Reach for the Stars!
Since day one, I’ve held that those of us who are responsible for putting out FundRaising Success learn more from our readers than our readers learn from us. And this year’s Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards have served to punctuate that belief.
Each year, we send out nominating forms that are nice and neat, with perfectly balanced categories that cover what we think are all the bases. And each year, we name winners in those respective categories.
But this year, the nominations weren’t so cut and dry, and we were reminded that there are thousands of fundraising pros out there who toil in small offices, work grueling hours and create miracles every day with very little money or staff to support them. There also are fundraising legends that inspire hundreds of fundraisers with their passion, dedication and willingness to lead by example. There are worker bees, and there are “celebs.” There are those who have a working grasp of the whole of fundraising’s best practices and others who specialize and excel in very specific areas. Some work for agencies, others for nonprofits themselves.
So this year, despite our efforts at a predetermined set of award categories, we’ve decided to let the nominations dictate those categories. Some sections of our awards story look the same, but others have morphed into something we hope is more representative of who’s doing what in the nonprofit sector.
We’ve never claimed that our awards are scientific, and this iteration just goes to show that we mean it! Here, then, is a round-up of some of the folks and organizations we believe have had a positive impact on fundraising in 2007. There are myriad more, of course, but time and space are limited. Whittling down the many nominations was a painstaking and often painful process. What we hope to accomplish, most of all, with these awards is a general recognition of the hard work and dedication that define the sector as a whole.
FUNDRAISER OF THE YEAR
Vice president of development and external relations
Old Salem Museums & Gardens
When Michelle Speas arrived late in 2006 at Old Salem Museums & Gardens — one of the top five visited museum institutions in North Carolina with more than 100,000 annual visitors — she inherited a development program in decline. Although Old Salem is a 54-year-old institution and maintains a $50 million endowment, the development department’s efforts had been unable to keep pace with the growing needs of the institution over the past 10 years, and the annual operating deficit had reached $880,000.
Old Salem’s president and board believed that through Michelle’s leadership, the development office’s capacity would increase and help retire the operating deficit over three fiscal years — all the while funding programmatic expansion and growth. In just nine months under her guidance, Old Salem increased its development revenue 310 percent from $1.4 million to $5.7 million; the number of donors grew from 783 to 1,596 — a 104 percent increase; and visitation increased 20 percent.
All of this growth occurred simultaneously as Michelle took on the task of persuading the organization’s leadership to invest in her development team, which when she arrived stood at 1.5 full-time employees. Michelle successfully lobbied the president and board to invest in her department, enabling her to hire a director of grants, director of development, manager of gift records and a manager of membership.
We’re honoring her with this award for fearlessly embracing what amounted to the total overhaul of her organization’s development staff while completely turning around its fundraising efforts and breathing life into a stagnant program. That’s exactly the kind of wherewithal that takes nonprofit fundraising to new heights.
Chairman and founder
Creative Direct Response
Ray Grace has worked in direct-mail fundraising for 35 years; he founded Creative Direct Response in 1982 and sold it 100 percent to his employees in 1998.
Ray has been a stalwart volunteer in the nonprofit community for his entire career, and was a founding member of the Association of Direct Response Fundraising Counsel and the business advisory council of the National Federation of Nonprofits (now the DMA Nonprofit Federation).
His work with charities is unique and renowned. According to colleague Geoff Peters, “When Special Olympics didn’t have enough money to mail its own housefile, Ray loaned it the postage and rebuilt the file from fewer than 40,000 names to more than 400,000. When the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation wound up on the front page of The New York Times because it had paid a fundraiser $1.1 million to raise $1 million, the organization came to Ray to turn its program around. (CDR now raises approximately $15 million annually for Toys for Tots, with an overall cost-of-fundraising ratio of less than 2 percent.)
Ray also is known in the fundraising sector as a donor of time and money to causes he holds dear. He sits on the board of a Catholic secondary school and has been a formal and informal advisor to a number of local Catholic charities.
We’re honoring Ray here for his enduring attitude that fundraisers need to live the art and act of fundraising — rather than just work it — and embrace a philanthropic lifestyle and charitable heart. And also because we know he’s created a working atmosphere at CDR that nurtures risk and creativity, as well as integrity and longevity. Both reasons signify a style of leadership that holds the nonprofit sector to a higher standard than its for-profit counterparts and increasingly helps secure both donor and public trust.
