Fundraiser Snapshot: Robert Thompson
Robert Thompson has spent more than half of his life helping charitable organizations raise money. And his 26-year fundraising career has been as diverse as it’s been long.
The North Carolina native has held executive-level positions at the United Nations Association of the United States of America, New York’s Institute for Cancer Prevention, the New Jersey-based Financial Executives Research Foundation and Wake Forest University.
Until this past fall, Thompson was the senior director of development at Columbia University Medical Center, where he oversaw a $100 million alumni campaign and built a major-donor campaign that hit its $1 billion goal more than two years ahead of schedule. Now, he’s raising cash so children won’t die from malnutrition, dirty water and other causes.
In September, Thomp-son was appointed senior vice president for development at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, the fundraising arm of the United Nations Children’s Fund in the United States. UNICEF, an international children’s organization, works in more than 150 countries to address ongoing child-mortality issues and provides life-saving nutrition, clean water, education, protection and emergency-response services.
“I have a passion for international or humanitarian aid, helping children,” Thompson says.
In his new position, Thompson leads the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s two main growth areas: corporate partnerships and individual major-gift fundraising. He also is responsible for overseeing its direct-marketing and planned-giving programs, and foundation partnerships.
Thompson joins the U.S. Fund for UNICEF just as the organization kicks off the first year of its five-year strategic plan, which has an aggressive goal of reaching half a billion dollars in total support by 2013.
He wants to spend time building the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s major-gifts program, corporate sponsorships and Internet media base. Direct marketing continues to be the fund’s largest fundraising source.
Thompson says much of his time so far has been spent building relationships with the fund’s board of directors and staff at its regional offices.
“Fundraising at its basic level is relationship building …,” he says. “… Knowing [the board of directors’ level of] commitment, leveraging their influence and affluence.
“A major goal will be maximizing our assets,” he adds.
Thompson offers this piece of advice for fundraisers: “Never accept no as an answer or that no means no.”
“If you’ve done your homework and go to a donor and ask for an amount and get no direct responses or affirmations, then that prospect is either at the wrong time, [or] it’s the wrong amount or the wrong person asking.
“Make the ask stronger and go back to that prospect, and you’ll be successful that second time around,” he says. “Do your homework, and find a way to negotiate and ask in a way that meets the needs of that donor.”
He adds that it’s important to continue fundraising even during these tough economic times.
“Always communicate,” Thompson says. “Some fundraisers in times like these want to entrench due to the economy. I feel it’s more important to communicate the great need now to make up any differences you anticipate.” FS