Closing the Resource Gap

Closing the Resource Gap

January 19, 2023
76 minutes

Kia Croom · The Black Fundraisers' Podcast, Founder | For fundraisers everywhere, our inherent identities and lived experiences often inform our drive and desire to make an impact in the nonprofit space. Kia Croom is a champion for uplifting the identities and experiences of historically-underrepresented fundraisers, with a specific emphasis on ending anti-Black racism and philanthropic injustice. Tune in to hear Kia speak about the urgent need for accessibility, strategy, and thought leadership to close nonprofit resource gaps! And wait until the end of the episode for a bonus interview with Kim Bersin from the Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit!


Over the last few years, the United States has experienced a nationwide reckoning against racism and racial injustice. And while we've witnessed many steps forward towards antiracism, every sector has a long way to go to close the resource gaps created by structural racism.

Kia Croom is leading the fight against anti-Black racism in the nonprofit industry.

After twenty years of experience as a development executive and philanthropic strategist, Kia founded The Black Fundraisers' Podcast in 2021 to celebrate, inspire, uplift, and equip Black fundraisers with tools to "excel and positively impact Black communities." And we can all get behind that.

Through authenticity, radical honesty, and personal liberation—Kia has built a new table of access and resources for underrepresented fundraisers who historically have not been offered a seat.

Listen in as Kia talks to David Schwab about how nonprofit donors are directly involved in creating meaningful social change.

And if this episode gets you excited about moving the needle to increase representation and resources in nonprofit fundraising, be sure to create your Funraise free account to get started making the change you wish to see in the world.


Hello, I'm Justin Wheeler, and welcome to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit!

If you've been a regular listener to the podcast, you know that it's a pretty cool time to be involved in the nonprofit space. As the industry has innovated and everything has gone digital, savvy nonprofiteers have developed the tools and the technology needed to make supporting a nonprofit organization easier (and more relevant) than ever before.

But for many folks who work in the nonprofit industry—specifically those with marginalized or historically-oppressed identities—tools and technology is not enough. To close the nonprofit resource gap, we need to increase accessibility, mutual collaboration, and supportive allyship.

Today's guest has spent the last twenty years advocating for access and racial justice in philanthropy in an effort to combat inequities that prevent nonprofit fundraisers from reaching their goals.

Kia Croom is a development executive, digital marketer, podcast host, and philanthropic strategist who is passionate about supporting Black-led nonprofits and combating anti-Black racism. Throughout her career, she has raised close to $400 million dollars for nonprofits fostering social change nationwide.

As a champion for underrepresented fundraisers everywhere, Kia has built an infrastructure of support for nonprofiteers facing unconscious bias by disrupting the systems in which bias and philanthropic injustice are fostered.

In this episode, you’ll hear from Funraise's Director of Growth Marketing, David Schwab  talk with Kia to discuss how to close nonprofit resource gaps through accessible information, philanthropic strategy, and diverse thought leadership. Later in the episode, you'll hear my interview with Kim Bersin, Chief Strategist at Donor Speak Consulting, from the Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit!

Let's dive in!

David Schwab Kia, thank you so much for joining us today on the nonstop nonprofit podcast. For those in our audience who I am, a new face, new voice, too. My name is David Schwab. I am director of Marketing and Growth at Funraise. We have a scrum on our podcast today who is one of the most well versed and one of the best brains and fundraising that I know. I'm so excited for my first time on the podcast to also be her first time on the podcast. And I think we're going to have a really awesome conversation, and I think there's going to be a lot to learn and a lot to enjoy. So, Kia, thank you for taking time with us. You have decades of fundraising experience in all capacities as leaders within organizations, as a consultant, and even now as as the leader of your own organization. So I'm really excited to have you on, but you share your wisdom and your experience with our audience and learn some stuff from you. What we're having our conversation today.

Kia Croom I love it. Thank you. I'm so excited to be here. This is the highlight of my week.

David Schwab Awesome. Well, Kia, as you know, the topic of our podcast this season is conversations with innovative, nonprofit leaders about what they're doing to change the way they do fundraising or change the way they deliver programs or change the way they serve their their clients and their audience or engage donors and supporters. And there are few people I know of in the sector who are doing more innovative things than you are right now. So thank you so much for joining. I am excited to have you as really the first voice in this conversation with us from from your seat. So I've talked enough about you. I think it's your turn. Why don't you give us an intro? Tell us a little bit about yourself. What got you into the nonprofit sector? What kind of fundraising have you done, what seats of you held? And then specifically with your your passion of equipping, under-resourced nonprofits, how have you helped and gotten plugged into that?

Kia Croom Yes. So I sit here wearing two hats. I sit here as the president and CEO of Key Crowe Fundraising and Philanthropy, a fundraising firm, a black woman owned fundraising firm that works exclusively with nonprofits, advancing racial justice or responding to structural inequities impacting black and brown communities. I also sit here with you as the program director and founder of Fundraising in Black, an organization that functions to teach people of color led and people of color serving nonprofits how to effectively fundraise to advance their missions and movements. And I'm proud to have been working in this space for the last 21 years. It has been a real journey. I got my start. I tell people, I got my teeth could, if you will, in fundraising back in ooh. I want to say the early 2000s in metro Atlanta. I started out fundraising in grass roots community based nonprofits, and at that time there weren't very many faces like mine. There weren't very many black or minority fundraisers in the space. And I love the work and know I loved Impact, right? I loved being able to respond to needs in the community. I loved working and seeing people wish, you know, I called the least of society, people that are housing insecure and food insecure and eating food, right. And getting house and resource people that are coming home from having done beats in prison and being supported and reintegrating back into the community. And in all of my passion and given my lived experience with poverty, having grown up in the eighties, I'm a baby. I grew up in East Oakland in the height of the war on drugs. I remember what that did to my community, right? I remember days when I was hungry and days when my family was living in a motel room, you know, my mother, my sister and I. So you parlayed all of that experience, that lived experience with passion. And what I found is a real give talent and skill of resourcing these types of organizations and movements. I couldn't ask for anything better. I sit here before you having raised $400 million over the last 21 years, and I'm just incredibly full and proud of that. And I'm on my journey to work with companies like fund raise. To work with nonprofits that are really. Committed to improving outcomes for people and communities of color to liberate folks. And I'm taking anybody that wants to be on that train and journey with me.

