Reach for the Stars: The 2014 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards Winners
As always, choosing the winners in our annual Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards was a heart-wrenching decision. So many worthy nominees. And so many others who weren't nominated.
And as always, we chose winners based not only on numbers or specific fundraising victories, but also on the way they contribute to the sector as a whole, an attitude or approach that stands out as particularly beneficial — the educators, innovators, risk-takers and rise-abovers.
Here are this year's winners. We'd like to thank everyone who took the time to nominate someone. And thank you, also, to our winners for your uncompromising dedication and professionalism, and for your outstanding, continuing contributions to the fundraising sector.
FUNDRAISING PROFESSIONAL OF THE YEAR
It's rare that a startup nonprofit can raise more than $400,000 in capital campaign funds in one year. It's even more rare when that fundraising is for an idea and that startup nonprofit barely exists. That's what happened with EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute, which opened its doors for business Nov. 1, 2013, after a capital campaign that ran just nine months.
According to founder and CEO Brandon Chrostowski, it was Matt Fieldman's daring and unconventional leadership that took the dream of a nonprofit restaurant dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated men and women learn skills in fine dining and made it a reality.
The story of EDWINS — short for "Education Wins" — began when Fieldman partnered with Chrostowski in 2010. Chrostowski, who ran a trendy Cleveland restaurant, wanted to give back by launching his own culinary school dedicated to helping ex-offenders get their lives back on track. Fieldman, after 13 years of fundraising in the nonprofit world, wanted to launch a social enterprise that wouldn't have to rely on fundraising to make ends meet. The two assembled a board of committed volunteers who got to work talking up the organization, making connections, and raising the money necessary to launch a full-scale restaurant and culinary school.
Chrostowski says it took a lot of explaining to foundations and donors that EDWINS was indeed a registered 501(c)3 and that the training and business went hand in hand as part of the social mission. The board began meeting in 2011 and started planning events for 2012. A garden party friend-raiser in the summer of 2012 attracted 100 of Cleveland's business leaders to learn about EDWINS. Then a small fundraising effort in autumn 2012 brought in $15,000 to pay for basic expenses.
But fundraising for EDWINS began in earnest after a media blitz in early 2013. Chrostowski says one local philanthropist gave the first major gift of $25,000 in March. Led by Fieldman's tireless efforts, EDWINS raised $422,000 in just more than nine months, and the restaurant opened in November.
Fieldman aimed his fundraising efforts on traditional Cleveland-focused foundations, as well as national partners like the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, wealthy local families, nontraditional funders like Social Venture Partners and individuals, who gave more than $29,000 via a grassroots Indiegogo campaign.
"Foundations and individuals alike responded well to the basic tenets of EDWINS: economic development for Cleveland, individual empowerment for students and a profit-making restaurant that would provide the sustainable funding so necessary to successful nonprofits," Chrostowski says. "It took many hours of grant writing, innumerable conversations with potential donors large and small, a handful of trips to prison, and more, but Matt's commitment turned the dream into a reality."
In addition to the fundraising, Fieldman also spearheaded the creation of a support network that assists EDWINS students outside the restaurant, creating, along with Chrostowski, "a whole ecosystem of partner nonprofits to offer everything from substance abuse counseling to job coaching, to literacy, to financial counseling, to housing and a wide variety of other critical support services."
Fieldman's "day job" is senior account executive at digital-marketing firm Fathom. But he brought 13 years of nonprofit work to his involvement with EDWINS, including positions as a fundraiser for the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and director of development at MedWish International.
Today, it's nearly impossible to get a reservation at EDWINS on a Friday or Saturday night. More importantly, more than 40 students are improving their lives in the six-month EDWINS curriculum before being placed in restaurants around Cleveland.
We're honoring Fieldman, in part, for his dogged determination to get funding for what was, for the most part, still a dream, and for the huge push that led to EDWINS' opening in 2013. But also, we're thrilled by the vision that Fieldman, along with Chrostowski, showed in creating a self-sustaining nonprofit organization that showcases the feasibility of a properly planned and implemented social enterprise.
vice president of development
Many recent reports have indicated that the average tenure for a fundraising professional at a nonprofit is about 18 months. In a sector that sees dizzying turnover rates, it's a tribute to Patrick Mulvey's dedication to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center that he has stayed with the hospital for nearly 30 years.
