CCS Took It to a New Level – an interview with Kirsten Earl McCorrister
Kirsten Earl McCorrister started working at the Centre for Christian Studies in 2001 as the Communications and Development Officer. At that point in her career she had never done development work before. She and then principal Caryn Douglas attended various workshops and courses on development and she became more comfortable in the role. The Centre relied (and still does) on donors, particularly alumni, but the donor base was shrinking. The graduates from the 1930s and 40s were disappearing. What the Centre needed, they decided, was a large pot of money to provide stability, so Kirsten started working on an endowment campaign. She worked with CCS alumni on peer-to-peer fundraising; key members in each graduating class where asked to contact other graduates from their year and invite them to contribute to the long-term existence of the Centre. Kirsten set an audacious goal – $1 Million – not knowing if it was achievable. (It was achieved, while Kirsten was on maternity leave so she didn’t get to fully celebrate.) In the process, Kirsten learned a lot about the relational nature of fundraising.
Kirsten remembers the Central Council at that time being somewhat uncomfortable talking about money. Until they realized that asking their peers to donate was really about sharing their passion. For alumni it wasn’t about begging for cash, it was about celebrating their shared experience of the Centre and ensuring that future students have that same opportunity.
Kirsten left CCS in 2008 and went on to work in various non-governmental agencies, including the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation and the Lake Winnipeg Foundation. (“I can tell you more than you want to know about phosphorus, eutrophication, and zebra mussels,” she says.) She developed her knowledge of Theory of Change (which she calls “SWOT analysis on steroids”). She saw the establishment of the Lake Winnipeg Indigenous Collective to represent the voice of various Indigenous communities working together to protect the sacred waters for future generations. As a white professional, Kirsten recalls being rightfully viewed with some suspicion in early meetings of the Indigenous Collective, but over four years of building trust and partnerships she feels that she is now seen as a useful ally working for Indigenous and environmental rights.
In 2018 Kirsten hung up her shingle as a private “strategic initiatives consultant.” KEM Consulting supports not-for-profits, Indigenous communities and initiatives, and other organizations who need help figuring out how to reach their strategic and collaborative goals. She provides process and facilitation, proposal writing and strategic planning, impact evaluation and theory of change. She likens her work to that of a translator – hearing the stories and concerns of a group and expressing them in a form that, say, government can understand. She compares the process to building a jigsaw puzzle. How do all the specific pieces fit together to make a big picture?
Her clients include Indigenous communities like Tataskweyak, Misipawistik, and Fox Lake Cree Nations, environmental groups like the Green Action Centre and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and church groups like … the Centre for Christian Studies.
For the past eight months, off-and-on, Kirsten has been working with CCS principal Michelle Owens and the Central Council to develop a new strategic plan for the Centre. Kirsten invited the Central Council to think about the times when CCS was “ahead of the curve”, and what does the Centre need to be doing now to adapt to a changing world and changing church while still maintaining its diaconal uniqueness.
Kirsten appreciates coming back into contact with a place that was formative for her, bringing with her twelve years of experience gained in the interim.
When Kirsten came to CCS in 2001, she was familiar with a social justice focus from her upbringing in the United Church and her involvement with UCC youth and young adult activities. “But CCS took it to a new level,” she says. Her connection with CCS forced her to confront her own privilege. She was also inspired by CCS students and the kind of justice work they were doing.
In her current work Kirsten often finds the need to deal with colonial baggage and the long-term impact of “divide-and-conquer” strategies that pitted Indigenous communities against each other. She is excited to see the strength that communities and organizations have when they work collectively.