David Schwab I'm just saying, holy smokes, you've raised nearly half a billion dollars in your career to advance the cause of nonprofit organizations serving the people who need it most. That's why I came back to the sector, is we could use what we do. You could use your talents and your gifts to go make someone a lot more money and probably do better for yourself. But the fact that at the end of the day, you can look back on your career and you can say, look at the impact. I love that word impact that you have made. And I know I know that's not what you do. You don't look you don't go back to say, hey, look what I did, but I have to stop and celebrate the fact that you're on pace to raise over half a billion dollars for nonprofits and people worldwide. That's an incredible career. So so that's something to celebrate in. And I just am more excited now than ever to pick your brain and let you share your wisdom with our audience. It leads me to my next question using the sum of your experience and is a marketer, I always love a good origin story that you just shared. So your experience and your origin story, how is that going to impact the way you build up and grow your new organization?

Kia Croom Yeah, I mean, I think that that lived experience is critical. And I'm going to be honest with you, David, I don't think that our sector, the nonprofit sector nor the philanthropy sector does a good enough job of centering on the lived experience. Right. I think that we've been very elitist in celebrating, you know, folks, based on the credentials they have. Right. If you're a CFR re or a Ph.D.. I tell people I'm from the school of Hard Knocks. I got into Ph.D. having grown up where I grew up and seen things that I had no business seeing as a kid, things that you preach to your babies, by the way, you have beautiful, beautiful babies, those precious babies. You know, nobody was there to protect me from some of the things that I experienced growing up. And the same is true for the organizations that I encounter. These are individuals that are going into nonprofit service and nonprofit leadership because they've experienced, like Jay-Z said, you know, Hard Knock Life. They grew up food insecure. They grew up having lived in poverty. They grew up with family members experiencing incarceration or contending with mental illness and addiction. They might have been sexually assaulted or whatever the case may be. They're bringing that lens and that lived experience to the world. And I am working to shine a light on that and ensure their voices rise and leverage. That is a strategy ripe for fundraising that looks and feels very authentic, right? Well, we know that there's all these great pedagogies and strategies. You do this. You said, I think that we need to celebrate and center these voices. And a lot of these voices are very diverse people, people of color in this space that bring their lives. And that's who I want to work with. That's who I want to to scale, to be the best fundraisers they can be because their missions and movements are relying on it and their people in the community are relying on it. We have to be the change that we want to see, and that's why I'm doing this.

David Schwab I love that last part. We have to be the change that we want to see. I'm going to ask a question here and I hope the heart of it comes through well, because you talked about folks that come up through the school of hard knocks and having been in the for profit sector for many years and plugged into the nonprofit sector for the last half decade, I will say I have never worked with smarter, more talented, more hardworking, innovative, brilliant people than those who work at nonprofit organizations because they needed the services when they were coming up, growing up, or at some point in their life turning around and delivering those services. How can people like me who didn't come up through the school of hard knocks and have had fortunate careers and now sit in positions of influence in the sector and in in the market? How can we become better allies to nonprofit organizations, specifically nonprofit organizations that are under underprivileged? Or under-resourced. How can we collaborate? How can we partner? How can we do this better? Because we need to do this better.

Kia Croom Yeah, I think that for me, David, it's about access, right? And we've talked before and we talked about it. There are rules that I'm not right. There are rooms that I don't even necessarily know exist. Right. There are conferences that I don't even necessarily know exist where you are knowledgeable and whether it's tech like I don't claim to be the most tech savvy fundraiser. Right. I rely on people like you that have an incredible brain trust, that are in my network that I can leverage to find out what toe, what tools, what I might need to consider integrating in my tech stack. Right? What I might consider to more effectively do my work or to offer the best donor experience to donor prospects or even existing donors. Right. So what I would say is this is you and those that are interested in really demonstrating allyship make a commitment. You can't work with absolutely everybody. But what's an interesting organization that you can work with, that you're invested in that mission that you can partner with or mentor or even I use the word sponsoring, not in the sense that everybody thinks about right when I say sponsor, I mean, if a speaking opportunity comes up, right. That would be an exceptional opportunity for a people of color, a black led nonprofit or a black voice or a brown voice. To be in that conversation, you say, you know what? I know T and crew. She runs an amazing organization called Fund Raising in Black. Got to get her involved here. Do you mind if I introduce you to her? You know the rest, right? That sponsorship, that Ally share is how things happen. It's like I explain to somebody my name can get on a list, you know? Like before I decided to become a full time entrepreneur and open a black woman own fundraising firm. I was in the job market applying for a peace and development director jobs. And there's a wonderful white male ally in my network named Chef Shai Foods at the Veritas Group. You know, he has never been afraid to lift my name, right? Whenever he has the opportunity, I know somebody, you know that makes a difference. My name can get on the list, but it takes a person. It takes a person's allyship and sponsorship even to create an opportunity for me. And I think that that's what it's about and that's how it happens.

