New ABS Boss Changing Fundraising Apparatus

A new chief executive at the American Bible Society (ABS) is putting his mark on the 197-year-old charity, just months into his tenure. Two key development positions have been vacated and the organization switched direct response vendors since Douglas Birdsall took over as president and CEO in March.

An official with ABS said the organization does not comment on personnel matters “as a matter of policy and out of respect for former employees.” Former Executive Vice President of Development, Marketing and Research Simon Barnes could not be reached for comment and former Director of Development Joey Pierce referred questions to ABS. Pierce’s profile on LinkedIn.com listed him as director of development from July 2007 to May 2013. Barnes, who did not return a message seeking comment, had been with ABS since August 2007.

Birdsall was not made available for comment. In response to questions submitted by email through its public relations firm, Atlanta-based DeMoss Group, ABS Chief Communications Officer Geoffrey Morin said, in part: “With a new president in place and the organization’s bicentennial anniversary approaching, American Bible Society is taking a look at a number of areas for strengthening our reach of Bible mission for rising generations. And, especially for Doug who has extensive background and has been quite successful as fundraising in his past position, selecting fundraising as a first area of focus is not surprising.”

Masterworks in Federal Way, Wash., was selected over ABS’ incumbent vendor, KerstenDirect, and CDR Fundraising Group, which is owned by Tulsa, Okla.-based ResourceOne. In 2011, KerstenDirect (then Stratmark) won a three-year contract through an RFP process. The Richardson, Texas-based firm had been with ABS for more than a decade.

ABS said there was nothing unusual about the RFP process, describing notification to KerstenDirect in mid-April, with an RFP issued to three vendors on April 25 that were due May 16.

A team of ministry leaders “collectively felt Masterworks was best positioned to help American Bible Society invite new donor channels and support the organization in extending fundraising to a wider array of mission activity,” according to Morin. “We went into the process with no predetermined front-runner and a desire only to find the best fit for the ministry and its needs today and through the length of the contract.” ABS anticipates “growing youth engagement efforts “substantially in the years ahead,” he said.

Prior to joining the society, Birdsall was executive director of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, where Masterworks CEO Steve Woodworth also served on a working group at Lausanne Committee. Birdsall has developed numerous business relationships over the course of 30 years in ministry, Morin said, and had a positive impression of Woodworth’s previous work, however, other members of the decision-making team “balanced this with positive experiences of many years working with the other two candidate vendors.”

Masterworks, an agency focused primarily on Christian nonprofits, also partnered with ABS on a project in 2010 when the organization was hired to conduct an independent audit of fundraising, marketing and development efforts, according to Morin.

It’s the second time this year that KerstenDirect has lost a major client to Masterworks. Oklahoma City, Okla.-based Feed the Children turned to Masterworks after several years with KerstenDirect. Feed The Children paid KerstenDirect (then known as Stratmark) about $1.35 million to raise more than $45 million in direct mail solicitation last year, according to the charity’s federal Form 990. Stratmark was paid $5.6 million by ABS last year for services described as “cultivation,” according to the charity’s Form 990, while Resource One also was paid $1.5 million in 2012 for “warehousing/logistics.”

“Every dog has its day. In our business, you may not be working for them today, but you might a year later,” said Max Bunch, senior vice president, consulting and client services at KerstenDirect, adding that they’ll be working with ABS during the transition over the next several months.

“Nobody likes going through an RFP but in that case, ABS was fairly unique in that they have a new president, and it is pretty much presidential prerogative when you come into a new leadership position,” said Bunch. ABS enjoyed a great year and was happy with their work but with new leadership, he said that’s a presidential prerogative. Bunch had nothing but good things to say about ABS and Birdsall. “He’s a wonderful guy. I think he will be an extraordinarily charismatic leader for them,” he said.

Geoff Peters, president of Bowie, Md.-based CDR Fundraising Group, declined to comment. Woodworth did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Stratmark changed its name in March 2013, coinciding with an announcement by founder Dr. John Walvoord that he was transferring ownership to Tim Kersten. Kersten was recruited to join Stratmark as president and chief creative officer in November 2011 and took on the title of CEO after Walvoord retired in November 2012.  NPT