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Episode 18.2: Future Winners and the Long-Game: What Nonprofits Can Learn From Political Campaigns with Tanya St. Julien

18.2 Future Winners and the Long-Game: What Nonprofits Can Learn From Political Campaigns with Tanya St. Julien

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 “Members who did not win a race or were not able to successfully get an opportunity, we just call them future winners. There are no losers because we believe that there is progress in the process.”

Tanya St. Julien

Episode #18.2

Overview

In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

I talk to Tanya St. Julien, community leader, advocate for educational equity, and Chief of Staff at Leadership for Educational Equity. Tanya has over 15 years of impact in local government and non-profit management.

Politics have always been in Tanya’s blood, she is the daughter of two Haitian immigrants who fled the island during the Papa Doc dictatorship in the ’70s. Far from the disenchantment many of us feel for politics, Tanya believes that engaging civically and politically is the road to change. Especially when it comes to creating policies for the children of today and tomorrow. 

Tanya and her team at LEE see campaigns as leadership development, they know that it’s not about immediacy but about creating a leader (even if it means not ‘winning’ their first election). They make long-term investments in people and communities.

18.2 Future Winners and the Long-Game: What Nonprofits Can Learn From Political Campaigns with Tanya St. Julien
18.2 Future Winners and the Long-Game: What Nonprofits Can Learn From Political Campaigns with Tanya St. Julien

In some ways, political fundraising is very different from what we do in the nonprofit space but there are some things we can learn from it like slowing down in order to move forward more intentionally, playing the long game, and supporting underrepresented groups to be in positions of power.

Their growth-oriented nature and long-term vision are so inspiring to me.

Jump into this conversation now!

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18.2 Future Winners and the Long-Game: What Nonprofits Can Learn From Political Campaigns with Tanya St. Julien
18.2 Future Winners and the Long-Game: What Nonprofits Can Learn From Political Campaigns with Tanya St. Julien
18.2 Future Winners and the Long-Game: What Nonprofits Can Learn From Political Campaigns with Tanya St. Julien

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18.2 Future Winners and the Long-Game: What Nonprofits Can Learn From Political Campaigns with Tanya St. Julien

NON PROFIT SHOUTOUT

Get to know Spark Leaders!

SparkLeadership provides equity-minded candidates with the financial support they need to run strong campaigns by connecting them to civically engaged individuals who share their priorities. Want to support women candidates of color or LGBTQ candidates? We will create a custom portfolio of candidates aligned with your priorities and values.

 Visit sparkleaders.org 

episode transcript

Mallory: I am so excited to be joined here by Tanya St. Julian, the notorious T S J. Thank you so much Tanya for joining me today and having this conversation. 

Tanya: Thanks for having me. I’m excited about talking about stuff that I love to do and stuff that I think more people should also be doing and talking about.

Mallory: Yes, it has been so fascinating to be in conversations with LEE over the last few months. I’ve learned so much about political fundraising and the gaps in both access and representation. I feel like I know more about what it takes to get more folks on the ballot, more folks winning. But tell us a little bit about you. Give us your history. What brings you to this moment in time and what makes you so passionate about the work that you’re doing? 

Tanya: Oh, wow. There’s so much. You might have to stop me. I’m a regular shmegular and also a magical black woman. And I’m formally trained in policy.

My career has really been all about constructing hope for people, and that has looked like everything from working on the third floor of a church in downtown Brooklyn in an after-school program with some of the brightest, most amazing young people, to now working at a leadership development organization that is national in scope and works with current and former teachers and educators, and those most proximate to the issues of educational inequity to become civic leaders in policy, in elected office, in organizing and advocacy, because we’re constructing hope for families and communities to believe that each child can actually live into their fullest and truest potential, because we are constructing the policies and the laws that are necessary for that to be true. 

Mallory: I love that. I’m curious, like what inspired you to go the policy route and to believe that’s really the mechanism for change that you wanted to be a part of?

Tanya: I love that question because it just allows me to talk a little bit more about myself. So I am the eldest of two Haitian immigrants who immigrated to this country in the seventies, the late seventies. And they immigrated from Haiti during the Papa Doc dictatorship. My parents were young and hopeful and came to this country in search of opportunity and democracy.