David Schwab Wonderful. Thank you. I think a great segway into some of our other questions here today. Building off of that is bringing the lens back to to you and your organization, what you've done in your career. How do you see leaders in your space like you outside of allyship and people doing what they should and sharing your voice and bringing you alongside and bringing you up? [00:13:37]How have you seen leaders and how have you successfully navigated getting seats at those tables or getting to be on those lists or part of those conversations? Asked another way, how have you seen specifically minority-led organizations close some of that resource or access gap? [18.2s]

Kia Croom You know what David, I'm really encouraged and empowered right now because I see it before you as somebody who says, you know what, I've had enough of begging, literally everything, but literally saying, hey, please, please give me a job! Please give me an interview, right. You know, I've done everything I can do and dominant philanthropy because of unconscious biases, because we know that people of color, there's a dearth of us in leadership within philanthropy agencies and there's a dearth of us in leadership roles in nonprofits, right. Unconscious bias rears its ugly head and pushes people like me out of those opportunities. There are people that are more concerned about my funky little haircut and the color of my nails right, than they're interested in what I have to say. Because I don't necessarily look like a traditional nonprofit executive. I'm a disruptor. I'm not meant to. And I have to embrace that and as I said, I'm encouraged a moment ago because there are black-led, brown-led, minority-led, people of color-led, however you slice it, BIPOC-led organizations, BIPOC founders that are saying, you know what, screw this. I'm not asking for a seat at this table anymore. I'm going to create my own damn table and I'm going to create my own chair and pull it up. I don't care if it's a foldout table and I got to fold up lawn seat. I'm setting up shop right here, and whoever wants to join me can join me at this table. And that's where we're beginning to see traction. When we stop begging for bones, right and asking these actors that are in place to consider us for opportunities and create our own. That's the way that it's happening right now and I'm so encouraged because I've never met more founders of color. I'm talking about people that care about humanity that could be making tons of money, doing other stuff, but saying, You know what? This is what I want to do and this is what I'm going to do and I'm not turning down nothing but my collar. I'm going in here and I'm going to go for the resources violently. And I don't mean violently in a sense that you're causing any harm to anybody, but violently meaning I'm going to take it by force. I'm not going to wait for somebody to peg me on my head and give me a tree. And that's how it's happening and I'm and I couldn't be more encouraged by it.

David Schwab I'm picking up something in what you're saying that I've been begging, praying, dreaming of for this sector in that. For so long, I've seen nonprofit leaders and nonprofit organizations operate from a sense of fear or scarcity. There's not enough resources, there's not enough access, there's not enough tools, there's not enough funding. And I've been challenging leaders in this space to operate out of a mindset of abundance. You know, we're looking this year at you know, we're in one of the hardest economies we've ever been in, but we're also seeing some of the highest levels of philanthropy ever. Right. So I just love what you're saying, like coming at this from a place of encouraged and empowered, expecting success and creating your own opportunities. That is so, so important and so powerful and so important for this sector right now. I think we can see a fundamental shift in the success and the impact nonprofit organizations have. If we make that subtle but important mindset shift where this is mine for the taking rather than I'm, I'm lucky to have anything. It's a hard mindset shift to make, particularly in the way that the sector's run and leaders have been conditioned. But I think with with voices like yours and leaders like yours changing the way you start organizations, changing the way you lead organizations, I'm excited to see what the next generation of nonprofit leaders bring to the table and how you impact lives. So I want to dig in a little bit on resources. Go Queer. Your website is already just a masterclass in resources on its own information and strategies and thought leadership. What else can we do to provide resources? How can we better distribute those resources? Where can other leaders like yourself or people like me who want to want to learn more about fundraising? Like where are the best places you've seen to go to one, get access to those resources, but also what are the best resources you've found?

Kia Croom So a couple of things. I mean, the resources that I found, the connections that I was fabulous with great people like you has just come really organic to me. I'm just trying to stay plugged in, working my network on LinkedIn. I've been in pursuit of information because I'm always trying to learn to do things more efficiently. I'm one person right on a mission here, so I seek out very purposefully folks like you, right, that have an incredible brain trust. Incredible resources for folks like yourself that want to plug into community with folks like me. There are incredible spaces. One group that I plug into, for instance, I plug into all kinds of diversity organizations like the Women of Color of Fundraising in philanthropy. I did a session yesterday in their symposium. I moderated a session on courageous conversations on DNI, how to navigate those conversations. Right. There are all sorts of incredible groups like that fundraising in Black, the organization. And I found it in terms of engaging minorities and sowing into their famine right where they might have famine, where they might have needs, where they might. You know, there's new tech resources, new developments. You all published The Incredible Toolkit not too long ago. Those tool charts and those resources go a long way for organizations like ours that don't necessarily have the means to hire a tech consultant. Right. To learn how to drive better conversions or optimize our donor experiences. So, you know, continuing in the vein that you're raising and providing resources for nonprofits that are really out here on the ground, in the trenches, doing the work so that they can deliver right in and provide a great donor experience so that they can better manage your data behind the scenes in terms of, you know, a CRM and so that they can get these things under wraps so that they can get into the work of changing lives and changing communities. You know, I know that my fundraising program is well resourced. I've got best in class tech resources. I've got best in class tactical strategies. I'm encouraged. And I can start to the to the business of changing lives and improving outcomes for people, liberating people that need liberation. Those things will move mountains for communities like mine.

And now, enjoy this segment sponsored by Funraise, the world's most innovative and friendly nonprofit fundraising platform. Nonstop Nonprofit recently took our podcast on the road to NextAfter’s 2022 NIO Summit in Kansas City, MO. At the conference, I had a chance to catch up with Kim Bersin, Chief Strategist at Donor Speak Consulting LLC. Listen in as Kim breaks down the donor journey!

Justin Wheeler Kim, thank you so much for stopping by the podcast. How are you?

Kim Bersin I'm great. It's an amazing time at this conference and I'm just really lucky to be here.

Justin Wheeler What's been one of the tip, quick tip you've gotten so far from the conference, the first couple of speakers?

Kim Bersin I think the room, you know, it's terrible, but I don't remember the speaker's name. Yeah, but he's a psychologist. He just talked a lot about the different kind of the unconscious world that goes on when someone's navigating, you know, anything. And so it's just a reminder that marketing really at the foundation is psychology and that you have to kind of market to a specific person. You use kind of what you know, the reasons why people give in your communications.

