Henry 'Hank' Rosso: The Impact of a Legend
I was thinking of an old friend and colleague, Henry “Hank” Rosso, recently when I was doing research on fundraising. I decided to look at Rosso’s obituary. On Feb. 1, 1999, Hank died at the age of 81 in Petaluma, Calif. A little backstory: He was a native of Princeton, NJ, a reporter on his high school newspaper when he had the opportunity to interview with physicist Albert Einstein in 1935, an Army sergeant in World War II and a 1949 graduate of Syracuse University. I was told that in college Hank was a reporter and was present at the Hindenburg disaster in New Jersey on May 6, 1937.
His first experience as a fundraiser was helping to arrange the inaugural Mother’s March on Polio, later known as the March of Dimes. During his 46-year career, he helped causes such as the United Way, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, Planned Parenthood and countless hospitals, universities and public service agencies. Together with his wife Dottie, he founded the Fund Raising School in San Rafael in 1974, which later became part of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
The school trained fundraisers in the history, ethics and economics of their calling. In 1985, the National Society of Fundraising Executives named him “Outstanding Fundraising Executive of the Year.” In a 1979 interview, Hank said that fundraising “isn’t a simple process of begging—it is a process of transferring the importance of the project to the donor.” He always believed in the important moral and ethical role fundraisers must play to keep the profession at the highest professional level.
Tim Seiler, then director of the Indiana University Fundraising School, noted that Hank Rosso helped shape Seiler’s career in fundraising. He was named the inaugural Rosso Fellow in Philanthropic Fundraising and followed in the footsteps of a Rosso. Seiler said Rosso “was a master teacher.” He is committed to Rosso’s belief that fundraising is a servant to philanthropy.
He noted that Hank dreamed of embedding entities like the Fundraising school and Center on Philanthropy into a university structure. The mission of the center was to “increase the understanding of philanthropy and improve its practice through research, teaching and public service.” The center acted as a liaison between the academic world of researchers and professors along with that of managers and workers.
I constantly seek to read information generated from Hank Rosso. I was fortunate to take several classes from him early in my career and hear him speak on numerous occasions. Two books of Rosso’s that I constantly reference include “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising” and “Rosso on Fund Raising.” According to Robert Payton in his foreword for the “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising” book, he notes that the book is a solid handbook and guide rooted in practice and experience. He speaks of fundraising as an art form and in some ways a language art. He noted that Hank would say “people don’t give to causes; people give to people with causes.”
The book “Rosso on Fund Raising” focuses on lessons drawn from a master’s lifetime experience. In the book, Rosso shares his wisdom and insight on the essential ingredients for fundraising success. He identifies the five essential steps in fundraising: analysis, planning, execution, control and evaluation, and shows how these steps work in real life. He notes that, as professionals, our work is not a job but a noble calling of service.
I have been blessed to watch Hank Rosso’s vision from the evolution of simple fundraising classes to a fundraising school concept, then the Center on Philanthropy leading to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. The center was conceived by a group of individuals including Rosso, fundraising consultant and first director of The Fundraising School in San Francisco; Robert L. Payton, Professor Emeritus, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Charles A. Johnson, retired vice president for development at Lilly Endowment in Indianapolis; and Eugene R. Tempel, former vice president of the Indiana University Foundation, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Colleague and friend Gene” Tempel became founding Dean of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. According to its website, the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy “plays a leading role in moving philanthropy forward across the country and around the world because of the vision and generosity of the founders and leaders who foresaw the need to study, understand and teach about this integral component of life and society.”
I was lucky to have dinner and to visit Rosso’s wife Dottie in her California home several years ago. She showed me Rosso’s office. His materials were still in place. I would have loved to spend a quiet evening with Rosso that night in his office talking about the past, present and future of our profession. He was truly a legend. I have always believed that nonprofit professionals must understand theory and practice to improve their careers. I thought I created this philosophy myself, but I have come to realize I learned this concept from Rosso decades ago. Thank you, Hank, for inspiring me and countless others to serve our profession. Well done, good and faithful servant. You have made a lasting impact in our profession.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.