Kristina Desir, MPA, Program Manager
AAUW Work Smart (Boston, Massachusetts)
Kristina and I attended Oakwood University together. Though we spoke casually during college, our communication increased after graduating and seeing that we had developed a similar interest – politics. Kristina quickly became someone I asked for career advice and ultimately encouraged me to get some fundraising experience.
This interview was conducted to find out why Kristina believes fundraising is so important.
Q. So tell me a little about yourself:
My name is Kristina Desir (age 26) and I grew up in South Florida. I am a graduate of Oakwood University with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Minor in Political Science (2012). After graduation, I decided to attend Suffolk University in Boston, MA to pursue a Master’s in Public Administration and Master’s in Political Science (2014).
I currently work as the Program Manager for AAUW Work Smart in Boston, a partnership between the City of Boston and American Association of University Women to offer free salary negotiation workshops to every woman who lives or works in Boston in hopes to help close the gender wage. I also serve as a Board Member and Chair of Fundraising for Emerge Massachusetts and Board Member and Finance Chair for Let’s Bridge The Gap.
Q. How did you get into politics?
While in graduate school, I interned at the Massachusetts Democratic Party during President Obama’s reelection. During my internship, I worked as a field organizer – knocking on doors and making phone calls – to help re-elect President Obama. I was able to get access to the “key players” in Massachusetts politics and Obama’s field team in MA.
After that internship, I got my first campaign job working as a Field Organizer for Felix Arroyo for Mayor of Boston, managing field operations in the Boston neighborhoods of Mattapan and Hyde Park, creating Haitian outreach strategy, and planning house parties and campaign events. After working on the mayoral race, I wanted to get experience in political fundraising. I was later hired to be the Deputy Finance Director for Steve Kerrigan for Lt. Governor of MA. It was at that moment I found my passion in politics and knew that if I could do anything for free it would be political fundraising.
Q. How challenging was it to break into this political arena?
It was very challenging to break into the political arena. As a woman of color, I didn’t have access to networks or individuals who knew how to become a political operative. Not having the knowledge or access made it more difficult to break into the political arena. Interning at the Party was the first step to understanding how politics worked and how to get political career opportunities.
Q. What made you decide to be a fundraiser? Why not an organizer or a campaign manager?
While working on the Boston mayoral race, I became close to the Finance Director who later became my mentor. I loved community organizing but I was interested in raising money in politics. Once I got my first political fundraising experience, I knew that I found my passion. While my understanding of political campaigns, strong management, and leadership skills qualifies me to be a great campaign manager, I see a stronger impact for electing more African-Americans into public office by perfecting my political fundraising skills.
Q. What makes fundraising so important to a campaign?
Fundraising is the most important aspect to political campaigns. When running for office, before you hire any staff, you hire a fundraiser to help you raise money for your campaign needs such as staff, advertisements, events, campaign materials, etc. Campaigns are expensive and its cost varies from state to state and city to city. For example, running for State Representative in Boston can cost up to $40,000 but a race in California can cost closer to half a million. Fundraising matters and it is a strong indicator on whether you can win an election.
Q. Do you think there is a need for more women to become fundraisers?
Absolutely. Fundraising is a white male dominated. We need more women, but most of all, we need more people of color to become political fundraisers. Diversity matters in campaigns, but it matters more in fundraising. If we get more diverse political fundraisers, we can help elect more minorities into public office and build stronger political fundraising networks for minorities as well.
Q. Do you think funds, or lack thereof, keep a lot of women or minorities from run for public office?
Absolutely. It’s very hard to ask people for money, but it is must to raise money in order to successfully win an election. The main reason why we don’t see more people of color running winning elections, particularly federal or statewide, is not necessarily lack of communications strategy, field strategy, or political support, it is because of lack of money needed to win. Fundraising is the strongest indication of winning elections or even being a strong contender.
Q. Have you raised funds via mail or by writing grants? If so, how were those experiences?
My experience is in political fundraising. I’ve raised money through mailers not grant writing. Funds were raised through several mailers I was apart of but fundraising is more successful when you use different strategies such as Candidate call time, social media, fundraising emails, and more.
Q. What advice would you give to other young women who are looking to pursue a career in political fundraising?
Don’t be intimidated by political fundraising. It’s a great field for folks with strong management, organization, and people skills. Also, ask people who are successful at political fundraising for advice. Linkedin is a good source to find local political fundraisers or consultants in your area. You can reach out to them for a quick call or coffee to learn about breaking into the field.
Q. What do you hope to do in the future?
Fundraising is a transferable skill. I want to challenge myself and use those skills to raise money for student scholarships for my alma mater, Oakwood University, and give back. I also want to continue raising funds to elect more African-Americans into public office – that’s where my focus is right now.