Justin Wheeler Yeah, super interesting. I actually was talking to an individual earlier who does door-to-door fundraising in Germany. And he talked a lot about like sort of the psychology of like giving the psychology of fundraising going to it. Wow. Okay. So tell us a little bit about yourself. I always like to start off with like why nonprofits? Like why do you care about nonprofits? Why are you helping nonprofits? So that's sort of that story. And then what you do.

Kim Bersin Sure. So I am a nonprofit enthusiast. I grew up in nonprofits. I like to say, in my career I started I kind of fell into it and I fell into the marketing and the fundraising, you know, part of the nonprofit. And I just never left. It really felt right. I went to school for psychology, and so it kind of just brought me naturally to this place where we're talking to people and engaging them in inspiring their generosity. And I've never looked back. And now, you know, I was in the trenches of fundraising and marketing at an international nonprofit for the first decade of my career. And now I'm consulting. But I wouldn't do it for anyone else but nonprofits because I love inspiring generosity. I love helping nonprofits make more revenue. I like to say that revenue makes my heart flutter, and it really does because I know what it's going to do and I know how it's going to impact the world.

Justin Wheeler How did a nonprofit like your your clients respond to that? Because, I mean, obviously, fundraisers, they know they have to raise money. But I've noticed that, like, all right, maybe more historically, more so, but like, nonprofits kind of get weird when you talk about money. And so like, how do they respond to that? Like, revenue makes my heart flutter. Like, do they get it? Do they appreciate it?

Kim Bersin Yeah, I work pretty much with development and fundraising professionals, so it makes their heart flutter, too. Yeah. Yeah. And they know, you know, what the bottom line is? It's not about the revenue. It's about the people or the cause that's being helped and elevated because of the revenue and because of inspiring that generosity. And I think sometimes, you know, we think about fundraising in kind of a negative sense that we're hounding people to give, but really in the best sense, we're giving them the opportunity to do something bigger than themselves and to impact the world. And I think that's a really important opportunity for people because we all want to find meaning and we all want to have an impact.

Justin Wheeler Absolutely. And you work with development teams. What's sort of like the core areas that you focus on in your consulting, like one of the areas that you really specialize in?

Kim Bersin So I specialize in strategic planning, specifically around direct response, but also building donor journeys that are really donor-centric and make sure that cultivation is at the forefront, not just the fundraising. And then I also do copywriting and really any kind of marketing task or fundraising task that somebody has. But overall, I specialize in digital.

Justin Wheeler Got it. Cool with that. I'd be curious to hear like any trends that you're seeing or campaigns that like either you've you've helped lead, create or just things have caught your eye in nonprofit fundraising that you think is worth sharing.

Kim Bersin Yeah. So I'm going to go rogue and I'm going to tell you something in the for profit that I think nonprofits should be doing more. So, you know, we all know that CTV is kind of the growing trend that nonprofits can get a huge, you know, return on ad spend, not directly, but kind of in the digital sphere from CTV. And recently, I was targeted for a lending club. I just bought a house, a new house. So, you know, they're coming at me for a mortgage. And the ad had a particular kind of an old-school celebrity, but I know who they were. I'm in my thirties. I'm pretty sure they use that person and they targeted me because I would know that person. Yeah. And then, you know, as I was looking at the CTV ad, I go on my phone and I'm scrolling and an Instagram ad comes up with the same celebrity, the same kind of stick that they had. And I immediately recognized it from and I was only half listening to this ad, you know, with with commercials. I'm not really focused. I'm doing other things. You know, I'm a millennial, so I'm doing ten things at once. Yeah, but I, I absolutely 100% noticed it. And I just kept getting followed around, followed around, followed around with this. Same schtick and the same, you know, nonprofits do this. It's not new that we're retargeting and we're building the retargeting pools and we're following people around. But this was such a seamless donor journey that I 100% know this brand now. Like, the awareness is there.

Justin Wheeler It's almost like they accelerated the awareness because it sounds like this all happened pretty quickly.

Kim Bersin Very quickly and very comprehensively and all with the same story. Yeah. So it was very memorable versus just, you know, kind of disjointed.

Justin Wheeler Yeah. It was like a bunch of, like, random as large. It was like it was it was very cohesive. Yeah.

Kim Bersin And it was a storyboard onslaught.

Justin Wheeler Yeah. Okay. Have you have you tried implementing that with any of your clients?

Kim Bersin Yeah. So one of the things I do is, is help with the donor journey. And this is something that I really suggest to all of my clients, but also something I'm speaking about tomorrow is just really filling the top of the funnel with qualified people that might be interested in your your program. And so, you know, I got to a place when I was transforming a digital program where we just hopped out. We couldn't, you know, buy out anymore CRM. You know, there was no more demand for the brand. And so we had to kind of, you know, tried new things, new channels to try to get more awareness so that it would drive those lower funnel channels. Yeah. And so we did that through comprehensive donor journeys where it wasn't just CTV, but then it was a second touch, a third touch and more to really bring them along the donor journey.

Justin Wheeler Yeah. Interesting. There's, you know, there's a lot of talk and like, marketing about like, sort of like. Yeah. Is it a marketer's role to, like, capture demand or to create demands? And so how does that sort of like play out in your own marketing efforts?

Kim Bersin I think it's both. You know, I think that if it's one, we're kind of missing out. Yeah. You know, you can probably capture that demand for so long. And then again, you kind of top out and you need to create the demand. Yeah.

Justin Wheeler Okay. Well, how does the nonprofit know if they have like if they've peaked in terms of like, you know, their their ad spends or, you know, that they've hit the kind of like threshold their audience, like any like any practical like nuggets there that like help organizations understand when they've maybe peaked and like it's on about spending more. It's just about, you know, efficiencies maybe like more mid funnel with like with like all the prospects you're driving.