For Haitian people, and certainly for those in my parents’ generation and my generation, talking about politics was always the thing because they fled from a political situation and came here. Our family was able to engage in political discourse without fear of retribution. I was like four years old, six years old, completely wrapped up in the politics of the 80s.

And I think also to be a black woman is a political thing. To be a black woman that expects the best of what this country has to offer, one has to be politically engaged, civically engaged, to understand the structures and the authorizing space in which we can make these expectations plain and consistently met.

Growing up in that space, I was a talker. You’ll hear that today. I talk a lot. I read everything and I was very interested in how come there was so much difference. I grew up in a majority white community, my family and I are still the only black family or family of color on the block and the only family of color in school through eighth grade. And then one of a small number of people of color in high school and then, of course, in college. 

I learned to work across lines of difference very early. I learned about invisible structures that allowed difference to be perpetuated and I was always really obsessed with that thing, obsessed with the civil rights movement and how policies, which kind of feel invisible but also feel very palpable, can create a vision and can integrate things and people and opportunities. That just seemed very natural. I don’t know that there was ever a point where I asked a question. I just did what I always did. I talked about who was in charge.

And I tried to figure out how I could get in charge or how I could influence the person in charge. That same six year old is now a 40 year old woman questioning the same thing and wanting to influence who’s in charge, wanting to have a say in who’s in charge and wanting to understand what the rules are around me so that I can navigate.

I moved through college and graduate school, always thinking about equalizing opportunities so that everyone can eat and then everyone can live in dignity. And that led me to working, like I said, on the third floor of a church in Brooklyn, to then working on inclusive policies at the department of education here in New York city and now at LEE, where I’ve been working with our awesome team for the last seven years to build an organization that develops leaders to change the laws. So I literally now get to work with who is going to be in charge and help influence what the rules are going to be. And that’s a place where I like to be.

Mallory: Okay, I’m so inspired by your story. And I’m curious, it sounds like from a really young age, you had this deep sense of the role you could play. You mentioned trying to understand those invisible lines and where the rules were, but that there was this sort of determination or innate knowing in you that even if there’s an invisible line there you say “I’m going to be a part of changing that line” or “I’m going to get there and figure out”. Where do you think that comes from? That sort of knowing in you. 

Tanya: I love, love, love that question. I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot. I think part of it comes from the struggle of oppressed people. I’ve been reading a lot about mental health through this pandemic and the resilience of different communities. Most recently I was reading a study about the mental health of oppressed people, and the study revealed that oppressed people, black people in this country, have the strongest mental health and that it comes from a deep faith.

The study called it religiosity. So just putting together all of the things that people do, like to believe in a higher power. It helps to contextualize the experiences that we have here. It helps to contextualize disappointment and hurt, oppression. It gives a belief in a higher power that is orchestrating this stuff and then it is not necessarily individual decisions that exist in of themselves. 

I thought that was super fascinating. I am a woman with very deep faith. My parents are immigrants who left a dictatorship. That alone is reflective of the legacy of fighters, hopers and dreamers who were able to construct a life that was very different from the life that they had. That legacy, pushing and hoping, and having a deep faith in a higher power and my responsibility to my opportunities and to that higher power or things that were instilled in me at a very young age and things that still continue to guide me today.

Mallory: Yeah, it sounds like such a strong north star for you and now in your work, what it sounds like is you have that grounding and that knowing, and now it’s about identifying the sort of barriers both to access, but also to that connection to that belief, to that hope that folks can engage and need to engage in these systems in order to make the change that we want to see happen.

So what is that process? If folks are listening to this and they’re like,”Okay, Tanya, I’m super jealous that you feel that amount of hope and faith and all of this, but I’m feeling exhausted, frankly, by the political process and everything that’s been happening around us politically for so many years and everything from exhausted to traumatize, to there’s so many layers of it”. How do you recommend folks begin on a journey of hope? 

Tanya: I would recommend believing in humans, believing in people, even if those people are children. I think that’s what worked for me with education. Adults sometimes let us down, the ones we love, the ones we don’t love, the ones we know and the ones we don’t know.

