Kim Klein invites you to join her in the commons 

By Karen Herland

Finding resources to serve the common good has motivated Kim Klein’s fundraising career for over three decades. Now she’s sharing those skills as the Resident Resource Person for the Institute for Management and Community Development.

Klein, a grassroots fundraiser and trainer based in Berkeley, California, has been helping the non-profit sector increase its slice of the financial pie through her books, courses and the magazine she founded:

Working within the non-profit sector raises questions and contradictions for Klein. Organizations work for the common good, but because of the structure of funding, they wind up competing against each other for the money they need to do their work.

Kim Klein invited discussion on the commons at the University of the Streets Café. Magnifying glass

Kim Klein invited discussion on the commons at the University of the Streets Café.

The scramble for funding and the pressure to show “results” decreases creativity and dampens experimenting with new ways to address social problems. “How does that help people who are homeless, for example? [Competition] does a disservice to the communities being served.”

Klein believes that any discussion about what is best for the common good needs to expand to include “all the resources that a community has rights and access to.” Those commons can be natural — water or air, part of the public infrastructure — roads or sewers, or in the realm of knowledge — things that shouldn’t be able to be patented, like seeds or genes.

Klein is participating in a series of four University of the Streets Café discussions at the Centre St. Ambroise, and invites people to share their thoughts on the commons and its implications.

“The commons has generally been understood as that which is not private. But it can’t be defined by what it is not,” she cautioned. If something is unclaimed, it can become a dumping ground for corporate waste. Alternatively, if its value increases, it can be privatized and taken out of common hands.”

Klein was invited to a conference in Ottawa a dozen years ago and through those contacts she met Lance Evoy, Coordinator of the Institute. She began making annual trips north to the Institute’s summer program.

“I was really struck with how dynamic community-based groups were here.” She also became intrigued by the concept of the University of the Streets Café. “I wanted to learn this and bring it back to the U.S.” The short-term residency with the Institute seemed like a perfect opportunity to exchange ideas.

Klein was encouraged by the first discussion on the commons, which had taken place just before she spoke with the Journal. “People were willing to express ideas that were not fully formed, not what they already think. That’s when you know people are in the moment, exploring their own thoughts, and that they will continue to think about this.”

Klein also wants to share strategies about grassroots fundraising. She is compiling some case studies on fundraising from organizations here and in Toronto which will be published on the Institute’s website. This documentation project will allow groups to add information as they continue to expand their grassroots fundraising programs, and encourage new groups to add their experiences.

Klein recognizes that many people in NGOs have an aversion to talking about money. “People are raised not to talk about money, not to ask for it, not to be bold about it.”

In the U.S., only 30 per cent of non-profit income comes from government. Klein sees more reliance on government funding here. “It does bring with it a healthy sense of what people are entitled to, but also a certain passive expectation that this funding will always be available. People need to have a more entrepreneurial spirit and engage in more advocacy. ”

Holding these discussions in the Centre St. Ambroise, a community space funded by Peter McAuslan, a Sir George Williams alumnus and president of McAuslan Brewery, underscores the potential for entrepreneurial support of grassroots endeavours. For details on upcoming discussions, go to


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