Women Who Raise Money

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.

A Refugee From Vietnam – Why I Got Into Politics


Tam Doan, Research and Policy Director
Every Voice Center (Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Shortly after moving to D.C. to work for Every Voice Center, I had the opportunity to meet Tam Doan. Typically, I did not get to see her much because she was working out of New Mexico; however, while working on an assignment in Miami-Dade County, I got the opportunity to work with Tam and learn more about her work and her journey in this field.

This interview was conducted to share Tam’s story with other women who many be refugees and believe that they cannot work in American politics because they or their families may be immigrants.

Q. So tell me a little about yourself.

I grew up in the Los Angeles area, after coming to the U.S. as a child and a refugee from Vietnam. For undergrad, I went to Swarthmore College (near Philadelphia) and majored in physics and for grad school, I went to the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Looking back at when I went off to college on the opposite coast, I can see that step now as a continuation of my independence streak and a journey I paved for myself over the years, but it was also possible because of the many difficulties my family worked through as immigrants, many of which they still face today.

It took many different steps in my academic and professional journey to arrive where I am now, but each part made sense as I went along.

Q. How did you get into politics?

In my early work experiences, I think I was trying to understand social and economic forces through larger and larger groupings of people: first in the classroom, then working with families, and then with local and national community organizations.

One of my earlier memories of activism was joining a protest on campus, freshman year, against Prop 187 (an anti-immigrant measure in California). Throughout my time at Swarthmore, there were opportunities to learn about politics, but it really wasn’t until I started working, first as an 8th grade teacher, and then in a nonprofit law firm that represents minors, then in a community organization, and so on, did I begin to understand how different systems interact to create conditions I wanted to change.

One of my starkest memories as a young activist was the free trade protest in Miami (of all places) in 2003—the police presence there was over the top. Then, the fall of 2004 was when I started short-term work on campaigns—registering people to vote and getting out the vote. But it was definitely my time at the Center for Community Change, starting in late 2005, when I learned the most about organizing and politics.

While I was in grad school, I was involved in activism related to globalization, corporate power, and labor standards—the sweatshop conditions I learned about reminded me of my parents’ experiences, as garment workers in Los Angeles. After graduate school, my work became more explicitly political, more about the intersection of organizing, policy, and system changes, probably because of the people I met before and during graduate school and the extracurricular activities I joined around that time.

I think ultimately I got into politics because of what I saw around me growing up poor in Los Angeles and what I’ve seen around me in different parts of the country (like Detroit and Louisiana), as I grew older.

Q. Did you experience and significant challenges as you were getting into politics?

I think most of the challenges I faced came from having to find my own way for a lot of it, maybe because I didn’t always have people around who could offer guidance or maybe because I didn’t know the questions to ask or how to ask them.

Probably another challenge is that my own personal style of moving around in the world may be different from recognizable or dominant styles, particularly styles of leadership.

Q. What made you get into research and ultimately policy designing?

I’ve gravitated toward roles that involve sorting out complex information and can be done mostly in the background vs. having higher visibility.

Q. What type of policy do you develop? Why is that type of policy important to you?

I focus on designing policies that bring more everyday people and voices into politics, because I want to see more representative and responsive governing, and ultimately, I hope my work contributes to a more just and humane society.

Q. Do you think there is a need for more women to get involved in research and policy-making?

There are great women in this field, and it is always a pleasure to meet more women in these roles.

Q. What advice would you give to other women who are looking to pursue a career in political research and/or policy development?

I think finding more of a community, including mentors and peers, can be helpful.

Q. Is there any one thing you wish you knew before you decided to pursue this line of work?

With all the long hours behind a computer screen, I wish I had better ergonomic practices early on. =)

Q. What do you hope to do in the future?

For now, I just hope I can continue to play a helpful role in the work for social justice and improve my ability to do so over time.