There’s something about the innocence, the joy, the curiosity of children that I want to protect, and I want to cultivate. In my toughest days, in the most crazy muckety-muck political environment, when I look at young people, that’s where I get my hope and that’s where I get my energy and we have to push for them.

That’s what my parents did for me as young adults who left their country and everything they knew. They came here inspired to give their children a better opportunity. And I’m so grateful that they did. And that’s what I am inspired to keep doing for everyone’s kids. If that means just paying attention to your local school board or a fundraising for a center, or a new set of curriculum for young people, that is a very small way it is not going to be crazy charged. Although it might. Just let me tell you about kindergarten parents. Oh man, they are intense! Because they’re fighting for their babies, their little people.

 I would encourage anyone who’s just looking to get a little bit involved in changing the world and changing their community to look to our young people and be inspired by them and protect them and cultivate all of the good stuff that they come into this world with. 

Mallory: I love that. And I also really love you calling out, connecting the pieces around LEE’s work, because one of the things I’ve been learning about is that one of the initial ways that many folks do get involved in civic leadership is on their School Board first. So can you talk to me a little bit about that and how that really connects these dots?

Tanya: So in LEE we believe that children are it. We believe that our work is to unleash their fullest potential to the world. We started with our first partner Teach For America. These are on fire for kids and young adults who have been in the classroom, in that intimate space of child and community and learning, and they understand what our kids need and they understand what our communities need to support our kids.

We work to inspire these brilliant young teachers, who are in the classroom, and a few of them are up a few years outside of the classroom, to activate that experience and bring that to policy-making. Bring that awareness and understanding of what children and communities need to promulgation as elected leaders, bring that into organizing in their community and helping to connect people.

Sometimes even the same people you just mentioned before, those who were tired and looking for a way to help that doesn’t feel overwhelming. So organizing them around real community and child centered things, to change the policy landscape, to change the rules for our kids. 

Mallory: You know, one of the things that’s really fascinating to me about politics and political fundraising is this difference between the understanding of disappointment along the way. I don’t know how to explain this exactly, but I feel in the nonprofit sector there’s so much perfectionism and I’d be curious to know how that plays out in your world, too. There’s so much like “This is the program and we’re certain it’s gonna work”, and then it doesn’t work. And then two years later, this is the program. I started my nonprofit journey at Citizen Schools doing a teaching fellowship program and I really wanted to go there because I thought I was going to go back to school in public policy and wanted to work for the department of ed that had been where I thought I was going. I went into Citizen Schools in order to see the intersection of their policy and advocacy work and education, but fell in love with the classroom.

And so never even actually did that part and was in the school full-time and then fell in love with the nonprofit sector and stayed here. But I feel like what’s interesting is I watched them adapt their program a lot while I was there. I was there during a very big phase of growth for them and I feel like I’ve seen this in hundreds of nonprofits where there’s “Okay, here’s what it is and we’ve got the funders behind us and this is what we’re doing”, and then of course we learn that needs to be iterated or we learn this thing about this program, or we tried this thing. And when I hear you even talk about what it takes to get. Involved in civic leadership or being a part of organizing these things.

I can just imagine the many layers of disappointment aside from running for office losing, but just, gosh, you’re doing policy work? How many times do you not get a win around something until you finally do? And how do people keep going? 

Tanya: We just keep going. We just have to keep going. We believe so deeply in our members that for every win, it’ll keep us going for 2000 at-bats, because we know each win has so much impact. It not only has an impact on the children. So for example, if we have a member who wins a School Board seat, then we know that as we continue to support that member, cause it doesn’t end at the wind, right? That’s just the beginning. We will continue to work with them to grow their capacity around governance and administration and learning how to work across the aisle, to have influence on the board. And so as we work with them, we know that one win has an impact on every single child in that school district, so that thousands of children and thousands of families. We also know that one win starts to change the conversation around people, starting to believe that they can do it as well and starts to change the expectations.

Our members are first-time candidates. Our members do not come from families where they are like the third to run for office. So these are first time candidates. They were teachers often coming from working or middle-class families. And when they win a school board seat or a state ledge, they don’t look like everybody else on that board. Not age, not in work, experience and background, sometimes not in ethnic or racial background, so that one win is a win for the kids and a win for any other person that’s paying attention like “Huh, that person’s on there now”. And so that sustains us for 2000 misses at bat. And so we just get back up again.

