Valeriya's Experience at the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training

A few months back, thanks to the support of Michigan Voice, I had the deep honor of attending a retreat with the premier institution on grassroots fundraising training. 

The Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT) came to Grand Rapids to train a few dozen organizers from around the state of Michigan (including me), all at various stages in our fundraising journeys. GIFT "is a multiracial organization that promotes the connection between fundraising, social justice and movement-building... [They] 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."

DJJ concurs! We've been working hard to build a sustainable funding model since our inception a little over three years ago. We've learned that in order to not only survive but also thrive, we need to rely on grassroots community support from the Metro Detroit Jewish community to do the bold, transformative, long-term power-building that moves the needle on racial and economic justice.

GIFT's training walked participants through honest conversations about our relationships with money, the philanthropic landscape nationally, and how grassroots fundraising can be a way to build power in community by inviting deeper personal stake in the folks who make up your leadership core and broader base. GIFT's work builds capacity for organizations focused on social justice, based in communities of color. Their trainers are some of the best development professional/organizer fusion mensches in the country, and their cutting edge pedagogy empowered and energized me to think creatively on how to meet the DJJ budget every year. I feel so blessed to have been a part of this transformative experience.

I've been joking to the powerhouses on the DJJ fundraising team recently that I love fundraising so much because I've been doing it my whole life. From navigating my school's free lunch system to asking my neighbors to support my extracurricular activity fees, the working class hustle was a lifelong primer for the ways I'm supporting DJJ's development work. I realize now that I only started to quip this after the GIFT training. At the training, I examined my class of origin and current class positionality and explored how it and other identities affect my view on resourcing Metro Detroit Jewish movement work. After a day of unpacking our personal contexts, we were equipped with the concrete, nitty gritty tools that a development professional/organizer needs to meet their goals. This holistic approach to supporting the hearts and minds of grassroots fundraisers helped me feel seen in my complexity and deeply accountable to devising anti-racist fundraising strategies for my community.

One of my roles in DJJ is to support staff and leaders to survey our community's resources, develop strategic narrative about why funding our work is so important, build relationships by leveraging that narrative, and feel empowered to make asks rooted in those deep relationships. Sound familiar? You might even say that fundraising = organizing. When we launched our first peer-to-peer crowdfunding campaign last December, we told the leaders who dove into the beta test that they were "conduits to the DJJ mitzvah." Thanks to GIFT, I feel more empowered to more deeply amplify the work of these conduits -- our amazing leaders -- and manifest more mitzvahs. 

Want a taste of GIFT's worldview? Check out this excerpt from "CONVERSATIONS IN ABUNDANCE AND WEALTH: HOW WE STAY GROUNDED AND VISIONARY AS GRASSROOTS FUNDRAISERS" by Sophia Kizilbash (of the Native Youth Leadership Alliance) 

"When I lead from my visionary self, my view is clear to the horizon.  I see the star patterns and the complex beauty of full night sky.  I am a whole and complete person, and my energy is rooted in my power, agency and my highest self.  In our Native Youth Leadership Alliance community, abundance shows up in the synergy of our relationships, how we are able to bring our gifts fully to the table and see dimensions others of us don’t have eyes to see.  Our energy is rooted in the inherent power of what we are creating, and we steward the resources that come with this higher vision in mind.

When scarcity creeps in, internalized oppression creeps in with it and wreaks its havoc.  Where in abundance I can only see the horizon, with scarcity, I can only see my feet.  I open the door to my day and – boom! I easily get triggered by all the landmines around me of inequality, structural barriers, small mindedness and insecurities.  I spend up all my energy in a short amount of time, feel depleted and find myself surrounded by people who only want to me to eat from the same side of the mushroom, to be small so others don’t feel out of proportion."

anais nin


"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 are not applicable to grassroots groups, especially those challenging and changing the status quo." Sourced from this link

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