and gave La Casa $50 or $100 as an honorarium for my speech. Sometimes the church or the synagogue would make a bigger donation, and almost all of them gave a lot of in-kind things — food and clothes for the women and children in the shelter, access to phones and typewriters, postage stamps, and so on. I soon realized that everyone knew women in violent relationships and a domestic violence program didn’t need a theological justification — it needed money to expand and ways to replicate itself in other towns and cities.


I moved on from La Casa to help start another shelter in Oakland, which we called A Safe Place. Both of these organizations still exist, much bigger, much better funded. 

All the fundraising we did in these two groups we made up as we went along. I decided to learn more about fundraising by apprenticing myself to someone who was good at it and who worked in a traditional and successful environment. I approached the Director of Development at Pacific School of Religion, Dick Schellhase, and basically told him that if he would take me everywhere he went, I would do anything he said. PSR was just beginning a $13 million capital campaign, and I got to help with that campaign as well as assist with all the ins and outs of the annual fund. Dick was a great teacher, and he taught me the ropes of traditional fundraising. He also arranged for me to attend a five-day class of the very new FundRaising School, founded by Hank Rosso and Joe Mixer. Hank became my mentor, and some years later I began teaching with him at the school. 

In 1978, I got my first job as a development director with the Coalition for the Medical Rights of Women in San Francisco. It had just received a three-year grant from the San Francisco Foundation to hire a development director and pay some program and fundraising costs. The challenge was to move the Coalition from almost total reliance on foundations to almost total reliance on membership for all its operating costs and ongoing programs. The amount of the grant went down by half each year, and the idea was that grassroots fundraising would increase by at least 50 percent each year to make up the difference.

We were able to become quite self-sufficient over the three years and, more important, during that time we tripled our budget! This showed me that not only could a social change group raise significant money from a broad base of members, but that in fact it was more lucrative to go that route.

By 1980, people were starting to ask me how the Coalition had done it, and I began to give talks on how to build a broad base of members. In early 1981, toward the end of our self-sufficiency drive, I was invited to attend a Training for Trainers program sponsored by a D.C. organization called the Youth Project and paid for by the Mott Foundation. At the first training, which lasted a week, twelve of us from all over the country gathered at a summer camp in the Wisconsin countryside. We were trained by some of the finest people in the business: Joan Flanagan, author of the first (and classic) book, The Grassroots Fundraising Book; Heather Booth and Karen Paget of the Midwest Academy; Si Kahn, an organizer and singer from North Carolina; Hulbert James, a long-time civil rights organizer; and Mary Harrington, who was the creator of this program.  

We learned about fundraising, organizing for change, and how to train others. Ice-breakers, games, role-plays, case studies, dyads and triads — all these were new training tools and we learned how to use them all. 

This group met again three times during the following two years. Part of the agreement for getting the training for free was being willing to conduct fundraising
trainings, so I started being a trainer. 

In the spring of 1981, with the self-sufficiency drive complete, I left the Coalition in the able hands of another fundraising coordinator and a great board and went out on my own as a consultant and fundraising trainer. I had met Lisa Honig some years earlier when she was the development director at Equal Rights Advocates, a public interest law firm in San Francisco. We were interested in figuring out more ways for social change groups to make money — especially ways that in themselves would help fulfill the group’s mission. 

We could see that creative fundraising was going to be a greater need as the country moved into the Reagan years and experienced the first round of profound government cutbacks in funding to social services. With the exception of Joan Flanagan’s book, The Grassroots Fundraising Book, the limited information that existed about raising money was written for organizations that were much larger and more mainstream — urban hospitals, universities and large arts organizations, such as symphonies and opera companies — than the organizations we worked with. In particular, there was almost nothing for grassroots organizations that were challenging the status quo. So, we decided to start a magazine, the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, whose sole job was to document the many ways social justice groups could raise money from individuals. Volume 1, Number 1 came out in February 1982.


Over the next ten years, I moved from one side of the country to the other. First, I moved from San Francisco to Inverness, a small agricultural community. There, while publishing the Journal and working with some of the many local nonprofits, I learned how rural and small-town fundraising differs from big city fundraising.

In 1986, I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where I served as the Executive Director of the newly formed Appalachian Community Fund (ACF). ACF was a member of the social change network called the Funding Exchange, whose member funds worked primarily with wealthy, progressive donors to raise money and with community activists to give away the money as grants to organizations working for social justice. ACF was working in the Appalachian counties of four states — Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. 