Kim Bersin Yeah, I think, you know, it comes down to what your, your most important KPIs are. And when those aren't growing anymore, then it's time to kind of reinvest and maybe try new things. And so one of the big things that I try to push nonprofits on is to make sure that it's not just a great return on ad spend, but that they're actively getting new donors because sometimes your ad spend is so good and so efficient that you're not throwing the net wide enough to get new donors. Yeah. And so when you're increasing your spend to a certain point and you're not getting those new donors or you're not getting, you know, the return on ad spend that might be, you know, a clue in that you need to create more demand on the brand to fuel those lower funnel channels.

Justin Wheeler Got it. Got it. So you mentioned earlier that you spent a decade working at a nonprofit international profit and now you're, you know, in the consulting role, you have a lot of experience in fundraising and marketing. So if you were to, like, go back to the beginning of your career, what would you tell yourself to do differently or to double down on as you've kind of gained more and more experience?

Kim Bersin I would definitely tell myself to take more risks. I think you know how I grew up in the nonprofit sphere. I have had leaders that were really risk averse and would kind of drill down on every detail of something and would really look at everything and, you know, direct response type measurements. And then I had leaders that really empowered me to take risk because without risk, there's not as much of a reward. Yeah. Some risks payout and some don't. And I think what I really learned is that the risks really pushed and empowered the growth of our digital program. And so I think I would go back and say, don't be so scared of the risk and don't be so scared of, you know, how this would be perceived if it didn't work. And instead kind of do your due diligence first, make sure your leadership knows what to expect the good in the bad and go for it.

Justin Wheeler Yeah, high marketing it needs to be. And it's hard because a lot of most of the times, like executives don't understand marketing and they think it's like a more of a binary, you know, type of thing, whereas like it's more of a lab, right? It's like we got to experiment with all different types of things to get that, to get the right sort of like results that were looking for it. Right. Very often. Is it like one thing versus another? It's it's a it's a it's a combination of experimenting and and but do you feel like you didn't like you mentioned in two different types of leaders, like one that like promoted, you know, more risk, one that like maybe discouraged it. Do you see this as a systemic problem in nonprofits today, like just the lack of like risk taking? Or was that just more your in your experience?

Kim Bersin I think it is. Those leaders that are really empowering you, I feel, are more rare where you can make a mistake and you truly don't have to be concerned about what comes next. Yeah. So I definitely think also, you know, the top leaders in an organization have a lot of pressure on them. They're probably getting pressure from the people above them, which makes them put the pressure on you. But I do think that it's something that is holding back nonprofits, and it's something that I kind of suss out as I'm working with nonprofits, too, to see what their capacity for risk or what their capacity even for, you know, data, you know, nonspecific data where we're kind of investing in one place, but you might see a revenue spike in another place. What's their comfort ability. Yeah, with that to see kind of where we can go because I feel that and I'm not a huge risk taker where I'm saying let's just throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. A lot of that's going to fall down on the floor. But taking those mitigate like mitigating those risks and taking those, you know, smart ways I think could really pay off and result in a huge increase in revenue.

Justin Wheeler Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's like creating a culture around failure, right, where it's like it's okay to fail. Like what? Like as long as we learn. Yeah. Like if we're going to work and try something that didn't work, why didn't it work? And if we get more of that type of culture within nonprofits and we'll see a lot more innovation. Yes, because I typically like that like fear of failure is what prevents innovation from happening.

Kim Bersin And I think it's like a fear of failure. But I think it's also sometimes the capacity of, you know, the other teams that might be working with a development team or a marketing team. They don't want to put in huge amounts of effort for an innovative project that may not have as much impact as the work that goes into it. And so I think that there is a little bit of that, too, where nonprofits are not staffed for innovation. And so they get, you know, the development team gets pushback on that.

Justin Wheeler Yeah, makes sense. One last question and we're going to do some rapid fire questions. Okay. But as we're, you know, coming out of the pandemic, whatever that means. Yeah, kind of like as like things are starting to normalize around around the country. Has it shaped like your the way that you consult to your clients any like learnings from the pandemic that like you've you've taken them like this has actually made me a better marketer a better fundraiser that we were sharing.

Kim Bersin Yeah. I think what was really an Aha moment for me, I was in nonprofit during the pandemic was that we always had the beneficiaries of our care and we always talked about what they needed. And when the pandemic hit, our donors were needy too. And I don't mean financially. I mean this was a big emotional toll for them. It was difficult to isolate. A lot of them were older donors, so they were more isolated. And we had to kind of turn to not only talk about caring about our beneficiaries, but we needed to actually care for our donors and put in, you know, different engagement tactics or cultivation tactics or even just 1-to-1 touch points. I know that this is, you know, major gifts have been doing this forever, but in direct response, you typically talk to the masses. And so we really put in much more of a 1-to-1 feel in the communications because we realized, like our donors are people and they're needy right now too, and we needed to care for them. And I think it's really I always feel like I've been donor centric and I care about the donors because they're making magic happen in the world. But I think that it really pushed me to be more donor centric and not just talk, you know, in our communications about what we do and the impact that they're having. But to really find the value proposition that a donor would cling to and make them feel good and honored and try to, you know, replay that message over and over and over so that they could feel really connected and really good about giving. Yeah.

Justin Wheeler Yeah.

Kim Bersin More than just the impact, right? The impact is great. But for them to really feel that impact.

Justin Wheeler Yeah. Yeah, very interesting. Well, thanks for sharing that. That's super insightful. All right. So we're going to ask you some questions and so we'll see whether they're right or wrong. No, I'm just kidding.

Kim Bersin Oh.

Justin Wheeler All right. So first off, a digital reading or an actual book?

Kim Bersin Oh, digital.

Justin Wheeler Oh, digital reading. And any good books that you've read recently that's worth mentioning?

