At the Seminar 2020 online program, the Foundation for Fraternal Excellence hosted a talk with the William D. Jenkins Outstanding Foundation Professional Award Recipients from 2010-2020 about how to succeed in fraternal fundraising careers. These industry veterans have provided additional advice, stories, feedback, mantras and motivation as a follow-up from the Seminar panel.
About the Panelists
Listed by year awarded
2010: Jonathan Brant
He has served the Beta Theta Pi Foundation for 20 years as part of a 45-year career in fundraising.
2011: Ashley Woods
He has served as President & CEO of the Sigma Chi Foundation for five years and has been in fundraising for 18 years.
2013: Allison Rickels
She has served as Executive Director & CEO of the FarmHouse Foundation for 13 years and has been in fundraising for 19 years.
2014: Scott Bova
He has served as President of the Triangle Education Foundation for 20 years of his 25-year fundraising career.
2016: Kitty deKieffer
Her volunteer roles include president of the Foundation for Fraternal Excellence and Alpha Chi Omega Foundation alongside a 25-year professional fundraising career.
2017: Ben Nicol
He has been CEO of the Phi Kappa Psi Foundation for eight years among a 17-year fundraising career.
2018: Julie Waitman
She has served as Alpha Gamma Delta Foundation Executive Director for 13 years of her 15-year fundraising career.
2019: Roxanne LaMuth
She recently retired as Executive Director of the Delta Gamma Foundation, serving in that role for six years of a 15-plus-years fundraising career.
2020: Faron Lewitt
The CEO of the Zeta Beta Tau Foundation has been in the foundation leadership role for all 15 years of his fraternal fundraising career.
I am first a “friend”-raiser, then a fund-raiser. Developing relationships enhances fund-raising success over the long term. We can be the connector of donors with beneficiaries in a manner that will increase pride in the organization as well as donor satisfaction through engagement.
- Fundraising requires authenticity at all levels — the organization, the purpose, and the person.
- Successful fundraising requires an “investment case,” in other words, donors expect a clear and compelling explanation of the expected return or outcome on every gift.
- Great organizations think long-term, including establishing long-term objectives and intermediate plans to achieve.
This is my personal mission statement: I strive to become the best version of myself and help others to do the same. I always work to find happiness, fulfillment and value in my life. I inspire others with my actions, integrity and principles and never forget the power of my voice. I help others experience joy, feel supported and as a friendly face. I give before I receive. I remember what is important in my life is my family by making my marriage, daughters and immediate family a high priority and treating them with the highest of care, love and support. I create a welcoming home for my family, friends and everyone who enters. I am open to change, people, learning opportunities and growing every day. I follow my passions and chose opportunities that fill my bucket. I am a leader and desire to make tangible contributions to my organization, profession, community and the greater world. I honor my commitments. I recognize and develop my strengths as a person who is smart, articulate and hard-working, while at the same time being humble and never boastful. Ultimately and always, live my life to the fullest.
I also live by “If you don’t know better, you can’t do better.” For fundraising, remembering three things … 1) Progress Shall Mark our Every Step; 2) Don’t be afraid to ask; 3) Help donors find their passions within and for the betterment of our our organization
- It is about relationships and not transactions. Don’t forget the people behind the gift.
- It is a long term strategy, not a short term wins. Follow the plan and you will get the support. Push to raise money quickly and you will either burn bridges or leave money on the table. Keeping in mind that donors want to buy deck chairs for the Queen Mary and not buckets for the Titanic.
- People want to change lives, show them how their gifts do that.
- Don’t ask, don’t get …
- There is a fine line between asking and begging and as fundraisers, we need to be aware of that (and not fall on the begging side) …
- Fundraising ethics are everything … our reputation is at stake.
“BePe” — Be prepared. Be personal. Be perceptive. Be personalized. Be persistent.
- Outwork and outplay the competition (i.e. other charitable orgs).
- Engagement is key.
- As Jerry Maguire would say if he was a fundraiser, “Show me the money BUT also show them the IMPACT!”
It’s not about me – it’s all about them.
- Be open to the conversations, relationships and journeys our donors will take us on.
- Be present – and that’s so hard with our small teams. We hear these voices in our heads. “We should be further along in revenue, I have staff one-on-one meetings today, I need to get that information out to the board, I’ve got to get back to the Strategic Planning workgroup…” We need to put all that aside every time we pick up the phone.
- Be your authentic self and understand you’re not going to mesh with everyone. For some, my job is to find the right person who will.