As fundraising got harder throughout the 1980s, it became clear that progressive foundations needed to ensure themselves of a steady income by creating endowments. Many resisted the notion of having endowments – money that was invested in “the system” in order to create interest – not wanting to imitate mainstream foundations. However, the ability of the Funding Exchange’s foundations to guarantee a certain amount of funding every year to the communities we served was difficult when each year our fundraising started at zero. ACF, for example, could grow to a decent size raising money in the region and from people who had left the region, but its ability to make a significant difference would require a much greater infusion of cash — cash that would come from the interest off an endowment.

To make this happen, June Makela, then the director of the Funding Exchange network in New York, and I proposed that all 14 funds of the Funding Exchange work together to raise $15 million over five years and then share the interest evenly. We argued that some regions, such as New England or San Francisco, would be able to raise money more easily than a region like Appalachia or the deeper south. Yet some of the money would come from fortunes directly or indirectly derived from mining or timber or cheap labor found in those very places. It was another way of redistributing wealth, which is the ultimate goal of progressive funding.

After a year of discussion, all 14 of the funds agreed to the plan, which was modified to a fundraising goal of $10 million over three years. I moved to New York City in 1989 to run this campaign — at that time the largest amount of money ever raised for something as left wing as the Funding Exchange.

It was not an easy task. The sheer size of the campaign brought out the best and the worst in all of us. Nonetheless, we managed to hold the fundraising together for the three years of the campaign and reached our goal. Most of the money came in gifts of at least $10,000; many were much higher. Most of the donors to the endowment were sophisticated and wanted this campaign to work, and most of the staff and boards of the local funds worked hard to see that it did.

As the endowment campaign wound down in 1992, I left the Funding Exchange, exhausted, but pleased with the success of the campaign. My partner, Stephanie Roth, and I took a year off and traveled around the world. Of course, you can’t really take time off from fundraising, so we did training and consultation in about 16 of the countries we travelled in, and learned even more about how local groups figure out how to raise money from their communities, often under very difficult circumstances. We came back to the United States in 1993 and settled in Berkeley.

Stephanie and I decided we would focus our attention on two things: the lack of racial diversity in the fundraising world, and expanding the reach of the Journal and our books on fundraising and social change. Over two decades, the fundraising profession had gone from a world of, mostly, white men to one of, mostly, white women. It was time for another sea change. We helped to start an organization called the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training, whose mission is to change the color of philanthropy by placing people of color in social justice organizations and teaching them to be fundraisers. We expanded the Journal, and we published several more books.  

The Grassroots Fundraising Journal is no longer in publication, but all articles are available free through a Creative Commons license at this website:


Much has changed over 45 years, largely with technology and the internet introducing a whole new set of strategies for fundraising and opening up many new ways of relating to donors.

Some things in the fundraising world haven’t changed at all, except perhaps to get worse: in that column I would put our continuing inability to talk about and deal honestly with money; the failure of our leaders and the nonprofit sector as a whole to demand progressive taxation and the restoration and expansion of government services; and the ongoing struggle of the fundraising profession to diversify across race and age.

Other things haven’t changed at all, except perhaps to get better: the generosity of people, particularly ordinary people with little or no discretionary money. The sector itself is challenging the traditional organization of boards and staff, trying out new models that might work better, and examining and attempting to dismantle the structures of white supremacy that inform so many of societal structures. And of course, there are vast quantities of information, in print and on-line, on all kinds of fundraising so that people don’t have to make it up as they go along.

What will never change? The best way to get money is to ask someone for it in person, and people feel good when they give. People want to be engaged, they want to be useful, they want to be appreciated, and they want the world to be better. Fundraising is the way to make all that happen.

I got into fundraising by chance; I stayed in it because it kept offering me adventures, particularly the ongoing greatest adventure of working for social change. At its core, progressive fundraising is about a radical redistribution of wealth. The ultimate goal is a society described in the Torah as one in which “The person who had little did not have too little, and the person who had much did not have too much,” and “Everyone beneath their vine and fig tree lived in peace and unafraid.”

This article originally appeared: Grassroots Fundraising Journal



Kim Klein, internationally known as a teacher and trainer, has been in fundraising for over four decades and has offered workshops at Rowe for over 20 years. She has a certificate in Spiritual Direction and believes the role of nonprofits is to, in the words of Peter Maurin, “create a world in which it is easy for a person to be good.” She has just completed the 8th edition of her classic book, Fundraising for Social Change. This edition is co-authored with Stan Yogi and amplifies examples of organizations and social movements who have demonstrated how raising money from individuals gives organizations maximum power and autonomy.

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