Mulvey started at MD Anderson in 1985 as assistant director of development services. He was promoted to director of development services in 1986 and director of development in 1989.
From 1991 to 1999, he held concurrently the positions of associate vice president for development, executive staff assistant for the University Cancer Foundation and executive director of the capital campaign at MD Anderson. He was promoted to vice president for development in 2000.
From a staff of six individuals in 1985, the development office has grown under Mulvey's leadership to more than 125 staff members. From 1991 to 1999, it was reorganized to increase operational efficiency, a new planned-giving program was created and, in 1995, a $151 million capital campaign was successfully completed in two and a half years. In 2000, the development office increased philanthropic giving to more than $100 million a year, an achievement it has matched and exceeded every year since. For example, in FY2009, development raised $184.8 million; in FY2010, $340.9 million (with a transformational gift of $150 million); and in FY2011, $200.7 million.
In 2007, Mulvey led MD Anderson to initiate Making Cancer History: The Campaign to Transform Cancer Care, with a philanthropic fundraising goal of $1 billion. The campaign was completed in 2011, a year early, with pledges received from 630,000 donors worldwide.
In 2012, Mulvey was awarded the prestigious Byron Welch Award for Lifetime Achievement in Fundraising from the Association of Fundraising Professionals. He received The Gerry Gunnin Professional Achievement Award as Outstanding Professional in 2002 from the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy — Rockies and Southwest Region, and he was honored as the 1996 Outstanding Fundraising Executive by the Greater Houston Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
"Pat is truly a remarkable leader," says Maureen Carlson, principal at Good Scout. "He not only inspires his team to consistently raise impressive amounts to fight cancer every year, but he has done so while fashioning an environment of sharing, mentoring, entrepreneurism and true collegiality.
"Pat never shies away from the challenges," she writes, "but instead leads his team confidently by example toward remarkable success."
FUNDRAISING STARS (NONPROFIT)
director of resource development
Marcy Bursac's work encompasses some of the most important building blocks to successful fundraising. One of the first clues that we were looking at star material was the fact that within a few months of joining the staff at Connections to Success, Bursac led the organization's first-ever staff giving campaign, and as a result, the organization can now share with its funders that it has 100 percent staff giving — a real confidence builder when it comes to deciding which organizations to support.
Bursac also created a major-giving club and was instrumental in getting a resource development team off the ground in the organization's Kansas City region. In addition, she has been instrumental in securing private grant funding — an area that had been less than successful for the organization — and she affordably added six people to the 30-person staff by connecting with the AmeriCorps VISTA program.
"Marcy has been a true joy to work with and has gone above and beyond our expectations in terms of diversifying our funding and deepening and building relationships," says organization CEO and co-founder Kathy Lambert. "What I just love is that she does it all out of her heart for the underserved. We know that Marcy's value to the organization has only just begun, and we are excited for all the growth we will see in the years together!"
general surgeon and fundraising volunteer
director, office of communications and development
Laura Nelson Lof,
fundraising coordinator, office of communications and development
This fundraising team is being honored for its success in creating a culture of philanthropy within its organization to sustain employee giving during tough financial times.
Jeanette Budding, assistant director of communications and development at GRMC, explains that to encourage staff to help the hospital's Moving at the Speed of Life campaign reach its $7.5 million goal for six capital projects and an endowment for mental health services, Nicholas Kuiper, Denise Lamphier and Laura Nelson Lof worked to foster a feeling of fun among the employees and give them more reasons to give.
Some of the incentives were as simple as being entered into a drawing to win an iPad Mini, while others were as creative as being invited to a barbecue at Kuiper's home. The doctor challenged Grinnell staff members to encourage giving in the departments they worked with the most. Twenty-five of GRMC's 49 medical staff providers took the Kuiper Challenge and offered incentives.
The whole effort was bolstered by a continuing sense of camaraderie and friendly competition. In all, 67 percent of staff made an outright gift or pledge. When counting honorariums, the medical center reached a 90 percent participation rate. Employee gifts ranged from $5 to $15,000.