I’ve also had others in my professional journey who have helped define who I don’t want to be. That’s all a part of the journey, too. No experience is ever wasted. We have the great opportunity to work in an industry that provides life-long friendship and sisterhood. It shouldn’t be about the one, transactional gift.
My personal philosophy this year is the pursuit of “doing good” is doing more. (Delta Gamma’s motto is “Do Good.”) I am celebrating our donors this year and helping them identify their passion for making a difference.
My purpose is all about our journey together, mine and the donor, and the lives we can touch, the legacy we can leave, and the world we can change for the better. Together we have the opportunity to brighten the future of the hundreds of lives we enhance each day.
I would describe my brand as a fundraiser as being about relationships, persistency and trust. Serving on staff of the Fraternity and Foundation for 23 years has provided me the opportunity for so many wonderful relationships with brothers (and family) of Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity. These relationships are key to securing on going support for the Foundation.
Persistence is something I learned early on in my career. I had one prospect who took about three years for me to finally get a response from and meet with in person. Through a series of ongoing attempts and trying different approaches, we finally made it happen. As a result, we were able to secure a major gift from the individual. It never would have happened without persistent effort.
Trust is an absolute. You are unable to be a successful fundraiser without it. It really serves as the basis for the first two points, relationships and persistence. Donors need to trust the organization, the leadership and the staff.
All three are impacted by my final thought which is that we must be responsive and do what we say we are going to do. If either don’t occur donors will choose to go somewhere else with the charitable dollars they have available.
Early on, a mentor told me that there will be individuals who have a lot of money … but, they don’t want to give it to you. That’s all right. Share your case for support, tell your “why” story, plant seeds for future giving as they will better celebrate their pride in the organization and understand your rationale for their engagement in the future. And move on to the next donor or prospect. Truly believe in your organization’s purpose and case for support.
- A strong team is vital and taking the time to debrief (both good and bad results) keeps things in perspective
- Remembering that a rejection is not personal — even though the business is highly relational
I have been resilient in a number of ways and could share more stories than I can count but my first story as CEO is the best.
When I started in my role as CEO of the Foundation, I was 27, a female, non-member and pregnant with my oldest daughter. The FarmHouse Foundation Trustees took a huge leap of faith in hiring me. I knew it, they it – that it was a BIG leap. I was young, had a lot to learn, would be a woman leading a men’s fraternity foundation (a first and only) and about to have a baby – who’s now a 7th-grader. While the Trustees, our staff and alumni knew of this leap – they didn’t sit back to watch – they helped me and the Foundation grow. Because we all knew – it’s not about me at all – it’s about making FarmHouse more successful. It is a big responsibility in the role as a fundraiser and CEO, but they keep me going and give me and our team the confidence to do it.
Furthermore, when others in fundraising have rudely said, “You must be good at your job because you’re a ‘pretty girl’,” it’s made me tougher, want to work harder and be more successful to prove them wrong over and over again because I’m good at my job for thousands of reasons, in addition to being a pretty woman with confidence and integrity.
Two areas: The wonderful and strong donor support that asks how can I help and then seeing need, and value of the experience by the undergraduate students.
I think that my belief in myself kept me going … when people kept saying “You can’t raise that kind of money” or “No way can you raise unrestricted dollars,” I just put my head down and proved them to be incorrect. It was particularly hard when I was raising money for women’s groups because they didn’t have faith. I had to fully develop them to get on point and that would always take longer than it should have. It taught me patience and empathy!
Each and every day we face difficulties as fundraisers — whether they be revenue challenges or organizational/operational struggles. My resiliency comes from understanding what is within my control, leaning into difficult situations and sometimes stepping back to garner perspective. Simply put is the stories of how the Fraternity and the Foundation’s assistance have and continue to change the lives of our young men. Witnessing the gap between what some of our undergraduates experience at home and what education they receive in the classroom drives me to accomplish our mission.
Physically take care of yourself:
- Get outside and walk.
- Call someone who fills your bucket. (my favorite oldest and youngest daughters.)
- Evaluate your sleep schedule.
Identify the most important thing the organization needs now: make a plan and start there. Not everything is going to get done. When I get really stuck and overwhelmed, I just “do something.” On that day it doesn’t matter that it’s the big thing. I find when I do something it helps me unblock and find my rhythm again. Let others know what you and/or the organization need. Let others do their good work. Our work is large in scope and, at times, complex. It takes a village so let the people you’ve hired/recruited do their work. My #1 strength is responsibility — the best and worst of me. So it’s not possible to quit or stop.
