"Fundraising Chose Me"
Who: Dolores McDonagh, vice president of membership for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Grew up in: North Attleboro, MA.
Education: Graduated from Brown University in 1980 with a degree in American history.
Role model/hero: Benjamin Franklin, who she calls a founding father of direct mail fundraising. “In addition to making his fortune in direct response (Poor Richard’s Almanac), he invented the matching grant concept and the sweepstakes appeal for charities in Philadelphia.”
First job in fundraising: “I wanted to work in preservation, so I took a job as the administrative assistant in the membership department at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1983, with every intention of switching to a ‘real’ preservation job. I quickly learned that if there was no money, none of the great work of the organization was possible, so I decided to stay in fundraising.”
Other fundraising positions: After being at the Trust for seven years, she joined the consulting firm of Bachurski Associates Inc., where she worked with clients including the Nature Conservancy, the National Museum of Women in the Arts and Brown University. When the opportunity to go “home” to the Trust came up, she jumped on it.
Why she chose fundraising as a career: “Fundraising really chose me. I always knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit, and fundraising — and direct response — turned out to be a great fit. It’s a terrific mix of art and science, and it’s measurable and goal oriented. Also, fundraising is great for people with short attention spans — there’s always something new going on. Finally, it requires that you be really immersed in the program work of the organization, which makes it great for busybodies like me who always want to know everything that’s going on.”
Major responsibilities at the Trust: All of the fundraising and affinity revenue programs for 200,000 members, including direct mail, telemarketing and Internet fundraising. “We also work with our 23 historic sites and with more than 50 state and local preservation organizations to grow our own mem-bership and the preservation movement through partnership programs.”
Major job challenges: “Unlike the environmental movement, preservation has yet to become a household name, which has limited our universe of potential supporters somewhat. The organization has responded with an Ad Council PSA campaign and a major partnership with HGTV to raise awareness about the issue.”
About her job: “I think I have the perfect job! Aside from helping to raise money for a movement I feel strongly about, I get to spend a lot of my time with creative people thinking of ways to get our members and the general public to volunteer, visit more historic places, take better care of their homes, contact Congress on issues, etc. And when I travel for the Trust with donors, I get to do really cool stuff like take a tour of the 1806 dome of the Baltimore Basilica, hear a private lecture by historian David McCullough or ride a river boat on the Mississippi River.”
Management philosophy: Pro-mote staff from within and track everything. “What gets measured, gets managed.”
How she keeps it fresh: “The Internet! Just as I thought I was beginning to get bored with direct response, along came the World Wide Web.”
Keys to success in fundraising: Asking is key. “Whether I’m volunteering with my local PTA fundraising committee or reviewing our latest direct mail copy, I’m always asking, ‘Where’s the ask?’ “