"We also improved staff morale and helped staff find the joy in giving," Budding says. "And that employee who could only afford to donate $5? She won $100 in the Kuiper Challenge. After the drawing, she made a gift to GRMC's hospital helpers fund, which provides a little extra for GRMC families in need at the holidays. I'd like to think she paid it forward a little bit. Creating a culture of giving, indeed."
vice president, marketing
In her more than 20 years at Heifer International, Christy Moore has had a hand in developing and/or fine-tuning a number of areas that are increasingly being recognized as the foundations for a strong and sustainable fundraising program: acquisition, retention and reactivation, second-gift strategies, monthly giving, a donor-centric mindset, multichannel integration, and the breaking down of silos within the organization. Whew!
Moore has risen through the ranks at Heifer and now oversees mail, telemarketing, mass marketing, email marketing, social media and communications — and she leads the teams responsible for more than 70 percent of Heifer's organizational income.
According to Jennifer Mercer, executive vice president at Craver, Mathews, Smith & Co., Moore's donor-centric approach "has allowed us to cultivate donors by donor type, upgrade donors at all levels, allocate expense money where we get the most bang for our buck and steward donors properly, maximizing donor loyalty."
Some of Moore's teams' accomplishments:
- a second-gift strategy contributes to the increased conversion and retention of new donors through unique treatments based on giving history, recency and frequency of giving;
- the monthly giving program has quintupled in size as the result of her staff working with the mass-marketing team, the online team, the communications department and organizational management to position it in a new and exciting way;
- a new, user-friendly website has increased clickthroughs, length of time spent on the site, interactivity and revenue; and
- communication and synergy across departments within the organization have increased, creating more unified messaging through communications, education, social media, online, in the mail, on the phone and via email.
Moore's curiosity for donor motivation and industry trends has led Heifer to perform multiple donor surveys, focus groups of donors and non-donors across the country, participate in benchmarking studies, attend and speak at conferences and seminars, and always try the newest, most cutting-edge fundraising tools. She also has diversified Heifer's income through online acquisition strategies; implementation of DRTV; non-catalog, non-holiday acquisition; and online team fundraising.
All of this — plus the fact that since she began her leadership role at Heifer, income across multiple departments increased well over 10 percent — combine to make Moore a true fundraising star.
We have to agree with Mercer when she says, "There really isn't much that Christy's talent, knowledge, curiosity and determination haven't impacted in a positive way during her long career at Heifer."
vice president of institutional advancement
Often, advancement success is measured by the dollars one raises, but in a profession that can often only be learned by experience and mentoring, it's important to also recognize a leader's investment in the development of effective and ethical fundraisers.
According to Thomas Naples, coordinator of donor relations at Purchase College, Jeannine Starr has spent the past year strategically assembling a 12-person advancement team primarily comprising entry- to midlevel professionals. Each individual was selected from highly competitive pools for his or her commitment to donor-centered best practices and a genuine passion for philanthropy.
"Jeannine's commitment to her team is to ensure that each person has the tools, mentoring and support to be successful on the institution's behalf, as well as in their personal, professional journey," he says. "Her mission is to see advancement leaders emerge over the next three to five years who continue to strengthen the culture of philanthropy at Purchase College, as well as at the institutions they may lead as their careers flourish."
We couldn't agree more that fundraisers who take young development professionals under their wings to ensure the professionalism and ethical standards of the sector well into the future are fundraising stars indeed.
FUNDRAISING STARS (AGENCY)
During her nine years in client service, Kristen McCool has passionately served some of the nation's top nonprofit organizations, including American Bible Society, National Parks Foundation, Ducks Unlimited and The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.
Looking at some numbers, there's no denying her place among the fundraising stars: a 260 percent total giving lift over a direct-mail control at one organization; identification of a key pool of donors on another organization's file, increasing giving by 162 percent from the previous year; and an increase in cultivation net income by 20 percent and net per donor acquired by 43 percent for another.
But like so many of our honorees, McCool's success goes beyond just numbers.
