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  • Caryn Bosson

We all do better when we all do better: Kim Klein at Pepperdine

From the 1980s to the 2000s, my desk, at whatever nonprofit I was working at, always had a pile of well-thumbed issues of The Grassroots Fundraising Journal. This publication, featuring the sturdy wisdom of then-publisher Kim Klein, saw me through the basics of direct mail and direct asks, and working with board members — both reluctant and gung ho. So when I heard Kim Klein was presenting at the 10th annual Nonprofit Leadership Institute at Pepperdine University last week, I was there in a heartbeat.

At the event Klein asked the audience of nonprofit professionals and students some hard questions. For example, she asked, with the phenomenal growth in the nonprofit sector over recent decades, why haven’t we seen a comparable dent in indicators of health, education, justice, environment? Given that the sector is about providing solutions, we’d expect problems to decline as the number of nonprofits rose. Instead, if it were graphed, we’d see two parallel rising lines. Both the nonprofit sector, and the problems it’s addressing, are getting bigger.

Clearly something’s wrong with this picture. We posited answers. Is it because of the systems we work within? Is it because we’re not including the people who are vital to creating solutions — the people we serve, people of color, younger people? Or is it that the worldview of nonprofits — that there is such a thing as “the common good” worth fighting for — isn’t shared widely enough among the general population (our current Administration case in point)?

The work of nonprofits, Klein said quoting late Senator Paul Wellstone, is to put forward the idea that “we all do better when we all do better.” It rings true to me, but we have work to do to invite more people onto this philosophical bus.

I came away from this conference clearer about a few important realizations that will help my work in nonprofits:

  1. Nonprofits are in the relationship business, and those of us who work in this sector must get better at our relationship skills, including in our relationship with ourselves, so we can rise to the immense challenges of what is needed from us.

  2. People want to give money and we need to respect and reward them for that. 70% of Americans give — more than the percentage who vote.

  3. Diversity, inclusion and equity can’t be ignored any more and social justice can’t be delayed. Diverse voices are the future and the nonprofit sector needs to make room.

I can hardly wait to read my newly autographed copy of Kim Klein’s Fundraising for Social Change, 7th edition.

Thanks to Regan Schaffer, Dena Jenson, and Doug Green for putting on this wonderful annual event.

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