Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Sunday, February 06, 2011

My First Nonprofit Job

A first blog posting after a long absence is always difficult; so many things to talk about, it's hard to decide what the most relevant topic would be. First, let me remind you where I've been...

After about seven years as an independent consultant, in January I began a regular, full-time executive director position with a local nonprofit organization, and spent the month fully immersed in learning the programs, the culture, and the needs. I've been working long days (and nights) and coming home exhausted but happy. My orientation and training will continue for another couple of months at least, but I feel I can come up for air long enough for a blog post or two.

Which brings us to the topic of this post, how did this career of mine start? The truth is, at the time of my first nonprofit job, I had no idea that it would be my career. At the time, I was still planning a life in film production. I had not yet returned to school to get degrees in politics (BA) and public policy (MPPA), and was just looking for an interesting and meaningful way to earn some money to pay for my creative projects and take a few cinema classes here and there.

I don't even recall the exact year, but it must have been in the early or mid 1980s, when I accepted a job as a canvasser for the Campaign for Economic Democracy (aka Campaign California) in Santa Monica; an organization started by Tom Hayden and his (then) wife, Jane Fonda. At the time, Hayden had recently been elected to the state Assembly, but he did speak with us occasionally. I don't recall ever seeing Ms. Fonda, but rumor was that her exercise videos were our number one funding source.

Each afternoon we'd gather in our 3rd Street office for some motivational presentation before hitting the residential streets of Los Angeles County to knock on doors and ask for signatures on petitions (mostly promoting solar energy and environmental protection) as well as collect donations to support our work.

Asking for those $10 and $25 checks was the hardest thing I'd ever done. Nobody could have ever guessed at that time that fundraising would become a large part of my professional career. Confession: I was not the best at getting those checks, although I did get many signatures.

There was, of course, a downside to working for a figure such as Tom Hayden. As much as he may have been lionized in certain west-side, ultra-liberal enclaves, he was quite reviled and hated elsewhere, especially in areas where there were many veterans of the Vietnam war. I was physically threatened on several occasions, including once by gentleman who kept a saw by his front door and chased me off his property waving the saw violently after me.

But there were many wonderful people too, who would invite you in for a glass of lemonade on a hot LA evening. We'd make note of these "safe houses" to know where to run when the guys with weapons got out of control. I didn't last long as a canvasser, but I did eventually get better at asking for money...

How about you? What was your first experience raising money for a cause or working for a nonprofit?