In a very short time, life has changed for all of us. There have many significant challenges. Some have already become a reality but there are many we cannot yet see. Fundraising is at its hardest since the magic of meeting one on one with a donor is now a bit different through a scheduled Zoom call. The one thing that has not changed, is the strength of our sisterhood, which knows no bounds. We are stronger because we are pushed, lifting each other up to support our mission and purpose.
The notes, emails and phone calls that come in from donors and leaders with the messages of how they are thrilled that they have changed a life with a scholarship or crisis grant; or as a Foundation we learn that a visually impaired child has been given an opportunity to become independent because of a service for sight grant, totally re-energizes me and clearly reaffirms why I do what I do.
The Mission, the impact ZBT had/has on me, the relationships, the legacy, fighting for what I believe, the possibilities and the opportunities.
The list goes on once I start thinking about men and women of influence. Focusing on fund-raising consultants, top people include:
- Bill Jenkins, Phi Kappa Tau
- Steve Becker, Beta Theta Pi
- Pat Ryan, Lambda Chi Alpha
- Martin Cobb, Beta Theta Pi
- Greg Harbaugh — President & CEO of Sigma Chi Foundation prior to my tenure (taught me how to lead with an emphasis on values and character)
- Bob Johnson — Chairman my first two years in this role (taught me how to collaborate, problem solve, and set big goals)
It is the collective of FarmHouse. I could name hundreds of staff members, my legendary predecessor (Bob Off), Trustees, Foundation Chairman, Executive Coach Marc Pitman, colleagues, alumni, etc. But FarmHouse has been the greatest positive influence on my life — as a fundraising professional, CEO, wife, mother, daughter, colleague, mentor and friend.
The values, its name’s acronym and the Object of the Fraternity resonates soundly with me, especially “Progress Shall Mark Our Every Step.” I find myself saying it not just in my Foundation work but everything I do, including raising my two daughters with my husband, Nick. Because in reality, it takes one step at a time to reach the next big milestone, it’s a team effort and you need confidence to keep moving forward.
FarmHouse is a small organization that always thinks big. We have a big vision, huge goals and new aspirations along with confident donors, volunteers and staff who believe this too. I continue to work for FarmHouse because FarmHouse believes in me too. I am blessed to have amazing mentors of Trustees and alumni – so many who call just to check in to see how the Foundation, our team and my family are doing. I often say, “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. And the FarmHouse grass is pretty green.”
My first Chairman at Phi Kappa Tau helped shape my professional career a lot. Bill Jenkins early on was a god to me and was always a joy to sit by his side and listen to his wealth of information and stories.
Alpha Chi Omega’s past National President Ellen Vanderbrink, who didn’t always agree with me but constantly supported me, and AXO past National President Donna Chereck, who is one of my best friends and always believes in me.
Three groups and several specific individuals have been most influential in my career. In general those groups include my board of Trustees, donors whom I have grown close to and my fellow co-workers. I’m constantly challenged by those I work with, particularly a group of those individuals who believe so strongly in the work we do that they wake each and every day thinking of new and innovative ways to grow our network of supporters. The other two audiences include the last two immediate board chairs who have encouraged me to grow and lead me down a professional developmental path and finally a handful of donors who consistently showing their gratitude and appreciation for the work of the Foundation. They are infections positive influences on all, particularly me, as they inspire me to want to spread their same care for Phi Psi to others.
From an industry perspective, Jonathan Brant and Ben Nicol because of the authentic, creative, hard-working and successful professionals they are.
Overall, I have to go way back to the Alpha Gam volunteer who trained me as a chapter consultant — Dee Smith Evans. From her I learned two key lessons:
- I can’t teach you all the answers, but I can teach you how to find them.
- The mantra, “If not me – then who?”
Our leadership, especially at the Board and Council level, who have believed in me truly have empowered me to work harder and learn more. Our wonderful Foundation staff has incredible skills that I learn from every day. Our past Council and Board (BOT, FAB) who have given historical value to Delta Gamma are the perfect mentors for me to reach out to for questions and conversation. They are a wealth of information and experience.
Most importantly, however, are my family members who are proud of me and support me through long days in the office and on the road, understanding that I absolutely love what I do.
Irv Chase, who served as President of ZBT and appointed me to the Fraternity’s board as an undergraduate. He and his wife Nancy (who met through ZBT as undergraduates) have shown me over the years the importance of relationships, persistence and trust. They are wonderful examples of being philanthropic while leading and serving as volunteers for organizations they believe in.
