How a low-income-led group handles fees for events

No Class and Resources for Organizing and Social Change (ROSC), our parent group, have a policy of always charging on a sliding scale for our events. In most cases, we just tell people the cost is $0-20 or, in the case of our organizer training weekend, a cost of $10-80, since we want everyone to have a small financial commitment to attending. It sometimes confuses people the first time they see the numbers. “You mean, I can decide what I can afford to pay and pay that?” they might ask. We offer to help them raise that money if they need... Read More

The Season of Giving Differently

I’ve now been a fundraiser for 25 years and a donor for much longer than that.  I remember when I was invited to sit on a panel with a couple other major donors of color, and I was asked if I’d change anything about how I was asked for money.  I said, “Yes, absolutely.”  The audience listened attentively. “When I was a CEO, making lots of money, I was rarely approached at events. I was never courted to be a major donor and I found that surprising.  I believe it was because folks assumed I didn’t have money as a... Read More

Groveling for the Greater Good

I’ve been fundraising for nonprofits for 15 years now, mostly for homeless youth and families. When I started fundraising, my bible was the now classic “Fundraising for Social Change” by Kim Klein. Klein taught grassroots fundraising strategies that were developed during the 1970’s, the peak of middle-class prosperity in the U.S. These strategies are ethical and anti-classist. Also: they no longer work. Since the book was published in 1988, both the government safety net and the middle class have been gutted. 15 years ago, you could fund a nonprofit with lots of little checks from ordinary people in the working... Read More

Echoing in the Streets: Growing Racial Wealth Gap

    As protesters march through our cities, a new study dramatizes that at the heart of our racially fractured society is a hidden system of racial wealth inequalities. The marches in the streets may have been provoked by police conduct in Fergusson and Staten Island. But there is a deeper dream that has been deferred. The gap between white wealth and Black wealth has grown since the end of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, the 2013 median wealth of white households is 13 times greater than the median wealth of Black... Read More

Spare Some Change? Institutional Change Must Be Guided By Leadership Who Listen

Many years ago, I worked in a shelter that served chronically homeless women. My organization focused on supporting the rights and self-determination of our clients as we kept the peace and built trusting relationships. Unfortunately, the agencies charged with serving people who are vulnerable and in need of great service are often led by people blind to their classism and ignorance of the lives of their clients. We were a small, somewhat radical stepchild of a national organization. We took a harm-reduction philosophy toward addiction and homelessness, were the only women’s shelter in our city in 2002 that accepted gender... Read More

How the non-homeless talk about homeless people

I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was this bad! I had a chance to ask over 500 people to write down the most classist comment they had ever heard. Because the host was Real Change, Seattle’s wonderful street paper, which is sold by homeless and formerly homeless vendors, lots of the classist comments were clueless things said about homeless people. Two Real Change vendors reported these comments were said directly to them: • “You can’t be homeless – you have a smart phone.” • An apartment building owner who was giving me a ride in his Mercedes... Read More

The Benefit of the Doubt: Homelessness and Trust Stigma

I have heard some homeless people tell me that they get the police called on them ten times a day. Not for any good reason, of course, but because the place that I live (Sarasota, Florida) happens to have an enormous class rift: an abnormally large homeless population and a swath of wealthy tourists. After responding to a 9-11 call and finding nothing wrong, a police officer might sit in their car for hours, watching the crowd of homeless people and waiting for something to happen. And when something does happen—even something as innocent as having a dog off the... Read More

“Tell me more about your social class”

It was a long time ago. The first time that I strongly expressed my opinion about how human behavior varies depending on social class was in a job interview at a car manufacturer in the marketing department. I vividly recall suggesting that the company’s advertisements reflect upper-middle class father figure stereotypes. You know the type, a successful male with a decent job, enjoying his privilege, oh, and he’s having a pleasant, relaxing evening with his kids at home. All of this status and happiness mirrored in the polished exterior of the vehicle. My motivation for the marketing concept at the... Read More
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