"Quick to learn, adapt and excel in the rapidly changing fundraising arena, Kristen is a true master of all direct-response channels, from direct mail to digital, telemarketing, online and more," says Billy Vaudry, vice president, group director, at KerstenDirect. "As a strategist with the ability to execute, Kristen also has the keen ability to see, understand and embrace a 360-degrees programmatic picture that extends beyond direct-response fundraising channels. Kristen's fundraising skills and successes are matched only by her levelheaded professionalism so appreciated in a high-pressure environment fraught with rapid change and unexpected circumstances."
As the nature of fundraising changes and expands, the industry needs big-picture thinkers who are also masters at fundraising basics. We're honoring McCool for filling that bill perfectly.
principal and founder
Since starting MINDset Direct in 2005, Kristin McCurry has surrounded herself with some of the most creative women in fundraising, and it shows in the agency's fresh and nimble approach. Some of McCurry's most notable fundraising successes are evident in her work with:
- St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, especially in terms of monthly giving. St. Jude's monthly giving program is the largest of its kind in the United States, and its year-over-year growth is nothing short of phenomenal;
- the launch of Disabled American Veterans' DRTV efforts, which have hit or exceeded all the organization's goals; and
- continued work with fundraising powerhouse the Human Rights Campaign.
But even beyond those obvious successes, McCurry is an author, speaker, mentor and entrepreneur who is never hesitant to share her knowledge and insight. Her enthusiasm and passion for things that make the world a better place are refreshing and infectious. She's a consultant who represents a breed of fundraising stars who see beyond their own success and even that of their own clients, and push toward the health and well-being of the nonprofit sector as a whole.
During her career, Kathy Swayze has contributed to the fundraising success of more than 200 organizations, raising many millions of dollars for positive change.
Again, we could look just at the numbers:
- Swayze navigated fundraising messaging for the Foundation Fighting Blindness that combined sophisticated scientific research with emotional storytelling to help increase direct-mail revenue by more than 170 percent over six years.
- She developed an institutional case for support and other communications that helped the AARP Foundation increase the number of its $1,000+ donors by 65 percent in one year.
But like our other stars, Swayze's impact goes beyond that. She recognizes the importance of storytelling in fundraising — a fact that sometimes gets lost amid the new and shiny things in the sector — and helps organizations tell their stories in ways that resonate with donors and other potential supporters while keeping their messaging consistent across all mediums.
Swayze is also dedicated to the overall success and growth of the sector and as such is a frequent speaker at conferences around the country. She also served as president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals DC Chapter and was a co-founder of the innovative Bridge Conference.
"Kathy's intelligence, her enthusiasm for each and every client, her unwillingness to settle for just OK, and her insistence on looking at the bigger picture raise the level of everyone she works with," says Dinah O'Berry, a former Impact client. "Kathy is truly a fundraising star."
As tempting as it was to honor this team based solely on the fact that it turned Cronuts into a fundraiser, the props go much further.
In 2013, a major donor put God's Love We Deliver in contact with Christiane Lemieux, owner of DwellStudio, who wanted to partner with Dominique Ansel, famed pastry chef and creator of the phenomenon known as the Cronut, to raise money and awareness for GLWD.
Emmett Findley and Stephen Covello hatched the idea for The Cronut Mission, through which GLWD would ask New York City influencers to design Cronut carriers that would then be auctioned to raise money for the organization. Influencers were chosen based on their celebrity, connection to GLWD and social-media reach.
The Cronut Mission raised $8,800 for GLWD and was a huge social-media success. Findley and Covello managed PR for the campaign, bringing huge awareness to GLWD and its mission.
According to David Ludwigson, chief development officer at GLWD, "The initiative was fun and light, and our influencers enjoyed participating, helping to solidify their connection to the agency. Emmett made it easy for them do their work by helping them craft personal social-media messages each could use to get the word out. Stephen worked his major-donor connections to ensure healthy bidding on each special Cronut carrier (with some selling for as much as $1,200 each)."
