Saturday, November 6, 2010

True Fund-Raising Professionals

In the past week I was afforded the privilege of providing the keynote address for the Hudson-Mohawk Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals on National Philanthropy Day. The occasion gave me the opportunity to spend time with the chapter’s fine leadership team and other true fund-raising professionals representing a variety of organizations and institutions. I call them true fund-raising professionals because they know:

Real fund raising doesn’t begin until you’re face-to-face with a prospect so they put themselves “out there,” or “on the road” sacrificing time with family and loved ones, not just to advance the interests of the organization they represent but to earn the trust, then the support, of their donors;

It takes time to earn the trust of others; that people don’t let go of large sums without deliberation and evidence of when, where and how their money can make a difference;

They have to listen before they ask because fund raising isn’t about getting what an institution wants but about achieving mutuality of purpose and common cause; that the animating passion of the American philanthropic institution is not “We the institution” but “we the people” trying form a more perfect union;

To ask when the donor is ready not when the institution most wants the money;

To ask only for projects and purposes that their institution is fully-prepared to implement on budget and on time;

To ensure that donors know exactly when, where and how their money is being used, if it is sole source of funding for a particular purpose or project or if it is to be used in conjunction with other institutional or private funds, and if any existing funds currently used for the stated purpose are to be redirected elsewhere upon receipt of those donors gifts;

To ensure that the institution they represent is accepts the moral weight of asking for, and accepting the support of others, and that it fully understands and is prepared to fulfill its obligations to donors;

To insist on, and help frame specific gift agreements so that the interests and obligations of the donor and the institution can be abided by over time;

To do all they can to bring about a culture of gratitude and accountability within the institution they represent; and

To do all they can to represent the donors’ interest within the institution including making sure donors are notified if any actual or implied promises in the gift agreement cannot be met.

None of them, that I know of, got into the business to raise money for its own sake; they accepted the responsibility of fund raising to make worthwhile things happen. I will be forever proud to call these true professionals my colleagues.


The philanthropic support that an institution receives over time has far more to do with the character it demonstrates than with the way it campaigns for support. For that reason I was deeply impressed by the manner in which Notre Dame in general, and it’s president in particular, responded to the death of a student videographer on October 27. “Declan Sullivan was entrusted to our care and we failed to keep him safe,” wrote Reverend John Jenkins. “We at Notre Dame and ultimately I, as president, are responsible.” In a world where too many leaders cite liability as a reason for doing nothing or who throw subordinates under the bus to divert attention from their failings, President Jenkins strength and leadership in the wake of a terrible tragedy is breathtakingly refreshing.


If you would like to take part in, and learn from a survey on how colleges and universities use social media to raise money, please click on the link below.


Tom Whalen said...


Your presentation was a rare combination of the inspirational and the practical. We all look forward to seeing you again and are equally honored to call you a colleague.

Tom Whalen

Tom Whalen said...

One more thing Jim. Our local paper ran an article on the cost increases at all of the local colleges and universities. Restraint seems to be the operative word as only one of the schools had an annual increase in excess of 7%. Still, how can we expect to build trusting relationships with our donors when we continue to advance a growth paradigm that is unrelenting and, based on the evidence, has difficulty inspiring donors? I am happy to be a part of this dialogue.