It’s exactly what you said. We continue to think through what are the best ways to support our members. We are a learning organization. We are always asking questions: When this was executed successfully, why did we think it was successful? Why didn’t we think this other thing was not successful? What are our learnings? Let’s try it again. Let’s change this thing. Let’s change that thing. 

We are so committed and we also understand that the learning process is iterative and that innovation is iterative. I think our foundation for our work is understanding that there will be losses and when those losses are members who did not win a race or were not able to successfully get an opportunity, we just call them future winners. There is no loser because we believe that there is progress in the process. And that is a product as well.

Mallory: I just want to take that mindset and apply it to the entire nonprofit sector. The growth oriented nature, the long-term vision, the long game, I think, is so important and something that has been so eye-opening to me in conversations with all of you is the very first conversation I had, the person was like, listen, like someone usually needs to lose like a few times before they’re going to win. And I was like “Oh, okay, so you’re just fundraising around someone who’s probably going to lose”. And they were like “Yeah”. And I was like “Okay, that’s so different from a nonprofit mindset, in many ways it is, but then what it got me thinking about is exactly what you said, the value in the process.

And so I kept asking other questions around “Okay, so when a candidate loses what other value was created during that campaign?”, and started learning so much about how much happens during a campaign that has nothing to do with winning or losing that’s so critical and so important to invest around. And I just think that is something that I do not think the nonprofit sector as a whole does a very good job of, is really vocalizing and internalizing the value in process. We’re trying this new program, we have all these reasons for why we’re trying it. It’s not some haphazard thing we’re throwing up on the wall, but we are going into it, ready to learn, ready to iterate, ready to see what happens and we’re actually going to eradicate some of the biggest issues of our time. 

It’s “We’re going to need to slow down”, maybe is the wrong word, but I don’t know, it feels like slowing down in order to move forward more intentionally instead of saying “Okay, I need funding”. Saying “I’m just going to do this because you gave me that restricted funding and we’ll see what the impact was. It might even cause more harm, but we’ve done the thing and we can show on our impact report that we did that thing”, as opposed to what I’m really hearing you say, which is just this incredible amount of investment and intentionality and this clear north star around what you’re doing together. And I love that the like future winners. I just love that.

Tanya: Thank you for those words, it feels warm. Because it’s tough. The goals are ambitious, the learning and the growth is fast and it doesn’t feel good when something is not successful. So all of those things are right, the learning. And it’s still tough. But even in this conversation, I’m reflecting back as we talk and it’s so worth it every single day. 

Mallory: And I just think that piece around every win is worth 2000 at-bats, if we could have that mindset… I even reflected, as I’ve now been running a business, having spent 15 years in the nonprofit sector, I’ve been reflecting on how differently for-profit businesses even think about numbers or sales. And I think about people that will say something like “Oh, you have that conversion rate? That’s so good”. And we’re talking about 5% and I’m like “Gosh, a nonprofit would never think 5% is a good conversion rate”. They’d be like “You’re missing 95% of people”.

It’s just that scarcity mindset. And I can imagine that for a lot of the candidates and the folks that you work with, that must be a part of the process, helping them reframe the way they think about themselves and what this journey is going to look like for them, 

Tanya: For our members, we are very honest because we believe this is all leadership development. Leaders will not win every time. They will stumble, they will fall.

And how will they get back up? And for what reason will they get back up? That resilience, that internal north star. We have a saying: “campaigns as leadership development”, because even if they don’t win the race, the campaign is leadership development for them. And so they are a leader and either a winner of the race or a future winner, because for many of them, we do have that conversation.This is going to take a couple of at-bats. 

Our goal in this campaign is of course to win and we want to grow power and influence as we do that. We want to fully raise money because that is an indicator to the community and to all the political agents in the community that this candidate is able to galvanize these resources, to galvanize this audience, to share this message very broadly so that if they do not win there are small wins. 