We applaud Findley and Covello, who started their careers at GLWD as volunteer coordinators, for their understanding of how to engage and empower volunteers, as well as knowing the importance of projects that donors and evangelists alike can really sink their teeth into!
development coordinator & grant writer
From up-and-coming fundraisers (above) who made a splash with social media, we turn to one who was nominated "because she has applied her formidable talents to achieving excellence in good, old-fashioned fundraising."
According to Heather Laing, development director at Calvary Women's Services, "Lisa Buchs builds and nurtures relationships, she helps individuals and institutions find meaningful ways to connect with philanthropic work, and she keeps the clients we serve at the center of all that she does. Through those efforts, she has dramatically increased institutional support at our organization and exceeded ambitious goals to fund new programs and services."
Buchs joined the staff of Calvary Women's Services as a grant writer in the summer of 2012 when the organization was in the last year of a three-year capital campaign. It had raised much of the campaign funds from individual donors rather than foundations or other institutions and was struggling overall when it came to securing foundation support.
Buchs jumped right in, educating herself on the organization's mission and reaching out to a wide variety of current, lapsed and prospective funders, and building relationships with new potential funders. From small family foundations to major corporations, Buchs reached out to organizations that seemed likely to invest in Calvary's work and helped them find ways to connect that would be meaningful to both parties.
"She was not afraid to take risks but also would not waste time — hers or anyone else's — chasing after funders who are not a good match. The positive impact was immediate," Laing says, adding that six months after Buchs started her work with Calvary, the organization was awarded a $230,000 grant, the largest in its history, to close the gap on the renovation of its new building.
Buchs has many other financial accomplishments, but she also is being honored for her strong commitment, positive attitude and gracious spirit.
"The contributions Lisa has made to Calvary Women's Services in the last year and a half are incredible," Laing says. "From raising funds to close the gap on a capital campaign to creating activities to strengthen the staff team, she has demonstrated tireless passion, extraordinary commitment and exemplary professionalism. She embodies the best of nonprofit professionals, and she has a magnificent career ahead of her."
resource development manager
Niya Kight is another up-and-comer whose success is rooted firmly in the foundations of fundraising, as well as an overall positive attitude and eagerness to learn.
Last year, according to Elizabeth Coit, chief development officer at CFED, Kight initiated several activities to help the organization launch an individual donor program. She designed a chart to track and analyze individual donor giving history and patterns over a five-year period, and drafted an individual fundraising plan.
"Without much time to develop her professional interest in working with individual donors, Niya nonetheless took the initiative to cultivate a relationship with several, sending them CFED materials that they would find interesting," Coit says. "She also sent them periodic CFED-logoed items, and as a result of her efforts, one became a multiple-gift donor in 2013 with increased giving."
When two people left the development department, Kight showed her dedication by expanding her tasks to include building relationships with organizational, as well as individual, funders. She is also an avid learner, always looking for ways to grow in her field.
"She is respected and appreciated and has gained more visibility for her quiet but cheerful productivity and collaborative spirit," Coit says. "She performs her tasks and takes on new ones with flexibility, grace, forbearance and a keen interest in constantly learning."
Jody Lang Bender,
board director - special events chair
Our last-but-not-least winner in the Rising Stars category gets kudos for being an innovative risk-taker — a mindset that helped her breathe life into a ho-hum event and turn it into a major fundraising vehicle for the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters.
Lang Bender was the special events chair for the PLWV's annual Civic Leadership Reception in November 2013, which historically was a low-key event that cost about $250 to put on. But with Lang Bender at the helm, the event moved from a donated conference room to The Union League of Philadelphia and attracted Philadelphia Eagles legend Vince Papale as master of ceremonies, actor Tony Lo Bianco, outstanding musicians and even a Mummers string band.
Lang Bender definitely kicked the once-staid event up a notch, attracting more than 400 attendees. According to Sharon Cohen, board director at PLWV, the tight time frame made the increased attendance even more noteworthy. Overall, the event created major awareness of the organization and cast it in a new light for those who already knew about it.
Lang Bender's enthusiastic approach and her dedication to making the most of an already established event show the kind of verve and vision that make for a fundraising pro.
"Taking a fresh look at opportunity, creating a new vision and having the grit to make it happen is the recipe for a rising star in the fundraising sector," Cohen says.
