Fundraising: The Next Generation

February 15, 2005       Craig Causer      

Society is obsessed with future leaders and professionals. The questions are perpetual: Where will we find the leading 2008 candidate for president? Is LeBron James the next Michael Jordan? Who will be the next American Idol?

Fortunately for nonprofits, the next generation of fundraisers are proving their mettle in the here and now. Across the country, younger-than-40 fundraisers are making their mark, raising significant chunks of change for organizations, foundations and educational institutions.

The NonProfit Times is spotlighting 10 of fundraising’s brightest stars younger than age 40 in this first annual round-up. The professionals were selected following a consultation with peers throughout the nonprofit sector. The nonprofits they represent are dotted across the country from New York, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, to Chicago and California. The 10 fundraisers represent advocacy, animal welfare, education, foundation, and health and human services organizations. They are:

Dexter Bailey, executive associate athletic director, development, University of California, Berkeley. When Bailey joined the staff at Cal in January 2004, $6 million had been committed to its then-current fundraising campaign. By June 30 of that same year, he boosted that figure to $17 million through major-gifts procurement.

Jennifer Bielat, assistant vice president, production and marketing services, Easter Seals. Bielat is responsible for helping increase response rates for the organization’s flagship campaign, Seal Appeal, by 40 percent.

Joshua Billauer, president, Life Rolls On Foundation. Despite a lack of formal nonprofit training, Billauer has tripled the foundation’s fundraising with unique special events and a high visibility partnership with the Association of Surfing Professionals.

Michael Brotchner, director of development, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. Brotchner decreased costs by bringing event management in-house and increased net income for the federation’s signature event by 150 percent.

Jennifer Donahue, membership director, NARAL Pro-Choice America. Donahue oversaw the online July 2004 Election Matching Gift appeal, which netted NARAL its highest returns and new member acquisition in the shortest amount of time.

Alicia Menchaca de Cerda, director, corporate and foundation relations, Loyola University, Chicago. Menchaca de Cerda brings in nearly 30 percent of the total contributions secured by the university’s development office.

Angie Moore, managing director, constituent relationship management, American Cancer Society. Moore oversees the society’s direct marketing efforts and is the strategic leader for its customer relationship management initiative.

Robert Prisament, senior producer, eBusiness department, March of Dimes. Prisament created Banding Together, an online endeavor whereby visitors can create virtual hospital bands in honor of a loved one.

Jo Sullivan, senior vice president of development, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Sullivan heads the ASPCA’s highly successful DRTV campaign that includes spots aired during Animal Precinct, the nonprofit’s docu-drama that airs on cable outlet Animal Planet.

Nicole Suydam, director of development, Goodwill Industries of Orange County. Following her stint at Second Harvest in Orange County, Calif., where she doubled its fundraising capabilities to $1.8 million, Suydam continues to raise funds and the profile of Goodwill beyond that of an organization that accepts donated goods.

Each member of the list has achieved significant success in fundraising (see accompanying profiles) and is preparing for what the coming years will bring in the way of new challenges and strategies in all aspects of fundraising and donor development.

Nonprofits are faced with a changing marketplace, one that is changing very rapidly and perhaps more rapidly than some marketing strategies can react, said the American Cancer Society’s Moore.

Segmentation has always been a critical part of direct marketing, a part that has often been viewed as a method to gain the best response or average gift within the direct mail program, she added.

“I believe we are moving into a marketing space where relationship marketing will be of equal, if not greater importance, than transactional marketing,” Moore said. “I think a higher approach to segmentation will be needed and, in fact, required for long-term success in using direct marketing. Specifically, a segmentation approach that looks at more than just a direct marketing interaction, but looks deeper into the behavior, needs and migration of an individual engaging with an organization.”

Integration of efforts is going to be front-and-center, according to Bielat, Prisament and Sullivan. Blending all of the marketing touch points — from public relations to brand marketing to the Internet is going to be a focus, Bielat said. “All of that needs to come together. There are so many channels now that a donor can come and interact with you. It’s important that they experience the brand the same way in all these different channels. They’re ultimately going to select how they want to engage you. You just need to be able to provide that service seamlessly.”

At the ASPCA, Sullivan is working to integrate programs and technology with the goal of driving communications. That combination of efforts includes direct response television spots and an 800-number to promote donor participation.

Prisament is focusing online and preparing to expand event registration opportunities, beyond the March of Dimes’ signature Walk America event to multiple, smaller events. March of Dimes successfully tested the concept last year and is now rolling it out to its chapters, Prisament said.

