ProFile: Kory Christianson
Fundraising is, by its nature, a selfless endeavor. The work is all about raising money to help others, and any good fundraiser knows the efforts are all about the donors and the missions. So when fundraisers acknowledge one of their own, it's no surprise for the honoree to credit others for his or her achievement.
Kory Christianson, executive director of development at St. Joseph's Indian School, has worked in the development office of the school for Lakota (Sioux) children in need and their families for more than 16 years. And he was shocked to hear he was chosen as the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation's Max L. Hart Nonprofit Achievement Award recipient in January.
"I was surprised. I had no idea I was nominated," Christianson says. "To receive an award named for Max Hart and to receive an award previously given to so many excellent direct-marketing professionals was very humbling indeed. It really is a tremendous honor for our entire organization."
The award was established in 1990 as the Nonprofit Achievement Award and renamed in 2005 after DMA Hall of Fame honoree Max L. Hart of Disabled American Veterans. It recognizes outstanding achievement by an individual within the nonprofit community, though as Christianson points out, his success is the organization's success.
FundRaising Success spoke with Christianson about receiving the award and his work over the years as a fundraiser.
FundRaising Success: Did you envision the success you've had in your nonprofit career when you began?
Kory Christianson: What- ever one undertakes in life, I believe everyone wants to make a positive contribution. If our development efforts at St. Joseph's Indian School have extended to Native American children and their families an opportunity for a brighter future, then I am very pleased. However, we have much more to accomplish before we can declare ourselves "a success."
FS: How did you become interested in fundraising and the nonprofit sector?
KC: I really hadn't considered it too strongly until I was in graduate school. In our MBA program, we were offered a few course electives, and I chose nonprofit marketing, administration, etc. And from there, my plan to begin a career in nonprofit management developed.
FS: What fundraising strategies, both internally and externally, have you employed over the past 16 years at St. Joseph's Indian School?
KC: Well, the good Lord has richly blessed us, first and foremost. We also implemented a number of measures that have helped us grow.
First, we implemented a series of five-year strategic plans. These really helped us determine what kind of organization we wanted to become and how we would achieve that vision.
Second, we changed our mind-set in terms of direct-mail fundraising. Instead of always looking for the least expensive option and managing from the cost side of the equation, we began managing our program from the growth and net-income perspective. This led to changes in our packages and many more donors.
Third, we focused our planned-giving efforts on bequests, gift annuities and memorials, and expanded promotion of them through the mail, telephone, online and donor luncheons.
Fourth, we implemented a direct-marketing program in Germany, and we have recently initiated a program in France.
Fifth, we updated our brand image from a graphic and content standpoint.
Finally, and most importantly perhaps, we are very focused on donor service. We want to be a "development" office, not a "fundraising" office. So, we are very prompt with thank-you letters, returning phone calls, answering mail and e-mail, etc.
FS: What do you like most about working with nonprofits?
KC: First of all, our donors continue to amaze me. The USA is the most generous country on earth, and daily we see that generosity with the contributions made to our school.
Second, the direct-marketing professionals inside our organization and within other organizations make it special. People are always willing to share what has worked for them, trends they are seeing, etc. This willingness to help others is evident throughout the sector.
FS: What challenges do you face as a fundraiser?
KC: In terms of direct marketing, often the challenges are outside of our control. The economy, postal rates, regulation, etc., are always challenges. So, we do the best we can to deal with conditions beyond our control, but focus our main energies on those areas we have control over: our messaging, our donor service and our strategies for success.
FS: How have you seen the nonprofit/fundraising field change and evolve over time?
KC: Obviously, a lot has changed over the past 16 years, whether it's the economy, technology or social-giving attitudes. We have certainly seen the types of mailings that worked in 1993 really don't work as well today. Packages have certainly evolved over time.
Changes in technology with barcode readers, scanning capabilities, and the platforms and systems necessary to manage our donor system have allowed us to move personnel from production functions to marketing and donor-service functions.
Also, donor-giving behavior has changed and is continuing to change. A decade or so ago, our donors would give simply because of what we were doing. We are clearly seeing a change now, where donors have higher expectations. They want to know the program outcomes and the long-term results of our programs and services. For us, these results and effectively communicating them are very important and increasingly correlated to the progress of our development efforts.
FS: What ways do you reach out to donors and potential donors at St. Joseph's Indian School?
KC: Nearly all donors come to us from the lists of other organizations. So, our list rental/exchange program is very important.
We also initiate involvement strategies with our donors. [For example], with our donor luncheon program, we travel to six to eight cities each year. Our annual Benefactor Banquet and American Indian Day Pow Wow celebration on campus also brings in about 300 donors and approximately 1,000 attendees. We engage in online activities [such as] blogs, Facebook pages, etc. We operate a museum on campus with art and artifact displays and a mission to honor the Native Americans in our region; over 20,000 individuals visit each year. And, finally, we are planning a Hall of History that will provide our visitors with more insight into the 80-plus years since St. Joseph's Indian School was founded. FS