We agree and will look for this rising star to continue raising the bar at special events in 2014 and beyond.
LIVE IT AWARD
It's hard to deny the personal dedication of someone who's willing to do yoga for the cause. At 8 a.m. Dressed as a carrot.
But that's just a small part of Gregory Ng's commitment to eradicating hunger in North Carolina. Jen Newmeyer, digital media manager at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, describes Ng as "a local social-media celebrity with a very simple life motto: Enjoying life, fighting hunger and trying to be the best dad in the world."
"As a stellar social-media ambassador for the food bank, a regular volunteer and a personal campaign fundraiser for our organization, he is living up to his motto at a tremendous level," she says.
Two years ago, Ng approached the food bank with a unique fundraising idea: a 24-hour telethon that streams live from the organization's warehouse in Raleigh, N.C. With Ng as host, this unique fundraiser has become the social-media event of the year in the region. In 2013, it featured a food truck rodeo, a social-media mixer, midnight volunteering, a 2 a.m. dance event, a 4 a.m. barbecue and 8 a.m. yoga in vegetable costumes, as well as a dunk tank, demos and a tasty treat of cricket brittle from the local science museum.
At the 2013 telethon, Ng chatted with more than 50 guests and sponsors in a grueling schedule of back-to-back, 15-minute segments for 24 hours straight. He also helps recruit sponsors, prize and food donors, volunteers, and takes part in planning from start to finish.
"In 2012, we raised $25,000. In 2013, just before noon, we reached a goal of $50,000 in exactly 23 hours and 57 minutes: a classic photo finish," Newmeyer says. "Overall, just over $55,000 was raised."
Outside of these activities, Ng has held two personal fundraising campaigns, was the most engaged participant in the food bank's five-day Food Stamp Challenge (documenting his experience by publishing a video each day to his YouTube channel) and promotes many food bank events on his social-media outlets.
"He champions for the food bank constantly," Newmeyer says. "Greg's partnership has made a tremendous impact at the food bank and has brought the awareness of hunger relief to a new level in the digital space. Greg has adopted hunger relief as his personal mission in life and is a stellar example of successful philanthropic efforts by a community leader."
BEST INDUSTRY BLOGS
The Food Bank Fundraising Advocacy blog is geared toward food banks and their unique fundraising strategies. Started in 2012 and spearheaded by Kent Rohrbach, a vice president at LW Robbins, the blog features commentary from Rohrbach and other fundraising professionals, as well as LW Robbins' inaugural Food Bank Fundraising Gold Plate Awards for excellence in specific digital-fundraising initiatives.
There are lots of great, general fundraising blogs out there, but we like that this one is very mission-specific and really zeroes in on issues that affect food banks. Many of Robbins' clients are food banks, so kudos to the folks there for recognizing the importance of going the extra step for their clients.
Veritus Group partners Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels offer consistently thoughtful commentary, mostly around major-gifts fundraising. But their posts also offer insights into the bigger picture of fundraising, stressing the importance of helping donors find joy in giving. Their posts are informative, often funny, sometimes quirky — but always passionate and very graciously written.
MOST INSPIRING SPEAKER
director of planned giving
We have to admit that we've not yet heard Wayne Olson speak at a fundraising conference, but now we're sure looking forward to it. (And maybe we can snag him for an FS webinar or other event!)
Prior to his position at Sewanee, Olson was associate director of planned giving at the University of Richmond and a planned-giving officer at the American Cancer Society, and he brings years of development experience to his presentations. Colleagues enthusiastically describe him as an elegant, engaging and inspiring speaker who winnows down complex or technical subjects into easy-to-digest terms and creates a comfort zone of learning within his sessions.
"I have served as chair of the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning of Greater Philadelphia council's annual conference over the last several years and have been responsible for booking speakers," says Joe Tumolo, vice president of sales, Planned Giving Marketing. "Of all the ones we have had over the years, Wayne remains the one who most people comment about (in a very positive way). He speaks from the heart, is truly passionate about philanthropy, and cuts through all the technical clutter to remind us that it's about the donor and helping the donor accomplish what they want."