One major donor greeted me and then said, “No. That’s my answer … now, what do you want to talk about?” Another donor committed to a major gift, and as we were saying our farewells he said “Ignore what I’m about to say … That’s all I’m going to give; don’t come back!” And then, he winked and said, “I just want to be truthful, when I go home and explain what I told you!” A donor responded to my request for a gift by agreeing to make his pledge, using the “1-2-3-4 method.” I asked, what is that? He said, “it works well. For example, I give $100 the first year, $200 the next year, $300, then $400 in the last year = $1,000 total.” I’ve used that idea, when asking for gifts of all amounts.
I could share countless favorite stories because I am so fortunate to be able to encourage, develop and foster philanthropy with our alumni donors and friends for the betterment of young people. I witness every day the difference we make in young men’s lives. Seeing a budding college freshman who’s naive and unpolished, mature throughout college and then graduate as an all-star leader and student is inspiring. Then to watch his career path evolve, see him became a husband or partner and possibly a father, and help him give back to a cause that’s near and dear to his heart, is beyond incredible. I want young men to become gentlemen, devoted husbands/partners, amazing fathers, find success in their careers and become leaders in their communities. And our older alumni make my heart swell when hearing their pride and love of their fraternity and the difference it made in their lives, even many years earlier. We need all of this goodness in our world, especially now more than ever. And I believe FarmHouse, and all fraternities and sororities done right, makes it happen.
I have many. The one I use the most is one our more generous donors I met early in my career with Triangle. I had another alumnus call me up and share he wanted me to meet this fellow Illinois alumnus from the 1960s. I said sure and looked him up in our system. He was “lost” in the system since the 1970s. I flew down to Houston and was lead into his office. He came in and greeted me. First assuring me that while I had him at lost, he knew exactly where he was all the time. He then thanked me for reaching out and sharing how he had not had deep thoughts about Triangle since his graduation, but in preparation for my visit he was reflecting on his time in the chapter and as chapter president. He shared that during his career he never connected the dots on his life experiences while he was navigating life, but in reflection his ability to lead and face challenging decisions were formulated while at Triangle. He gave tremendous credit to who he was and where he got in his career and life to his undergraduate experience. I sat in awe listening to his story. The alumnus’s office was at One Shell Plaza in Houston and I was sitting in the Chairman’s office talking to Steve Miller, Chairman and CEO of Shell Oil. He has since gone on to endow our Presidents’ Academy (The Steven L. Miller Presidents’ Academy), serve on the Foundation Board and has been very supportive of all our efforts.
Meeting with a donor who had large capacity … didn’t like my $1 million ask … but after our conversation, she gave us three times that amount. I equate fundraising to golf … getting a yes is like hitting a great drive … it makes you keep coming back for more!
Sure there are the funny donor stories (i.e. the donors that ask you to try on their old suits or the ones that you can’t get out of saying “yes” to staying in their home which leads to the slew of awkward moments), but one of my most favorite donor stories was working with the parents of one of our members who passed away. Setting up a scholarship with them and working with them for more than a decade watching the scholarship grow, witnessing the impact on the recipients, keeping their son’s memory alive and seeing how their son’s pledge class remains connected because of the scholarship has been very rewarding.
In the vein of being open and present with our donors: A sister, who I had known for over 30 years passed away after a brutal battle with cancer. I went up to the funeral and 10 minutes before the service was invited to speak. Six months later I had lunch with her husband, a man of few words. At the end of lunch he asked if I wanted to go see Barb at the cemetery. I asked if HE wanted to go see Barb and he said yes. So we went and sat on the bench that he had placed there at her grave. And we sat and visited about 30 minutes. It was uncomfortable until I chose to be open and present, and I remembered that it wasn’t about me. A few months later, the husband asked if he could pay out the remaining $50,000 portion of their trust before he passed away, because he thought we could use the money sooner. And he’s given an additional $50,000 since then – above and beyond their estate gift. Their scholarship fund is our largest in the Foundation.
