Terker Distinguished Fellow
After finding out there were no jobs for Irish history majors, Kristen fell into public interest communications, and then fell in love with it. She started as an intern with a firm that was just finishing up Nelson Mandela’s stadium tour, and a few years and many pitch calls later, became its president. In 2002, deciding the world could use more women-run companies, she started Spitfire Strategies. Her first order of business was to democratize the knowledge about how to create a strategic communication plan so lots of organizations could harness the growing power of communication to make the world better. After writing the Smart Chart, she used all its helpful tips to get more children health care coverage, get the Gulf Coast back on its feet after the BP oil spill, start the Executive Training Program to give CEOs the skills needed to run communicating organizations, and work for thousands of nonprofits and foundations around the world, learning more with every assignment.
As @headspitfire, she believes she has the best job in the world: hire the smartest people she can find, unleash them on clients doing essential work to advance racial and social justice, and roll up her sleeves and join in. She has created narratives that stick, messages that motivate, theories of influence that shape new laws of the land, campaign, and communication strategies that drive momentum for movements and field-building resources that share tricks of the trade so fellow progressive changemakers can do smarter, more impactful work.
Over her 30 years doing public interest communication and campaigns, she has worked for clients across issues and across the world. This includes work for clients like the Ford Foundation on Census 2020 and human rights in the global south, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on education reform, Walton Family Foundation on Gulf Coast and Mississippi River regional work on sustainable farming and development, Food Trust on food deserts, Patagonia on civic engagement, Georgia Organics on local, organic school meals, Environmental Defense Fund on climate policies, Carnegie Corporation on ending nuclear proliferation, Living Cities on racial inclusion in the C-Suite, Innocence Project on criminal justice reform, Farm to Fork on a safe, healthy food system, Media and Democracy Fund on online privacy, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on Voting Rights Act Reauthorization, Barr Foundation on transportation, Mott Foundation on clean Great Lakes and safe drinking water, Aspen Institute on family prosperity, NRDC on safe food and Meyer Memorial Trust on anti-hate, among others.
She is the mastermind behind Spitfire’s Smart Chart, Planning to Win,Mindful Messaging and Discovering the Activation Point, among other big think pieces. Always interested in learning more about how to get traction, she explores innovative efforts like using culture to shape meaning as she did with AndACTION. She thinks fast in a crisis, is deft at drawing phenomenal visionary speeches out of leaders and is someone you want in your corner when you’re ready to go big. When it comes to storytelling, all you need to know is that her last name is Grimm.
She is a go-to counselor for organizations and leaders embarking on organizational change. Whether supporting the first woman president of the Nathan Cummings Foundation as she took the helm, working with the UN environment and development agencies to craft a climate change platform for the Secretary General, writing speeches, op-eds and testimony for “Orange is the New Black” author Piper Kerman, or working with Greenville, South Carolina, leaders to create the political climate for more ambitious public transit, Kristen provides counsel that leads to measurable impact.
When not working, Kristen tours the country in her trailer. Yep, trailer. She lives in 16 feet with a husband and two dogs, checking out this country of ours and finding out it is a lot different than they would have us believe on the nightly news.
Kristen has a B.A. from Smith College. She currently serves on the boards of Grist and the Windward Fund, and she is on the advisory board for the Narrative Initiative. She is a member of the 2014 Class of Henry Crown Fellows at the Aspen Institute and serves in the moderator corps for Aspen. On faculty at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire, she teaches a course on using influence to advance public policies.