Expanded Internet capabilities are also on the horizon if you listen to Donahue. “The next big thing in online fundraising is the merging of the Web’s capacity for rapid action and results the minute opportunity presents itself, with the tried and true fundraising habits of the direct marketing industry,” she said.

“Only now are most organizations really getting the kind of statistically valid data from online communications with which to do donor value research that then allows organizations to build genuinely sophisticated Web programs,” Donahue said. “Now is the time in the fundraising world when we begin to combine the splash and dazzle of this new medium with the ABC’s of what one’s data tells one will yield the highest return on investment in the short and long term.”

In her experience with human service organizations, Goodwill’s Suydam has noticed that they are beginning to realize the importance of having a formal development department. Smaller nonprofits are viewing development as a need since one source of funding can’t cut it anymore, she added. “Smaller organizations are going to become increasingly more sophisticated and more competitive.”

Accountability will continue as a hot button for the foreseeable future. Regardless of the organization, or the endeavor, it is imperative that fundraisers are going to have to raise money that “fits along with the organization’s priorities,” said Brotchner.

In the case of Billauer, the immediate future brings much needed relief. As president of the Life Rolls On Foundation, he welcomed his first full-time employee in January. Up until then, Billauer, who is a full-time financial advisor, had handled all of the organization’s operations, events and Web site.

In the near future, educational institutions are going to have to ratchet-up the pace in moving toward a “quasi-privatized model,” according to Bailey. That transition includes an inter-disciplinary and integrated fundraising model.

“Most of the time, departments go out and do their thing and donor fatigue becomes high,” Bailey said. “At Cal, and I’m sure it’s the same at other schools across the country, it’s the same kind of 10 percent that’s doing 90 percent of the funding. Universities are going to have to go for inter-disciplinary projects. For instance, if you’re building a museum, maybe the art school should be involved. Instead of the school going out and building it, there needs to be a little bit more synergy.”

The next wave for educational institutions in corporate and foundation fundraising will continue to emphasize the creation of partnerships with corporations and foundations in an effort to create a positive impact in a mutual field of interest, said de Cerda of Loyola University. The importance of collaboration with other nonprofits and program evaluation to determine the total project is vital, she added.

According to each of these young professionals, prosperity has come as the result of learning from influential mentors along the way.

“I had the privilege of working under Lindy Litrides at the national office of the Arthritis Foundation for over five years,” explained Moore, from the American Cancer Society. “The guidance she gave me as a manager, as well as the incredible talent and expertise she has within the industry, is significant. I also have tremendous respect for someone I engaged with for many years as an industry colleague, Phyllis Freedman. Her insight and balance of nonprofit and agency knowledge was, and continues to be, a great benefit to me.”

For Bielat at Easter Seals, inspiration came from Chris Cleghorn, senior vice president of direct and interactive marketing at the Chicago-based organization. Cleghorn displayed a methodical approach to fundraising and had an uncanny ability to assume the mindset of the donor, Bielat said. She learned many things from Cleghorn, including how to look at copy, fundraising numbers and results.

Prisament acknowledged the benefits of picking the brain of Barbra Schulman, director of direct mail at the March of Dimes. As his supervisor in direct response, Schulman helped with ideas, theory and the ability to push the envelope in direct mail, Prisament said.

When it comes to the importance of attention and attrition, none was more influential in the career of the ASPCA’s Sullivan than Jerry Moore, head of Moore Communications in North Carolina, she said. Sullivan cited Moore as the person who “taught me all I know” about donor retention and attrition.

Balancing the competing needs of a sizeable organization is a primary skill that Donahue at NARAL said she learned from her current director of development, Stephanie Kushner. Donahue also lists Vincent Wishrad (now at Donordigital) during his tenure at NARAL Pro-Choice America, as someone whose “…nurturing talent and his unwavering dedication to excellence helped me become who I am. Donahue added that, “All of these remarkable people consistently remind me that our accomplishments are not about ourselves but about the mission for which we are working. Their ongoing excitement about the progressive issues on which we work is an example of the motivation behind successful nonprofit fundraising professionals.”

But it is Nicole Suydam’s experience that best encapsulates the ideal mentor for a young fundraiser. “Tom Seeberg, who was the executive director of Second Harvest during my time there, was an amazing mentor,” Suydam said. “For me being young, and only a couple of years removed from college, he was very encouraging even though I didn’t have tons of years of experience in fundraising. He really accepted me and never doubted my ability.”

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