TOP FUNDRAISING STARS
Executive vice president
Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy
Kimberly took on the lead fundraising role at PPMD and has championed a successful $18 million capital campaign (completed in less than two years, ahead of schedule), launched a marathon-running team to diversify individual funding streams and supported a massive online push to use the Web to raise money. Since Kimberly took on this role, PPMD’s income has grown from approximately $1 million annually to just more than $5 million — largely through her efforts. And like any good fundraiser, nominator Sarah Durham of Big Duck says, she does the work of about a hundred people.
Vice president of marketing
“During this past year, Frank initiated, planned and led our stewardship team to achieve a 91 percent increase in undesignated revenue (from $1.4 million to almost $2.7 million), increasing undesignated funding from 18 percent of total revenues to 35 percent,” writes nominator Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Bible translation partner Wycliffe Associates. “Increasing undesignated funding is always challenging for any fundraising professional. Increasing this amount in an organization that is 40 years old, during his seventh year as VP of marketing, while simultaneously completing his earned Ph.D. in marketing, demonstrates tremendous team leadership, strategic focus and tactical implementation. Plus, he’s a great guy to work with!”
Vice president of development
Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties
Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties started the 2006/2007 fiscal year needing $700,000 by March 31, 2007, to secure a $600,000 Kresge challenge grant and complete its $11.5 million capital campaign. Just to make things more interesting, the affiliate raised its annual fund goal from $1.2 million to $1.31 million.
“While we had an amazing group of volunteers working on our capital campaign, a steady and loyal development committee, some exceptional board members, and a polished and professional development department, sometimes they act like cats — all heading off in their own direction, doing whatever it is they want, whenever they please,” writes nominator Lynda Frank, manager of annual giving programs. “Only a very rare person, like Sherry, can herd cats.”
In the end, the organization met the Kresge challenge, raised $55,000 more than the $11.5 million campaign goal, raised $226,502 more than the $1.31 million annual fund goal, and added $213,109 to its endowment.
Mid-Atlantic zone director
Jewish National Fund
In 17 years with JNF, Diane has cultivated a remarkable record of decades-long donor retention. Twelve years ago she took a fairly new donor to Israel, and the donor chose to fund a park with a $250,000 gift. That supporter continues to fund projects today; her son is heavily involved in JNF; and her grandson has begun to attend JNF meetings.
At one point, Diane took a mission of only two people to Israel when others said she should cancel. The trip resulted in an initial gift of $250,000 and two subsequent gifts of $500,000 from the same person. Today, that donor has refurbished a project originally dedicated by his father and has taken his grandson to Israel to see the legacy continue. Diane also is responsible for forming JNF’s women’s giving arm — eight years ago, only 20 women gave $5,000 or more annually; today that number is 300 — and the Century Club, now closing in on 400 people who have given $100,000 gifts.
Donor relations specialist
Bill Wilson Center
As a 30-year-old agency with a long history of relying on grant funding and government contracts, less than 5 percent of the Bill Wilson Center’s revenue came from individual donors. According to nominator Lisa Sarmiento, BWC grants manager, Kathie Sheehy worked to drum up existing and new contact leads, taking people on tours of the shelter as a point of entry, and nearly tripled revenue from individual donors in three years. As part of this effort, Kathie heads up an annual luncheon, which has grown from 250 guests to 600 in 2007 and has matched revenue from new pledges each year. BWC also has significant follow-through from donors on their pledges. “Kathie is the key linking these successes,” Sarmiento says.
Human Rights Campaign
In April 2007, HRC launched its Fight Hate campaign, an online advocacy and fundraising effort to pass hate-crimes legislation in Congress. Using e-mail, YouTube video, a Tell-A-Friend campaign, paid advertising and Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors tour, the organization raised more than $168,000 from more than 3,100 donors — 1,500 of which were new donors.
The fundraising campaign was closely integrated with HRC’s advocacy campaign, which sent more than 375,000 e-mails and 40,000 phone calls to Congress. It then converted activists to donors by leading them to a donation page after they took action. HRC added more than 70,000 online subscribers during the course of this campaign. Look for more details on HRC and its powerful online fundraising strategy when the organization is featured in FS’ March 2008 cover story.
Annual giving coordinator
Karen Climer has time and again proven her grasp of the importance of communication in fundraising. According to nominator Neil Dentzer, immediate past president of the Central Florida chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, as annual giving coordinator of the Beta Center, Karen:
• Created a direct-mail program that, in its first year, generated nearly $250,000 — a quarter of the $1 million annual fundraising goal.
• Created a quarterly newsletter, which has become one of the most successful fundraising vehicles.
• Developed a department-wide acknowledgment plan that includes an annual thank-a-thon.
• Restructured the development database to allow donors and volunteers to be tracked in the same database, thereby increasing efficiency and effectiveness.