Kim Bersin You know, not fundraising and marketing focus. I'm reading a book about how I think it's called Trauma Stays in the Body or something, which is very interesting of how, you know, that's an such kind of process through their trauma.

Justin Wheeler Alright. Got it. Pizza or salad?

Kim Bersin Salad, salad.

Justin Wheeler Beach of the mountains? If you had to choose one?

Kim Bersin Beach.

Justin Wheeler Football or fútbol?

Kim Bersin Neither.

Justin Wheeler Nither. Okay. Dogs or cats.

Kim Bersin Both! I Have four cats, but I desperately want a dog too.

Justin Wheeler They're are adopting dogs over here, you know.

Kim Bersin I know! But like my cats would fire me if I came home with that.

Justin Wheeler Four cats! That's a commitment. Yeah.

Kim Bersin It's a lot.

Justin Wheeler All indoor I assume. Okay. Funnel cake or cheesecake?

Kim Bersin Cheesecake.

Justin Wheeler Cheesecake. And the last one, The Goonies or The Sandlot?

Kim Bersin Sandlot.

Justin Wheeler Sandlot. No one has had The Goonies yet today.


Everyone has said Sandlot. One person was very controversial and said both are overrated.

Kim Bersin Oh, I mean, that's rude.

Justin Wheeler We're going to delete his podcast for sure.

Kim Bersin Yeah, obviously.

Justin Wheeler Yeah. Yeah. Awesome! Well,  thank you so much for joining.

Kim Bersin Yeah, thank you for having me. Appreciate it.

Hey! Welcome back to Nonstop Nonprofit. Before our Funraise-sponsored break, Kia was telling David about her fundraising background and how to show allyship to give underrepresented nonprofit leaders a seat at the table.

David Schwab Kia, you talked a little bit about tech there and tools and things like that. I wouldn't be a good tech geek if I didn't double click in on that and ask your opinion thinking 2023. We're all starting to plan for what new platforms do we want to do? Where should we move? What things don't we have right now that are going to make us more effective? Fundraisers, marketers, communicators, leaders. What are you most excited for in the nonprofit tech space? Specifically, what do you see happening or what have you learned about over the last year or two that's coming to light now? That gives you that spark of excitement. You're like, Hey, now we're finally arriving.

Kia Croom Yeah. So I'm really excited about all of the different tools and resources that exist to drive multi-channel fundraising, omnichannel fundraising. I'm telling folks, gone are the days where you send an email or you. I've worked in organizations where, you know, the end of year appeal, we send one end of year appeal, right. And yeah, the majority of my donors like to receive communications that way. Right. That was back in 2010. That was back in 2009, 2008. There are so many ways to engage with folks. There are so many ways to meet donors where they're hanging out at. Right. If you've got, you might have donors that prefer to be tested. I can tell you, the folks that are texting me right now, Max, ask where it takes me at least four times a week. And they're not even a nonprofit. They're a retailer where I give my fabulous one of maybe where I get my fabulous three is from Halo. Get my three is they got it. They're texting me like, oh, we got this new collection. And guess what, David? I'm looking at those text messages. I'm looking at this one. David They're on my Hulu right through CC TV. They're speaking to me via Hulu, you know, so what I'm saying is this I'm excited about all the possibilities to engage with donors, and I'm committed to helping organizations that have primarily function on those traditional vehicles of direct mail and e mail to diversify those tactics so that they can hang out with donors where they are. Right and level up their tactical strategies. I'm excited. I'm excited about what I'm learning. I'm excited about, like I said, learning about new tools. You and I talked. I said, okay, thinking about fundraise, you know, for fundraising in black. Right. And how fundraise can help fundraising in Blair said the foundation it needs to thrive. Right. So I'm getting really excited about these these elements that multichannel fundraising.

David Schwab Awesome. I think it's so cool you talked about text messaging because it's, you know, was such a hot conversation all last year in 2022 and for a long time as a digital fundraiser, I said, no, don't do it. It's it's not a good strategy. You're not going to get the return that you think you're going to get. Focus on the proven channels of email and social and web. But man, it has taken off and it is so powerful now. I think there was a big shift over the last year or so, really looking at it and in the ability to run direct response fundraising through SMS. And I was looking at some stats recently and email open rates at their peak for a nonprofit hover between 15 and 20%. That's really good. Click through rates are, you know, 3 to 5%. So if you have a hundred thousand people, you maybe get a thousand people that come and take the action you were asking them to take. And that's that's considered really good SMSs. Open rates are like 90 plus percent and click through rates are like 50 plus percent. The success is astronomical. So is that's something I think everyone should be paying attention to this year and 2023 is is looking for tools or platforms that help them communicate by text with their donors because who doesn't have a phone in their hand 90% of their day anymore?

Kia Croom No, I agree wholeheartedly. I mean, I just showed you my Sasser has got me. They might as well just say, hey, I look, they might be thinking all this and listen this to her. She's going to buy. We're about to convert. She's about to spend a ton of money on boots and, you know, bow tie blouses. They got me. I'm there. I should be their poster child. I should have stock. Right. Imagine how if I'm that responsive to a retailer, I would gather that, you know, in talking to me that I'm very mission driven missions move me right. Imagine if I have a relationship with a nonprofit that I love that I'm for and so believe in their mission, in their work, and they're communicating with me that way. Imagine what kind of conversion they'll get from me if they meet me there, right.

David Schwab Mm. Yeah. That 1 to 1 relevance, it's something you talked you said to a minute ago is, and something that I've been saying challenging people in this space. Fundraisers, specifically digital fundraisers, is to be part of the conversation and be available and accessible when your supporters are ready to engage with you. It's the beauty of where we're at, as you know, as fundraisers and communicators and leaders in this sector is we have the tools, the technology and the platforms now. To be just as relevant as any for profit retail retailer. We have access to the same channels, access to the same ad inventory, email networks, CRMs. It's a pretty cool time to be a nonprofit leader, but also a little bit of a daunting time to be a nonprofit leader. So quick question for you. As you're building out fundraising in black, what framework or frame of reference key questions do you ask when you're looking for platforms to help you grow your organization?

