Beyond The Brand Interview Series: Kristina Klaas - rachelleslie.co

Beyond The Brand Interview Series: Kristina Klaas

How She Created a Mission-Driven Business & How She Faces the Challenges of Entrepreneurship

Welcome to the first interview for our new series, Beyond the Brand. In the coming months you will get to sit down with your favorite cozy beverage and learn from the inspiring founders and creative minds behind brands that are making the world better. For our first interview, who better to kick it off than the founder and fundraising strategist behind Kristina Klaas + Co. She also happens to be a former RL Studio client. We’re so lucky to have her and equally excited for you to get to know her. 

No intro we could write would do Kristina justice so let’s pass the mic to her and let you get acquainted.

1. I’m so excited to chat with you, for those who don’t know you tell me a bit about who you are and what you do?

I’m Kristina Klaas, the founder and fundraising strategist for Kristina Klaas + Co. LLC. Through my work and business, I’m on a mission to increase access to funds for purpose-driven leaders and organizations through connection, collaboration, and empowerment. I support, guide, and empower purpose-driven organizations to achieve sustainable, holistic fundraising. This looks like forging sustainable partnerships, playing matchmaker for nonprofit and corporate leaders, and crafting attainable strategies.

 A native Floridian, my husband, rescue pup, and I now call Livingston, Montana home. When I’m not working you will likely find me on a hike, cross country skiing, or slinging a hammer as we build our dream home on 20+ acres. There’s also a good chance you’ll find me in a pile of articles and books as I slowly tackle my Masters in Public Administration at Montana State University. 

2. We’re suckers for stories here in the studio (as you know 😉). For those who haven’t met you yet, can you share a bit about the origins of how you became a Social Impact and Fundraising Consultant, when you got started and what led you to dive in this space in sustainable fundraising organizations to begin with?

I’ve been involved in the nonprofit space for almost all of my life. Even before my professional days, my parents encouraged my older sister and I to volunteer with causes. Every wednesday after school in high school I used to ride the bus to the Special Olympics of Florida state headquarters, that was when I first realized that I could make a living by giving back. 

Throughout my undergraduate years I had the chance to volunteer and work internationally for NGOs, including in Hong Kong, and I just happened to fall into a nonprofit fundraising job after graduation. Admittedly, I was never truly happy because I felt confined and I couldn’t be creative; my employers had to meet strict budget goals and it was my job to raise the money. I would take side gigs here and there consulting with nonprofits but I didn’t have a plan — well, really the confidence! — to start my own business.

In November 2019, my husband experienced a freak incident that left him in a wheelchair for a few months. I’m a true believer that the universe gives us signs and, amidst the uncertainty of our lives at that moment, I decided to take a leap of faith.

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Over the span of two hours I quit my nonprofit fundraising job and committed wholeheartedly to launching my business. This was one of the best decisions of my life.”

In the beginning, I could only commit a few hours per week to growing the business. I’m a firm believer in manifesting our desires and within a few days I had amazing clients. As the business has grown and I’ve expanded my team, I’ve also leaned into my heart and become more targeted with my work.

I officially launched my business in early March 2020. The pandemic fell upon the United States one week after I officially went “full-time.” It was a bit stressful to say the least, however, I also realized that I had the skillset to help other entrepreneurs: finding and applying for funding. I started to help underrepresented entrepreneurs gain access to essential COVID grant funds and it was this experience that empowered me to shift my focus: to include purpose-driven organizations, both nonprofits and for-profit businesses, that are making our world a better place.

3. I know how isolating entrepreneurship and building a business can be, how have you found support and community as you’ve built your business?

As someone who launched my business in a rural community and right before the pandemic erupted, that feeling of isolation has been very palpable for me! I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing community of (primarily) women entrepreneurs here in Montana, as well as around the United States. 

They have been a huge source of inspiration, support, and motivation. 

I’ve also looked beyond my circle to find additional sources of community. This includes joining — and participating in — networking communities, like the 10th House/Female Founder Collective, or group coaching opportunities. I’ve leveraged my connections by sending a lot of cold emails to other founders and entrepreneurs that I look up to. And when someone offers to make an introduction, I jump at the opportunity. 

“In some ways, the feeling of isolation has been an incredible source of inspiration as I’ve challenged myself to move beyond my comfort zone through a need/desire to find connection.”

4. Entrepreneurship and building a business is not for everyone, what have been some challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?

I know I’m not alone when I say: imposter syndrome. 

This is something that I deal with on a regular basis but I have learned to see the signs and push them away. First, I began working with a life coach right before I launched my business. I learned a lot about myself, tackled some inner challenges, and learned techniques to stay in tune with myself. Second, my community (fellow entrepreneurs, friends, family) are my cheerleaders. If something’s not going my way or I’m struggling, I have a rolodex of folks that I can call or text. And I’m so fortunate because they are always there when I need them the most. 