Prior to joining Beta Center, Karen was the director of development at the Center for Independent Living in Central Florida. There, according to Dentzer, she directed broad-based fund development and marketing efforts that attained 31 percent of the annual fundraising goal within the first 60 days of the fiscal year and 85 percent within the first five months.
“Karen makes deadlines, not excuses,” Dentzer writes. “There are few people I would trust with the future of our chapter, and Karen is one of them.”
Major gifts manager
Before she joined WaterPartners International in July 2006, Nikki Speer was a gift officer at the University of Central Missouri, where she helped close one of the largest planned gifts in the university’s history. Prior to that, she was with Mississippi University for Women, where she resurrected an all-but-defunct annual gift program and helped it grow by 30 percent annually.
According to Steven Byers, director of development and communications for WaterPartners, Nikki helped to nearly double both the number of major donors and dollars raised for the organization within her first year. She also secured a $1 million-plus planned gift bequest.
“Nikki is the most naturally gifted development professional I have worked with in my 20 years in fundraising,” Byers writes. “She is always willing to lend a hand to her colleagues and do whatever it takes to get the job done. She epitomizes all the best attributes of our profession.”
Tracey Van Hook
Director of development
Foundation for Excellence in Education
Tracey Van Hook joined the Volunteer Florida Foundation in 2004 at a time when massive hurricanes were ravaging the state, and the foundation was tasked with initiating the Florida Disaster Recovery Fund. Tracey was hired wth no fundraising experience and little time for training. “Tracey’s resolve never waned, and her pitch and approach for the nonprofit arena grew exponentially. She never balked at performing the base functions necessary to get us to our goal — prospecting, research, framing the ask, follow-through and just plain eagerness to pick up the phone,” according to foundation Senior Vice President Fonda Anderson. “Regardless of the hours and the stress, Tracey made every call with a smile in her voice and a sense of purpose and passion that is innate in fundraising success.”
The result: $11 million to help Floridians recover from the devastation of an active hurricane season. Tracey has since accepted a position as the director of development for the nonprofit Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Best Blog — Donor Power Blog
Jeff Brooks, Merkle
The blogosphere is becoming one big, um, let’s say, cluster-write. Everyone is blogging. And the nonprofit sector is no exception. There are a lot of great blogs out there. There also are a lot of not-so-great ones. One blog that gets it right is the Donor Power Blog at www.donorpowerblog.com. It’s fresh, it’s funny, it’s frequent and, most importantly, its full of practical, actionable ideas for nonprofit fundraisers. We’re jealous … so Mr. Brooks must be doing something right.
Organization Contribution to the Sector — DonorsChoose.org
Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea for donors to have much control over where and how their philanthropic dollars are used. But — we hope — that old attitude is changing. Who can argue with the donor-happy impact of an organization like DonorsChoose.org? If you want to fund education projects, simply log on and choose the ones that interest you — anything from a $60 campaign to restock pencils to a $2,000 field trip effort.
DonorsChoose.org isn’t the first site of its kind — think Kiva.org and GlobalGiving.org — but it takes the process an important step further with its feedback element. Give $100 or more (or be the donor who provides the last chunk needed to finish funding on a project — no matter what the amount), and you get a personal thank-you package from the students who benefit from it. Not only that, but the DonorsChoose.org site is delightfully simple — everything you need to know about the organization is just a keystroke away from the homepage.
Aside from the joyful and gratifying experience it offers donors and the important service it provides the schools that participate, DonorsChoose.org offers a lesson in simplicity, transparency and unabashed enthusiasm that nonprofits of all sizes can take a lesson from.
Sector Education — The Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference
Geoff Peters, president, Creative Direct Response
The Bridge conference, mid-summer’s joint effort by the AFP/DC and the DMAW — and a merger of their respective, arguably lackluster annual events — opened a fresh dialog among members of two symbiotic organizations and sent an exciting shiver of change through the conference circuit. Kudos to the conference’s architect and most relentless champion, Creative Direct Response’s Geoff Peters, for seeing a need in the sector and working his butt off to fill it. With Geoff at the helm, a staff of two and a small army of volunteers, Bridge has grown in just over three years to — we believe — the third-largest (by attendance) fundraising conference in the country. As was noted in this magazine after Bridge last year, “[Conferences] can’t just tell fundraisers that they need to do their jobs with passion and an eye toward innovation. Rather, [they] have to imbue them with that passion through the proper mix of speakers, topics, events and attitude. And [we] applaud any conference organizers with the foresight to stay on the cutting edge and the balls to shake things up.” FS