Kia Croom Yeah, I'm looking at what the integrations are. For instance, let's take fundraise, for instance, right? Because this is a real thing that, you know, we're we're working on. Wow. Fund raising in black is new and basic, right? Three years from now, two years from now, even, say one year from now, because I'm expecting big savings and incredible returns. Right. Even as my constituents, as I scale and increase the number of constituent records I have access to. Right. As my relationships grow and should I get to a place where I want to go to what I know. Right. And a C, r, a CRM. I've always been a black guy. I think I've spent probably the last 15 years of my career using black box know. Once I scale and grow a bit, will it integrate? Right. What's it going to take for me to do there? How will it plug into does it integrate with tango, for instance? Right. Which is a vehicle that I'm a fan of purchasing or does it afford or, you know, I might take your brain and say, well, what have you found that works really well? We talked about HubSpot. You know, like when I think about my website for T and crew fundraising and philanthropy, you know, what integrations are available to me. Can I manage my emails from here? Can I get rid of MailChimp? I mean, what are the bells and whistles that I can use to communicate with my partners and potential clients or existing clients via email? I'm looking for those integrations because I understand that this is iterative, you know, and that is I grow as I scale. My organization's needs are going to change. And I want to know that I can keep pace with the best in class tools that are available. And I also want to know that I'm not going break my piggy bank trying to do it. You know, let's just keep it real.

David Schwab Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think one of the things that I'm most excited to see come to the nonprofit sector this year and in the years to come, is that growth minded model. And I've seen it slowly being adopted in the sector, but it always is. You know, the nonprofit sector is a few years behind what's happening in the for profit sector. But the mindset of it's a fundamental shift from being we're fundraisers or we're nonprofit people and we have to do things differently to, Hey, that works really well in the for profit sector. How do we do that? How do we grow? How do we scale? How do we ask? How do we change the donor mindset from being a handout to being an investor, something we talk a lot about at fundraisers? We're we're a venture backed startup. We've asked we've asked people to give us a lot of money to execute on the dream and the vision we have for our company. Why is that any different in the nonprofit sector? Why? Why do nonprofit organizations have to act like donors or saviors?

Kia Croom Yeah, tell me about let's talk.

David Schwab About donors being an investor. So let's let's let's double click on that. What do you think about that? Yeah, that's been something I've been throwing around.

Kia Croom For a while. No, I mean, you're preaching to the choir because, number one, I have complex feelings about that ideology is a black female from a community of color. When you think about philanthropy, you think about this Western model, right? Where you think about, you know, the savior is right. And we know that the dominance of the dominant face of philanthropy is that of the white male. Right. And philanthropy has posited that, you know, you look you we know that there is a wealth gap, a racial wealth gap, and people of color are marginalized by that. Right. So when you think of who's going into a community, who's showering. Supporting nonprofits. You go back to thinking about that conventional face of philanthropy being a white male. When you take that further and you parlay that with that savior right, to suggest that, you know, this this white male, conventional face of philanthropy holds all the cards and, you know, is going to always save the day. I have real issues with that. Right. I know incredible black and brown women that have been changing laws and lives since the beginning of forever and fighting for social justice. So the way that I look at this, whether I'm talking to a white male philanthropist, whether I'm talking to a black female philanthropist, whether I'm talking to a multi national fortune firm, I'm looking at us as be partners in affecting durable social change. And when you when I look at it that way, when I look at what I bring to the partnership, because it's more than just the resource side of the partnership, there's the implementation and the strategy and the boots on the ground. So the philanthropic dollars and that partnership is one side of the call is one part of the story. When I look at it like, okay, you've got means that I don't necessarily have, but I've got to know how I look at it is go, you know, I might not be bankrolling Oprah or Robert Smith, but guess what? I got a master plan and a dollar in a drain and I want to effect some social change. We're partners. We're coconspirators. And when I look at it from that lens, David, it changes my posture. I'm sitting with my shoulders erect. You know, I'm in full Sasha Fierce Beyoncé mode, right? Because I'm serious about the work of changing lives and communities and this billionaire millionaire partners. I'm just as valuable as they are. Right? And together we can achieve some great things. But I'm not looking at this relationship from a place of beholding. One way relationship, does that make sense? We're partners.

David Schwab I love that positioning because that's that's what we want. Right. As as fundraisers is we're not asking donors to be the heroes. We're not asking donors to do the mission. We're asking donors to invest. Absolutely. Invest through us. Invest in the people we help because they have a heart for the people we help, but they don't have the means to help the people we help you. Do you as the nonprofit leader you do as the nonprofit organization, have the means, the strategies, the visions, the experience, the know how to turn that donor's dollar into literal lives changed. And I love the the visual of of the nonprofit leaders sitting at the table at the head of a boardroom shoulders back power suit on, talking to their donors and saying, here's how I alone can turn your investment into a month worth of meals for that family. Who who's food and secure. I can turn your dollar 50. You can't even go buy lunch for that. And I can feed and shelter a man, woman, her child for a day, three meals, shelter overnight. Get them off the street. The influence and impact that nonprofit leaders have, I just I hope so. Dearly this year. We as as a collective industry can shift that mindset to. Donors are important. Donors are valuable. Donors are necessary. We are fundraisers for a reason. But they are partners, right? That's such a perfect word. There are partners. They have a resource that we don't have as a nonprofit organization, but we have tools, experience, vision and abilities that the donors don't have. To impact and make the change that they want to see in the world. So I am so excited to see leaders like you champion that cause. And I hope you know that, you know, with a little influence that I have, the little voice that I have. I'll be right there with you all year long. As long as it takes two to change this mindset. Because as soon as we get that shift made, man, we are going to see some crazy change happen in this world.

