My friend, Lisa Honig, and I had worked in social change nonprofits for several years when we started the Grassroots Fundraising Journal in 1981. We had often discussed creative ways to raise money and pondered how organizations committed to social justice could be financially independent.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s one idea that many organizations were exploring was to open up a business that would serve the community and also generate income. We considered opening a laundromat that would have a child-care room, a free phone, and resources such as information about how to qualify for welfare, or your rights as a tenant, or how to escape an abusive relationship. A laundromat was a great place to do organizing because it was a public place where people(particularly women) might have some time on their hands as their laundry was being done. We calculated the upfront costs and the possible profit.
For a number of reasons, we never started a laundromat, but our discussion and exploration caused us to reflect on our own experiences with grassroots fundraising, and to realize the power of grassroots fundraising in generating change, both from the financial resources generated, and the participation of everyday people in making change in their communities. We saw that many successful organizations already had this model in place, and that, in fact, even some very large institutions had started this way.
The books about fundraising that existed at that time were mostly focused on large mainstream institutions which were alien to our experience. Almost nothing had been written for organizations with few or no staff, no front money and no infrastructure. Yet those were the bulk of organizations we were a part of. We knew from experience that there was, in fact, a great deal of experience doing grassroots fundraising among small nonprofits, particularly those in marginalized or poor communities. This was largely an oral tradition and very little of it had been written down.
We decided to start writing stuff down—to document what we and others had learned. In 1982, we published the first edition of a bi-monthly paper magazine which we named the Grassroots Fundraising Journal. Early issues explored special events, finding larger gifts (defined at that time as gifts of $50 or more), asking for money in person, and how smaller nonprofits could use the mail and telephone to raise money. We never imagined it would last 36 years, would feature over 650 articles and more than 200 authors, would be used around the world. We couldn’t have imagined that it would explore almost every aspect of fundraising, including legacy giving, capital campaigns, and the burgeoning field of online fundraising, while keeping its constant focus on the needs of small organizations and presented through an anti-oppression lens focused on economic and racial justice.
After a few years, Lisa left the Journal to become a public interest attorney. Stephanie Roth joined the team in 1995, became the Editor-in-Chief a few years later, and took over as Publisher when I retired from that position in 2006. In 2009, the Journal merged with the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT). GIFT expanded the Journal, continuing a print publication but also creating a vibrant on-line presence, offering fundraising trainings, and creating a very popular bi-annual conference, Money for Our Movements. GIFT continued the commitment to social justice and focused on bringing people of color into fundraising and to amplifying the voices and experience of people of color in the nonprofit sector. After several years of internal challenges, GIFT and the Grassroots Fundraising Journal closed down all operations in 2019.
The Reach of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal
At its height, the Journal had almost 5,000 subscribers, with subscribers in all 50 United States, all ten Canadian provinces, and another 25 countries around the world. Surveys of readers showed a much larger reach, with each print copy of the Journal being passed to an average of four other people or organizations, and with many libraries reporting it was their most stolen publication. Articles were widely used by trainers and consultants and in readers for University courses. When articles became available digitally we had reports of the most popular topics being forwarded to dozens of people.
The Evolution of the Design of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal
For those interested in these arcane details, you’ll notice the change in the Journal’s cover design over the years.
We started with a simple newsletter format—the lead article on the cover page, and by the third year (1985) evolved to a distinctive cover (one that did not change from issue to issue, which allowed us to keep printing prices down). This style continued through Vol 15 (1996). We were able to buy recycled paper in great quantities doing it this way. We were praised by libraries and professors for the “professional look” (reflecting a slight surprise that ‘grassroots’ and ‘professional looking’ could go together!) However, readers complained that you could not tell one issue from another, and the cover printing was hard to read. One reader confessed that she tore the front cover off, turned it over to reveal the Table of Contents, and then stapled it back on.
In 1997, beginning with the Vol 16 #1, we changed the look of the Journal a great deal. We kept the typewriter font but moved to much lighter colors. Each issue was a different color, moving through a range of pastels, with a different type of tree marking each volume. Even though each issue had a drawing of a tree, we moved away from printing on paper from trees to paper from hemp or bamboo, depending on what we could find. We owe a great debt to our printer, Inkworks, which was a collective unionized green printer in Berkeley that printed for most Bay Area social justice organizations for 42 years . Constantly in search of more environmental ways to print, they experimented with many non-tree based papers as well as soy and other inks.
With Volume 20, # 1 (Feb 2001), we went to the format that would define the Journal for the rest of its life: a picture on the front cover. This was more expensive but readers really responded to it, plus it was very fun to profile the grassroots organizations, people and strategies that we were writing about.
With the advent of websites and social media, all of our articles became digital and available for sale individually. We created a robust and popular on-line presence which augmented the print Journal. Kim Klein created an on-line column called “Dear Kim” where people wrote with questions and she gave advice. Many of the questions submitted to ‘Dear Kim’ would later be expanded into articles.
A look at the covers is a trip down memory lane for those of us involved in creating the Journal or for long time subscribers (and we had many people and organizations that subscribed for decades). But it is also a lesson in how we all have to change and grow, while keeping clear about what the overall mission and purpose of our work is.
And now this publication that was in print for 37 years, reached thousands of subscribers and readers around the world, finds a permanent home in a cyberspace archive.