I keep thinking that I should put together a collection of donor stories because it’s the stories that motivate you. However, the donor story I am sharing just happened to a co-worker who met with the donor and her family over Zoom just weeks before the donor’s death, working out her planned gift so she could have the greatest impact on her beloved Delta Gamma. As she was struggling with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, she was weak and could only talk for small bits of time, which is when she would sit and listen and nod or smile as her family talked through her wishes for the legacy gift which was being planned. Shortly after my co-worker’s last conversation with her, she passed. With great pride she endowed three $50,000 scholarships to her chapter of initiation in addition to a $100,000 gift to her chapter’s housing campaign for a total of $250,000. When the check arrived, it was a bittersweet moment for all of us on staff.
My favorite is really any time a donor thanks me … I always finding it fascinating that someone who contributed to the Zeta Beta Tau Foundation thanks us. It is a remarkable experience every time it happens.
For a specific story … favorite is in no way an easy one to come up with as I have countless stories I would consider impactful to me, the organization or both. One that stands out is Al Berg. He made a gift to the Foundation in response to special appeal (and was not someone who we were aware of at the time). As a result of that gift, we began to develop a relationship. Al ended up supporting a number of Foundation priorities including our support of combating campus anti-Semitism and hate. He made a number of major gifts to the Zeta Beta Tau Foundation.
Al was diagnosed with cancer a few years later and ultimately lost his fight. Al shared his diagnosis with me (before many family members and friends) and his hopes. Even during his difficult fight, Al worked with us to endow a fund with his name to support chapter educational programming. I attended Al’s funeral (the largest I have ever attended by far) and knew few if any in attendance. Al’s son, Jarret, at his own father’s funeral went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable, introduced to people in attendance and taken care of. It spoke so much about what type of family Al helped create and the legacy he was leaving behind.
On our invitation, Jarret (a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi) attended our International Convention on behalf of his family and spoke to those in attendance about his father and the impact ZBT had on him. Jarret helped ZBT present the first chapter programming award in his father’s name.
When I was recently surprised with the announcement of the Jenkins award and saw everyone on the Zoom call who supported my nomination … who was on the call … Jarret Berg … a non-ZBT, son of a donor who passed away and trusted me and ZBT enough to help fulfill some of his wishes. It is relationships like the one I had with Al that I so appreciate having the opportunity to experience.
What advice would you give to your younger self or to those just starting out in their fundraising career?
Develop a culture of cultivation; rather than a transaction culture. Think how your strategies can be as personal as possible. Craft the best case for support and continue to tell your story Stay updated on ever-dynamic technology, which is central to achieving the fundraising cycle, today. Have fun! Enjoy the opportunity of developing new and lasting relationships. Be thankful you are doing something purposeful as a career.
- Focus on learning skills that make your organization better — leadership, strategic planning, collaboration, financial management — these skills will make you a better fundraiser
- Be authentic — donors do not expect perfection but expect authenticity
- Do not be afraid to ask
Oh so many things …
- Be willing to take risks.
- Say yes to new responsibilities, challenges, experiences and volunteering that make your career and life better even when you doubt yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help and use your resources (people or things) — no one can do their job alone.
- Be innovative, willing to pivot and think outside the box.
- Don’t be overly confident than you know everything because you don’t and you won’t — keep learning especially from experts, senior leaders, mentors and success stories.
- Trust your intuition (trust and verify).
- Celebrate your successes!
- Have fun and enjoy what you do, who you do it with and why you do it.
- Be yourself, especially with donors — they can see right through insincerity.
- Bring your A Game every day and remember, Progress Shall Mark Your Every Step!
Patience — follow the plan and it will work out.
To have faith, particularly as a woman … we are great fundraisers … we just have different approaches…
- Be creative.
- Find a mentor.
- Learn all aspects/channels of fundraising.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Be genuine.
Run 😊 Don’t be afraid to be you. In the field of fundraising, if it’s not your passion – find something else or someplace else. It’s a hard enough job without being “all in.”
Develop your mantra. Talk to everyone you can — use all the knowledge and resources available from others. You don’t always have to figure things out yourself. And then, at some point, you just have to do the work.
Listen Listen Listen! Ask open-ended questions to find out more. Listen Listen Listen! Know your “product” inside and out. Make the connection and tell a story. Mostly — Believe in yourself. Feel and share the spark of helping someone make a difference in the life of another.
Pay attention to the details and focus on building relationships. Persistence will pay off and trust is easily lost and difficult to regain.
Be prepared for getting to know donors extremely well (like family) and learning some difficult things about them. I have had donors share with me such personal things as divorce, business failure, health concerns and terminal illnesses (many times before family and friends even know). I consider it a significant responsibility to maintain donor confidence in both me and ZBT and that our relationship take priority over anything else, including a gift.