International Fundraising Guru Elischer Dies

A renowned fundraiser literally known around the world, Tony Elischer has died.

The chief executive of Buckingham, U.K.-based THINK Consulting Solutions died Jan. 12 “after a courageous battle with cancer,” according to an announcement released by the firm. Elischer founded the company in 2001 and previously worked for Age UK and Cancer Research UK, according to UK Fundraising.

Elischer was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer about 18 months ago, according to fundraising industry friends and associates.

Elischer was “never lacking an opinion – we all disagreed at one time or another, but always big enough in spirit to put disagreements to one side for causes he believed in or people he admired,” Andrew Watt, president and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), said. “It’s hard to believe he’s gone – I can’t begin to define the gap he leaves,” he added.

Jon Duschinsky, co-founder of The Conservation Farm in Toronto, Canada, said Elischer was a performer as well as an incredibly gifted thinker. “He had the ability to take that thinking, those ideas, and then communicate them to people and get them inspired and able to get them to deliver on them,” he said.

“He was not just a talker, not just a doer. He was somebody who practiced what he preached. That gave him a great amount of authenticity, and a huge amount of respect,” Duschinsky said. “He was a challenging figure, not everyone liked him. He was larger than life in many ways. That always causes friction, particularly when the person larger than life is able to deliver on what they say they will deliver one, which Tony did.”

Geoffrey Peters, CEO of Moore DM Group, recalls organizing the first Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising Conference in 2006. “When we started the Bridge Conference there was no track record, no reliable predictions of the number of registrants and yet as an internationally renowned speaker, he waived all fees and did the kick-off plenary. Needless to say, he was a smash hit,” Peters said. “I will miss him personally and the sector will miss his energy, novel approaches, and great spirit,” he said.

Michael Johnston first met Elischer when he was at Imperial Cancer Research Fund in the 1990s. “Even then, you noticed his focus, his passion, and his openness to new ideas. Talking in the ’90s about the importance of digital for fundraising was taken as a bit ridiculous but not Tony. He was always able to see the practical side of new and exciting ideas to make them come to life,” said Johnston, founder and president of Toronto-based consulting firm, HJC.

Elischer was a fellow at the Institute of Fundraising in London. The institute called him a “true leader of the fundraising community around the world.” CEO Peter Lewis said it’s hard to imagine the fundraising world without him. “His enormous warmth and personality filled any room; his endless passion to make the world a better placed flowed into those around him; and he never ceased wanting to innovate and do things better,” Lewis said.

“As well as being a fundraising guru of worldwide acclaim, he never ceased to be a true friend to the Institute of Fundraising (or the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers as it was before) over the whole of its history, whether fronting inspiring plenary sessions at convention, supporting young and up-and-coming fundraisers; or simply acting as a wise counsel and mentor to many that met him, with his unique style of encouragement and enthusiasm,” he said.

Chairman Richard Taylor, director of marketing and fundraising at Macmillian Cancer Support, called Elischer a true pioneer in fundraising. “In his early career as a practitioner, he paved the way for the future success of the charities he worked for,” including what is now Cancer Research UK. He was a truly inspiring fundraising director. His extraordinary personality enabled him to inspire fundraising young and old throughout his career,” Taylor said. “As a personal friend, I will miss him enormously but it’s his impact across the entire sector where he was so admired and loved that he will be so missed.”

Daryl Upsall, CEO at Daryl Upsall & Associates in Madrid, Spain, posted a remembrance on LinkedIn. “Tony for sure is getting some great new plenary session together in another place,” he said, making reference to Elischer’s many keynote addresses.

He called Elischer “a great friend, colleague, partner, fellow international adventurer and much more over the 28 years that we have spent so much time together both professionally and socially.”

Elischer’s passion and energy made him “an unstoppable force of nature,” Upsall said. “He was forever curious, constantly striving for the best for the fundraising profession and the sector as a whole and very, very genuinely cared for the people who worked in our great profession.”