Our goals and the way we talk to our candidates is “All right, we don’t win, we’re going to run a clean and strong campaign” and some of the small W’s that come out of that or whatever party they’re a part of wants them to be more engaged with leadership. Or another non-profit or specific organization wants to talk to them about next time. The candidate who wins, their team might reach out, you ran a clean race, it was excellent, would you love to join my team?”. So this is why we call them future winners. It’s not all or nothing. It is not zero sum. There’s so much of this pie, power and influence, and we want our members to be a part of these conversations because we want them to be the ones that make up the rules.

We want them to take that experience teaching fifth grade for four years. To be part of the conversations when we’re doing budget allocations for a city or a town. We want that to be a part of the conversation when discussing parks safety, because we want more of our kids in parks. We just want a child centered, family and equity oriented value to be a part of policy and lawmaking. 

Mallory: I want to go in so many directions, but I know that people who are listening are like, when is she going to ask about fundraising? So that’s right. That’s what we’re here to talk about. We’re here, talking about all of this, but I am curious, one of the things I see a lot in the nonprofit sector and in general, is that fundraising is an incredibly uncomfortable thing to do right now. And honestly, I was fundraising for 13 years and no one ever talked to me about my relationship to money and my money beliefs. Even the fact that it was normal to feel uncomfortable.I thought for most of my career, I was a bad fundraiser because there was no way that good fundraisers felt the way I felt.

I was like, “Nope, there’s no way the good ones have this sinking belly sensation”. Actually, I’m just curious to hear about your experience fundraising, 

Tanya: To use some of your words thinking belly, sweat, I’ll tell you an experience. I had a few years ago, that was my entry into fundraising and the need for it and the reason why I pushed myself to be uncomfortable in this. I think it was 2014. I was in my first 60 days at LEE.  Young little whipper snapper, ready to show my boss I’m going to be their best chief of staff.

And we were at a book signing party at a fancy philanthropy place here in New York. I believe it was a book signing for Joel Klein, who was the former head of New York State Public Schools. And it was the fall and I’ve got like a nice ‘fro, and that was like seven years ago for a week and I decided I wanted to wear my hair super big that day.

And I walked in. I immediately was like “Why did I make my fro so big today?”, I was the only black woman in the entire space. There were two other people of color. One was a server at the bar and one was actually a colleague and I was there with my boss. And I just started sweating.

I’ve been in different rooms like that before, but something about this room was just a lot for me. I got a little nervous and I wished I had done different things, but here I was, the one black woman with the really big afro hair. So we part a little bit and start feeling the room out and I spotted some interesting celebrities.

These were some high-profile multi-millionaires plus. I reconnected with my boss and he and I looked at our phones and that night was election night and we had a bunch of LEE members who were running for office saying “How are we doing?” in the Denver race, the Connecticut race, all that…

I make rounds again. And I’m hearing people say things like, “How’s your guy?”, “How’s Denver?” “How’s this and that?” And I just assumed “Oh, this must be sports talk and I don’t want to do sports talk. So I go and I find my boss again, we look at our phones again and it clicked.

And I was like, wait a minute. Are these people talking about what we’re talking about? And he says “Yeah, these people are super politically savvy”. And I was like “But they live here”. And it was at that moment, it all came to me in a conversation with my boss. While we run a national organization that works to inspire current and former teachers to leverage their experiences for policy and elected leadership opportunities.

These were powerful and influential rich people who were already a part of that world. They already understood that having people on the state legislature or US representatives close to them and investing in these races was an important thing because of business relationships and a whole slew of things.

And I remember at that point being like, “I’m just waking up to this world”. I think the 2008 Obama race was the first time I’d ever given a political donation. And I was so excited. I bought all the Diane Von Furstenberg for Obama, Tory Burch’s for Obama, plus that every email I gave $5.

I probably gave like $2,000 and I made $57,000 at the time. So that was big money for me. And of course it was big money in small bites, brilliance, but I didn’t understand that this was a thing. That outside of working for this organization, politically savvy people with big networks and big bank accounts, understand that influencing politics with their financial resources made rules that were consistent with their values. And those rules are not always consistent with my values and certainly not always consistent with the needs and values of the communities that I am a part of. And that’s when I started literally on the cab ride home, talking to my boss.

