Kim Klein on Attitudes Toward Money

Among the many treasures I found at our local Foundation Center Collection, was Fundraising for Social Change by Kim Klein. Now in a sixth edition, it is a 500 page book describing a full spectrum of fund-raising strategies as well as discussions of board selection, mission statements, and all of the peripheral tasks related to successful fundraising. She takes a chapter to talk about attitudes toward fundraising generally, and money in particular. 

The idea of asking for money raises another set of hindering attitudes, which are largely the inheritance of a predominantly Protestant culture infused with a Puritan ethic that affects most Americans, including those who are not Protestants. This set of values conveys a number of messages that influence our feelings and actions. For example, a Puritan ethic implies that if you are a good person and you work hard you will get what you deserve. It further implies that if you have to ask for something you are a weak person because strong people are self-sufficient. Further, most likely you have not worked hard enough and you probably don’t deserve whatever you are asking for. Rounding out this series of beliefs is our deep distrust in the ability of government to solve social problems and a general convictions that the government wastes our money in unnecessary and inefficient bureaucratic red tape.

All of these beliefs can be found among people on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum as well as across age and race lines and different religious orientations. Where these beliefs will not be found is in two places:

  • Other countries. Although many countries have various taboos related to money, none have as many contradictory ones as the United States. Our taboos about talking and learning about money are not universal.
  • Children. Children have no trouble asking for money. They do not subscribe to the idea that self-sufficiency means not asking or that polite people don’t ask. They ask, and the ask again and again. Our taboos about money are not natural–we are not born with them. 

Our beliefs about money are learned, and therefore they can be unlearned. The wonderful writer Ursula Le Guin once said in a lecture, “I never learned much from my teachers, but I learned a great deal from my un-teachers; the people who said to me, ‘You shouldn’t have learned that and you don’t need to think it anymore.'”

Fundraising for social change is in part about raising the money we need, but over a longer period of time it is also about creating healthy attitudes toward money, and many people find that aspect of fundraising to be most fascinating. 

I’d love to quote the entire chapter, but that wouldn’t be a blog post, it would be plagiarism! Instead, I suggest you check out the book yourself, her other books, and resources.

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