Remembering an Icon: Jerold Panas
The fundraising world carries a heavy heart. We have lost an icon. There was only one Jerold Panas, and there never will be another. His legacy will inspire professionals for generations to come.
We have lost a friend, a mentor. In his presence and through his work, we were inspired—and reminded that we can change the world through our noble profession.
And while there is great sadness with Jerry’s passing, there is also reason to celebrate a life very well lived and a decades-long career that transformed organizations large and small, influencing countless fundraisers and raising millions, if not billions, of dollars to support causes around the world.
I am happy and thankful to have had the opportunity to connect with and work for Jerry and blessed to have been able to count him as a cherished friend and mentor for decades.
I ran my first capital campaign while in college, but I never planned to be a nonprofit professional with a focus on fundraising. When my career turned in that direction, my father had retired as a professor and was hired as the college’s first alumni and development director. It was fun to be learning a profession together, and my father introduced me to Jerry’s books and work.
I couldn’t put down “Mega Gifts” and “Born to Raise.” I was hooked!
I was equally impressed and inspired as I began to receive materials from Jerry’s firm—Jerold Panas, Linzy and Partners. Jerry’s communication skills were unsurpassed. Everything he did was first class.
We hired Jerold Panas, Linzy and Partners at the independent school where I was the advancement director. Dr. Brent Kennedy, who was a leader in the firm, was our consultant. Brent saw potential in me and said that after the campaign was successful I should come work for them. I had never thought about becoming a consultant or even what my next step might be, but I was honored.
True to his word, after we celebrated success, my mentor connected me with Jerry and I drove to the beautiful and historic home that he shared with his wife, Felicity, in Beaufort, SC.
Jerry was so fundraising- and client-focused that he worked nonstop. He was always reading, but wasn’t familiar with popular culture. During my visit, he explained that he and Felicity had just gotten back into their home after renting it to a man named Tom Hanks, who was in town to film some movie called “Forest Gump”!
I was immediately charmed and impressed by the couple. I was also warmly welcomed to the firm.
While working for Jerry, any opportunity to connect with him and his partner, Jerry Linzy, was privileged. Unfortunately, as I joined, my mentor, Brent, left to pursue a cause in his home region, the mountains of Virginia.
One time, I happened to be heading home on the same fight as Jerry. As I boarded, I was given a new ticket—in first class, sitting next to him. I will never forget that kindness or the time we shared on the plane.
Another amazing thing about Jerry is that he slept very little. He would run every day, work constantly and get by on just a few hours of sleep. After a few late night calls, where I agreed to something I later regretted, I began not answering my phone later at night, which he accepted with his usual humor. Jerry was so convincing, you wanted to follow him anywhere, but good luck keeping up with him, even when you were decades his junior.
Jerry was always interested in the other person. He was a master storyteller, but also a master questioner. He quickly connected with you and treated everyone the same—whether you were a billionaire or a server.
About a year ago, Lighthouse Counsel was pursuing a client, and Jerry knew one of the key decision-makers. He sent her a glowing letter on our behalf. He was always gracious. Always giving. Always thinking of others.
Two years ago, I visited Jerry in person for the last time. We had a wonderful dinner and talked about the future. He was concerned about my health. I had gained weight as a result of an ankle injury and trying to keep a pace almost as fast as my mentor. A few weeks later, I received a kind note and a book on diet. He truly cared.
Jerry’s unique style—in how he dressed, how he wrote, how he spoke, his handwriting, everything—reflected great class. He believed in doing everything first class. He was enthusiastic about his work, and he was an incredible strategist.
For decades Jerry was the leading force in fundraising and, importantly, he had solid experience successfully raising large sums of money prior to beginning his firm. He could speak, write and advise with authority because he had done it all and at high levels. As a consultant, he not only advised but remained an active practitioner, working hands on with boards, donors and staff.
Jerry led the firm he founded for 50 years. He established the Institute for Charitable Giving. His awards and accolades are many, including being recognized as the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award winner by FundRaising Success (now NonProfit PRO). I was honored to be on the committee that made the selection.
In his email sharing the sad news of Jerry’s passing, the firm’s executive/ partner emeritus and interim chief operating officer, Jerry Linzy, wrote:
"He was a colleague, friend, mentor, and innovative, philanthropic icon. He will forever be, to use Ernest Hemingway's salute: ‘The winner and undisputed champion.’”
When I shared the news of Jerry’s passing in a post on Facebook, dozens of friends responded with their own thoughts, including:
- “He remains a legend and his books and influence will live on.”
- “Truly a loss to our profession; he became a friend and checked in on me different times to see how I was doing. A truly good man, and a leader in this field.”
- “I am grateful for the many lessons learned from Jerry. It was an honor to have known him. The loss of a philanthropic teacher like no other.”
- “Jerry taught me how to listen for the gift. I loved his class and style. When in his presence you were the most important person in the room. He will be missed. Heaven has a new angel.”
- “The seminar I sat in featuring Jerry and insights from his book Asking changed my career. I keep a signed copy with me at all times. A true trailblazer!”
- “I am so sad to hear this. He had such an impact on my life as a friend and mentor. He was the reason I ever started my journey in art.”
Earlier I mentioned “Born to Raise,” where Jerry outlined verities of what makes a great fundraiser. Verity No. 32 is “The Great Fundraisers Don’t Put Things Off.”
In the words of the master:
“Carpe Diem is an ancient Latin phrase which means, ‘Seize the Day.’ That’s their credo—Seize the Day. The great ones don’t put things off. They believe in the dictum of TNT— Today, Not Tomorrow. That says it all. You don’t put it off. Let procrastination be considered your personal treason and treachery. Delay, dawdling and dalliance are repugnant to soul and spirit. Do it now. Wavering and vacillation lead to the street of by-and-by that reaches the house of never. A Saint once wrote that the present moment is eternity. Aah! He understands life. And Seneca, who desired above all to live life to the brim, admonished us to dispose of each day in such a way that it consumes our life. The avenue of despair and disappointment is paved with the timid and tired who don’t get things done, who won’t act. These men and women conspire with the devil of failure.”
That, my friends, is the wisdom and style of the master. We can rejoice in a life well lived and keep his legacy alive by living this and other of his verities! Carpe Diem!
Jerry would have celebrated his 90th birthday in a few weeks. My prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to Felicity and the family, as well as the members of his firm and the thousands of donors, nonprofit leaders and volunteers that he inspired. I'll be forever grateful to Jerry for the opportunities and guidance he provided to me, as well as for his unsurpassed contributions to our profession.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.