“How do we do this for underrepresented people? How do I get something going like this for black people, for Latin X people, for Asian people, from members of the LGBTQ community?”, because that room didn’t have any of those folks in there. And that room was pumping out a lot of money and having a lot of influence on the rules for a country that is increasingly differently from the way that room looks and lives. 

And that’s when we started Spark Leadership and that is our political fundraising initiative. That specifically raises money for underrepresented candidates because we know that they do not have access to the networks and the wealth in the same way that the white communities do.

Mallory: Wow. I feel like one of the things that you’re really highlighting, that I think perhaps folks outside of the political spaces have, or at least I can, I’ll just speak for myself… I feel like it’s really been in the last four years that I’ve started to recognize and understand the importance of local elections in a totally different way. And I think what you’re highlighting is that there is this whole web of control, access and influence that when you understand it, campaign finance reform aside, you actually can still push the right buttons in the right places because you see, they’re also playing the long game. I think what you’re highlighting, which is so important, I haven’t actually thought about it this way.

Cause I think for like sort of outsiders, we see political fundraising in such an urgent way. When I think about political fundraising, and I said this to Josie too, I was like “Okay you’re going to send me like 12 emails tomorrow and it’s going to say I have four hours to give you $5 or else like this blank is going to happen and then you’re going to sell my name and my email to someone else I don’t even know. And I’m gonna start getting emails from them”. 

We feel on the other side of this very urgent machine. And what’s so interesting about talking to you and Josie too. There’s this huge disconnect from the everyday person feels is happening in that political machine, especially because of fundraising rhetoric versus how critical it is that we are actually engaging in this with the long game in mind. And yes, we’re giving in the now too, but the play is long.

Tanya: That’s absolutely right. With the long game, you’ve got to think about it in other ways that we think about growing things in the long run and that’s an investment. So that’s why we call Spark a political philanthropy initiative because this is “Do you believe that it is important for us to have diversity in our political leader?” If you do believe we invite you to partner with us and invest in this growing pipeline of equity oriented, diverse candidates. These are their values and they’re running up and down the ballot. We have folks running for local School Boards to, now, Congress.

We hope to continue to grow the number of candidates and LEE members who raise their hand and step into this huge gap of leadership that exists in this country. A values-based leadership, and join us in supporting that. So I love that you said it’s exactly that it is exactly the long game.

Mallory: One thing I just want to make sure listeners know is that LEE has two times the national average in terms of your win rate. And so I just want to hear that “Yes, the long game is important. Yes, orienting around it being the process and not just the wins”, but also investing in an organization or in a fund like Spark is really doubling down.

Right there you’re getting your matching funds just based on the way that you guys are supporting these candidates so intentionally. So I think that’s also really about optimizing and speeding up the access to power and influence in a way that’s critically important, especially as we feel the speed on the other side, feeling scarier and scarier.

Tanya: That was so good and so honest. So real, but yeah, it works. I think the national average for first time candidates winning, it’s somewhere around between 19 and 23% and we have a win rate of 54% for first time candidates, because it doesn’t require a ton of money to run a School Board race, but it does require some.

And what we’ve done is built an amazing machine where we defray the costs for members to do this work. We have our own sort of comms work and because they are, we are supporting them so they can get communications work and products and services from us, six of the cost of things in the open market.

And we understand compliance, we’ve got a whole team. So we’re working within compliance and regulation and we also are focusing on this member. We don’t need our members to be distracted by all the things that they need to manage, like money and stuff. We will take care of that. What is your message?

What do you want to change in your community? And we help support them in articulating that clearly and consistently and not getting caught up in the financing of campaigns because that is an entirely different world, in market, and in and of itself. So supporting our members through Spark, it’s almost like 4X whatever your contribution is because we continue to work with them to help them allocate those resources to run strong winning campaigns.

So it works all together. Spark could not work without LEE because LEE continues to support the candidates. And in order for LEE to continue to support candidates at such high rates of success, we need to grow Spark so that resources are not holding them back from being able to get their message out and run winning campaigns.