Kia Croom I love that, David, and I stand by that. Donors are partners and we provide them with an entree to, say, durable social change to achieve an incredible social return. And I hope listeners out there are kind of brushing your shoulders off, like, I got the sauce, I got it, you know, and really look at it that way. Own your seat at that table confidently, because the work that you're doing is making a difference in somebody's life, is putting a meal on the table for a kid. It's providing a safe space for a kid after school, a little girl like me that needs somebody to protect her. It's helping somebody get a job and become self-reliant. You know, this is what it's about, those social retards. And they are immeasurable, in my estimation.

David Schwab I 100% agree. Here we are rounding down our time here. I want to be respectful of your time. I have so thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. I've learned so much. I'm going to come back to this podcast and just listen to your wisdom over and over. As I as I said, my plan and my strategy and and where I want to invest my time this year. But I have a few just hot take questions for you that we can capitalize on your wisdom and your experience to round out our time. So question number one, it's the beginning of 2023. Leaders, fundraisers, partners are sitting down and going, okay, what's our plan for this year? What should we do? What should we focus on? Give me two or three trends that you see are are exciting you this year that you you think every organization should be paying attention to.

Kia Croom Cash stress and enough omnichannel fundraising strategy like we talked about tech, social, whether it's social for, you know, new donor acquisitions or not. I've tested social a couple of times and found that that was the best vehicle for acquisitions, always. Right. Investing in. And but it's just a place of space where my donors and donor prospects are hanging out. I want to meet them. They're tasty. I'm giving a lot of thought to that donor experience. How can I drive conversions on my side? How are donors or visitors to my website interacting with the content on my side? Are they coming to my side for resources right in that resource bank that I have? Are they coming to my site to check out video? How were they engaging with me? And how can I make how can I optimize that experience? How can I drive a conversion right with my web visitors? Is there donors and if they're visitors that I want to turn into donor prospects? Right. I mean, it's a donors. Excuse me. I'm getting ahead of myself. You know what call to action is? I want strong call to actions so people know and can respond and convert in the ways that I intend for them to write. These are things that I was thinking about. I'm thinking about how to be kind of omnipresent, right? How to engage people when they are demonstrating interest in whatever I'm bringing to the table. Right. I want them to have a touch when they be from the time they visit my site to the time they leave, I want to be omnipresent with them. So what tools will enable me to do that? These are a few of the things that I was thinking about.

David Schwab Mm hmm. Awesome. I love that. Another question for you is 2022 was was a weird year.

Kia Croom Yeah. Tell me about weird economy.

David Schwab Politics were up and down towards the end of the year, we saw nearly 30,000 people get laid off from some of the biggest tech companies in the world. It's easy to have a bleak outlook coming into 2023. I don't think we should I think we should be, like you said, confident, excited, motivated. What would your encouragement to other leaders like you be if you could sit across the table having a cup of coffee? They're just they're looking I don't know how we do it. Is here. What's your what's your word of encouragement when that's the lens to try and, you know, be excited, be confident going into this year?

Kia Croom Yeah. So what I want to say to those leaders is to be excited, to be confident, to remember there have been some games, there have been some wins in our space. Right. And to be encouraged by that. Right. And I want to encourage leaders like myself to understand, listen, you don't have to have everything figured out down to a t do not let perfect be the enemy of good. You've got incredible ideas. You've got incredible lived experience. You are impassioned. And I believe that your heart is really in the right place. And I'm a person that at my best I'm always looking at the glass being half and half full instead of half empty. So I believe that you're pouring your very hard into this world. And I believe that if you do the work of building the relationships and telling your story right, and traversing this sector, you're going to find your tribe and your tribe will find you and you'll be speaking their language. And we know that this work is highly relational. So if you're investing in meeting the right people, if you're invested in what your organization does really, really well, in honing in on that, you're going to be successful in this space. I wouldn't worry terribly about what the economy, whether this or whether that is. So I'm not saying it just disregard, you know, economics. But what I'm saying is philanthropy. I mean, I'm reading it I think I read a resource in fundraising out during Tuesday is on tap to generate some $3 billion there. A very altruistic and philanthropic people that want to achieve those social returns. Right. Fine tune your message, your message and get relational. Be relational. And I don't believe you have any problem. I don't I believe in the work that these leaders are doing and looking to do both.

David Schwab I love what you said to don't let perfect be the opposition of progress. That's right. It's so easy to to want every everything perfectly on brand everything laid out nicely every pixel in place before you launch anything. But half the time it's just tell me about it and being real and authentic. I love that. Thank you.

Kia Croom Thank you.

David Schwab Kia. Thank you so much for your time today. This is going to be an amazing episode. I'm so excited for our audience to get to listen to this. I'll make sure we will link in our show notes out to to your organization's new website, to your website, link out to your podcast. Because your podcast has some amazing resources for leaders, like leaders like everyone listening to this podcast, including myself. So thank you for your time. Want to give you a chance. Any closing thoughts?

Kia Croom Yeah. I just want to thank you for the opportunity. And I want to tell the folks listening that, you know, you are doing incredible work. You're changing lives, creating opportunities for people, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise. And if I can be a resource, if I can be a support, get at me. You know, I'm not hard to find. Drop me a line to slide in mind. And looking at it goes down in the you slide in mind the list, talk about it. And that's all I have to say. I'm just really, really grateful for the opportunity.

David Schwab All right. Well, thank you!

Thanks for listening to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit!

This podcast is brought to you by your friends at Funraise. Nonprofit fundraising software, built by nonprofit people. If you’d like to continue the conversation, find me on LinkedIn or text me at 562.242.8160. And don't forget to get your next episode the second it hits the internets. Go to and sign up for email notifications today.

See you next time!