I just got home from Raising Change: A Social Justice Fundraising Conference, and my head is spinning with ideas and thoughts. The conference was amazing and filled with phenomenal organizers totally ready to geek out about grassroots fundraising for two days straight. It was great to be in a space with so many longtime grassroots activists (mostly people of color) talking about raising, mobilizing, and strategically using money to support a broad-based social justice movement.
It makes me sad how often people talk about fundraising like it’s the dirty work of a movement, totally disconnected from organizing and strategy. I care about grassroots fundraising (a.k.a. building support for an organization from a broad base of individuals, rather than from foundations) for the same reasons I was excited about starting Enough – because social movements need resources, and traditional philanthropy forces us to compromise our work far too much; because building sustainable alternatives to foundation-funded nonprofits is crucial in creating truly autonomous social justice organizations; because to resource movements in a grassroots way, we have to break taboos against talking openly about money and class; because we have to challenge racism and classism in our fundraising and funding if our goals are about social justice…I could go on.
Debriefing with a friend after the conference, I took this line of thinking even further and found myself talking lengthily about all the different ways that we on the Left let capitalism seep into our movements without always realizing it – how we continually push each other to work too hard, and often don’t have built-in ways of supporting each other through life crises or poverty or transitions, how we compete for resources rather than sharing and building coalitions, how we so often don’t think outside the nonprofit model when we’re building our organizations, how we let that limit what we do. Not all of these, obviously, are direct results only of capitalism, but I think it’s useful to look at these problems with capitalism in mind. I started thinking about this a lot after the U.S. Social Forum, where I was in a workshop led by several contributors to the book The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Nonprofit Industrial Complex. They spoke, in part, about social movements outside the U.S. and direct actions they’ve done that never would have been supported by foundations, but were extremely useful in building movements and achieving their goals. The point is not to romanticise movements that are totally underfunded, but to take a look at what can happen when organizers “think outside the box of capitalism,” and I want to think about what that could look like for our movements in the U.S.
The conference was organized by the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT), a multiracial organization that “promotes the connection between fundraising, social justice and movement-building.” Much of their work involves building the leadership of people of color as grassroots fundraisers and trainers, and working with organizations to make fundraising more grassroots and more connected to organizing and program. Part of what gets me so excited about fundraising from a broad base of individuals is that it necessitates communicating with a broad base, talking to folks about the work we’re doing, building relationships, staying in touch, making people feel involved enough to want to be members and supporters – which is the same thing as organizing. And doing it well means we have to get over our fears of talking about money, and be accountable to our base instead of elite foundations, and keep supporters engaged enough that they always want to be supporters – all of which makes us even better organizers. I’m so glad that so many people are having these conversations, and I hope we also continue to explore this stuff on Enough.