Mallory: Okay, I love it. And I’m curious, one of the things I see in non-profit is that while fundraising is uncomfortable for everyone, I see a huge increase in the discomfort, one with women in particular, but also I would say like single run ED like a small shop where a woman’s at the head she’s the only paid staff member and then she really feels like she’s fundraising for herself. And I know political campaigns are different in terms of, they’re not paying themselves from them, at least in the smaller races but they’re still fundraising for them, and I can imagine that evokes a lot of vulnerabilities around all the stuff that comes up around money self-worth and things I coach around in my day to day. Can you talk to me about that at all? About what you see in that space.

Tanya: So I’ll tell you a quick story. There was a young woman named Jessica in 2015. We had an African-American political leadership program meeting. That program is one that we put on to support, and we have one for every subgroup, racial and ethnic subgroup.

We did that one in 2015, and we invited members who were thinking that they would ever run, maybe in 20 years, but if they ever had the thought that they could run for office, we invited them to try it on for three days. So we flew folks into New York City. We had the late honorable David Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York City come and share some amazing words to inspire this group of people.

And one of the sessions that we had on day two was the fundraising session and in this session, all members are asked to think through the most expansive list of individuals who they think would support their leadership. They’ll go through their Facebook, their LinkedIn, Instagram, and we have a spreadsheet and we have them dump all these names into the spreadsheet and think “How much do you think you could ask this person for?”.

So in this session we are confronting “What do you think you’re asking for when you ask things, who is it easiest to ask money from? Who was it hardest?”, and what we saw of course were the emotional things like “In my family, we don’t talk about money” because, reasons around class, around race, around gender… And what we also saw was after line 79, there was just a line that everyone came to where they were like “I can’t think of anyone else I could ask money to”.

And very rarely can anyone go past the 120, almost no one could go past that. They continued to drive the inspiration for Spark. We were like “We want to be line 121”. We want to be this national resource for local leaders. 

So that if Jessica, and Jessica came to see me in office hours in tears and she was like, “Does that mean nobody would vote for me? I have gone to school and I’ve been a teacher and I care about my community?”, and this a super on top woman and she was just sobbing. She was like “Does that mean I can’t do this? Am I delusional?” These were the questions that she was asking herself because she couldn’t see, she could not get past, and I’ll never forget, line 79 was her number. She was a part of a sorority and there were just so many reasons she felt like there were people she couldn’t ask for money. “They don’t have a lot of money”, “They just had a baby”, “They just bought a house”. 

We need Spark Leadership to be the line 80. That 80th line could represent like 600 or 700 people who would absolutely donate to Jessica because they’re donating to Spark and they’re donating to this pipeline of diverse leaders, a pipeline of women, a pipeline of teachers. However way they are interested in contributing to this pipeline of equity oriented leaders.

We wanted to be Jessica line 80 and whatever line for everyone else. When we did start talking about some of the ways that LEE could support, I had the beta version of Spark at that time, it changed the tenor of the conversation. That initial “We’ve got you for $2,500”. It just changes because she knows that she has support. That first yes that you get when you make the ask and share the deck and give them the documents gives you so much confidence for the next ask. 

Jessica ran for office three years later, it took us a while, but she ran three years later and she won her seat. She’s on her School Board, and those are the things. I want to create something to make the hard stuff not so hard for our members.

Mallory: Oh my God. First of all, you gave Jessica and I love that. And I, you said it at the end and I want to be really respectful of your time, but I think that point around having Spark really say “We want to invest in you” and not just “We Spark as an entity…”, but actually “All these people who have participated in Spark, we see you, we want to invest in you. So yeah, sure, go get those other 80 lines, but we’re going to start you off with 600”. I just love it so much.

Everyone please go check out Spark. Give, if you can. I’m just going to make that plug right now sparkleaders.org 

How can folks find you? If they want to follow along with you or connect with you, where should they go?

Tanya: They can reach out to me at tanya.st.julien@educationalequity.org, that is my direct email. I’d love to chat. I’d love to chat about Spark. I’d love to chat about how to support and cultivate and protect our young people. I’m open to having that conversation because it’s so important.

Mallory: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining me today and for this amazing conversation. 

Tanya: Thank you, Mallory. This was great.

18.2 Future Winners and the Long-Game: What Nonprofits Can Learn From Political Campaigns with Tanya St. Julien
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