Building a business during the height of the pandemic was gut-wrenching. Not only did I battle things like imposter syndrome, but I was also faced with serious questions about the long-term vitality of my business and client-base. There were a few moments in the Summer of 2020 where I felt like I was flailing. My business was growing and I had amazing clients, but I also wanted more. 

I decided to use this *perceived* uncertainty as my motivation to explore how I could harness an even greater impact through my work. I only told my closest people and, as I started to realign my target audience to include nonprofits and for profit clients, I realized that sometimes you just have to trust your gut and go for it. 

5. What about the good stuff? What would be on your entrepreneur highlight reel for your business in helping people work on their fundraising strategy or helping them increase their impact?

  • All of my nonprofit clients successfully navigated the COVID 19 pandemic (it definitely wasn’t easy for anyone!). Our collective fundraising efforts specific to COVID brought in nearly $750K!
  • Provided support and strategy for 6 nonprofit clients in 2021, collectively raising nearly $1M in just six months.
  • Probably not a reel highlight but a personal celebration: I booked a full load of clients for the entire year (2021) by March 2021.
  • Provided hands-on support for women and underrepresented founders, helping them keep their businesses afloat and thriving throughout 2020/2021.
  • After just a few sessions working together, SeekHer Foundation pitched a new corporate partner and received a quick yes/$25K.
  • Grew my team from just myself to five!
  • Every single one of my clients has forged a deeper understanding of and connection to impact. They are making the world better because of their mission and an intensified dedication to growth, innovation, and sustainable funding.

6. As you know here at the studio, we’re passionate about working with mission-driven and purpose-focused brands, can you tell me more about the mission behind what you do?

The mission of my business is driven by a life-long desire to make a difference in the world. I’m on a mission to make the world a more equitable place. I work with organizations that exist to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, like gender equity, climate change, and access to education. 

From my experience in the nonprofit sector, I was continuously frustrated by the lack of innovation and experimentation that I was exposed to on a daily basis. Furthermore, corporations were simply discussed as sources of revenue, not partners. So, through Kristina Klaas + Co, I’m on a mission to change this. 

It’s my mission to encourage innovation, experimentation, and ingenuity by forging sustainable and mutually beneficial partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations. By helping these entities gain access to new and/or alternative capital, our work shifts the landscape. We’re fostering partnerships that harness the longstanding knowledge of a nonprofit and the innovative spirit of a for-profit, socially-minded business. We’re connecting innovators. We’re building bridges that foster collaboration and connection in order to advance social good.

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7. What do you have coming down the pipeline in your business? What should we be keeping an eye out for?

Right now, our team is growing and I’m excited that this will allow us to grow our service options. And within the next year I’ll be launching a course to help purpose-driven organizations become grant-ready. It will cover topics like how to find grant funding, developing your narrative toolbox, and even have an opportunity for participants to apply for grant funding at the end of the course

8. What is the best advice you received as an entrepreneur and what advice would YOU give to someone looking to make the leap but feeling unsure?

The best advice I’ve received so far is to ask for help and stay vulnerable. When I received this advice I was trying to do everything myself and that just wasn’t possible. Small shifts in my business felt arduous and unattainable. Asking for and accepting help has been a game changer. Whether it’s outsourcing copywriting to Rachel (one of the best decisions!!), hiring on contractors, or brainstorming solutions with other entrepreneurs, I’m humbled by the outcomes of staying vulnerable. 

For someone looking to make the leap but feeling unsure I would say: don’t overthink it and surround yourself with cheerleaders. You will hit bumps in the road, early wins, and perhaps even failure. Yet, you don’t know what will happen if you never take the leap. Your support system will be there no matter what.

9. We’d love to know, how do you stay inspired and creative in your business? If you have any book or music recommendations, we’re all ears!

Finding inspiration is key! I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by nature here in Montana and that fuels a lot of my creativity. During the work day I’m all about a good Spotify playlist (send me your favorites!) or podcasts (I’ve been listening to Dorothy Kolb’s Thriving in the Chaos lately). 

Personally, I find some of the greatest inspiration in connecting with others. This is especially true for me when I step outside of my everyday realm, network, and field.

“One of the things I love the most about being an entrepreneur is the ability to look for inspiration from other industries and individuals. I like to push the boundaries of how I operate, think, or solve a problem.”


There are so many books to list. Right now I’m reading Fearless by Rebecca Minkoff and Super Attractor by Gabrielle Bernstein for inspiration.

10. Lastly, let us know where we can find you and stay connected!

There are a few ways you can find me. I’d love to connect — and am always up for meeting new folks and learning about what inspires them!

LinkedIn

www.kristinaklaas.co | kristina@kristinaklaas.co


We hope you loved getting to know Kristina and hearing some of her story. We are SO inspired by the work she’s doing and honored she agreed to be our first Beyond the Brand interviewee. If you know someone who would be a good fit for this series email aimee@rachelleslie.co and tell us all about them! Want to be the first to know when a new interview goes live on the blog?

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