March 8 is International Women’s Day, and it’s a big thing. The statistics tell us that seventy to eighty percent of fundraisers are women. In my own career as a fundraiser, I have only hired a handful of men — the rest were all women! Moreover, the statistics tell us that women only represent a little more than half of the small nonprofit CEOs. The disconnect is further amplified in the larger nonprofits, where women CEOs only comprise about a third. People — we can do better than this!
Many times, we hear of great successes, but far too often, we gloss over the circumstances needed to shape the success. Below (in alphabetical order), I have made a special note of twelve exceptional women. The number twelve has been referred to as a divine number. consequently, these women have shaped my ideas and made me a much better fundraiser (and maybe even a better person):
Margot is a rising superstar in the fundraising world, and I have often said that I would be honored to work for her one day. Both of us had a similar professional trajectory in that both of us have exclusively been in the nonprofit world since graduating from university. Margot’s calm demeanor and authentic interest in others are just some of the traits that have made her such a fundraising success. Above all, Margot’s professionalism and sophistication are truly admirable. She is comfortable speaking to almost anyone and is wise far beyond her years.
I had the opportunity to work with Susan for many years and, to this day, I have yet to see a better fundraiser. Susan is one of the most determined people that I have ever met and has blazed a path of unparalleled successes to show for it. Similarly, she inspired me to think outside of the box and reach for those huge goals. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Susan’s tenacity and resolve have helped all the various organizations that she has been aligned with succeed.
I first have the privilege of meeting Sharna at the offices of 21/64 (originally associated with the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Foundation) in NYC over ten years ago. Sharna is a professional who has dedicated her life to helping philanthropists navigate the waters of the intergenerational transfer of wealth. Sharna taught me more in a mini-course than I had ever imagined, especially around the notion of having those tough conversations with the next generation (or with the previous generation, as it turns out). For example, I use the “value cards” that 21/64 created on almost every visit that I discuss bequests. It has proven to be invaluable.
Debbie is one of those people that exudes leadership. While she was the chair of the Women’s Campaign that I worked on, Debbie sought to fundraise from a grassroots level. It was a welcome breath of fresh air. She tried to think of new ways to build community and always made those volunteers around her feel as if their opinions were both valued and appreciated. During Debbie’s tenure as chair of the campaign, there were a record number of increased donors, largely due to her leadership. People wanted to join in Debbie’s vision!
Susan started me off in my communal service life. She was my youth advisor way back when she was in university, and she has remained in the community service arena ever since. As a matter of fact, Susan changed my life’s trajectory. I was going down a path that most young kids went down and needed some guidance (that wasn’t my parents). Susan has shown me just how vital dedication and belief in the cause are. Susan’s forte is her storytelling prowess. Anyone who has listened to her stories knows that Susan can tug at one’s heartstrings and weave an amazing narrative.
Mary is the epitome of a donor relations officer. I have never met someone who genuinely cares so much about each and every donor. I have no idea how she kept all of the details straight in her head. Birthdays, anniversaries, memorial anniversaries, etc. — I can barely remember what I ate for breakfast! Mary would often say that she didn’t like asking for money, yet donors asked her what they can do to support the cause. In short, she is the gold standard in donor relations and is sorely missed on this side of the Atlantic.
Tosha is a born leader. I have rarely experienced anyone who has the focus and vision, as does Tosha. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and her judgment is unparalleled. It could be that Tosha is from East Coast Canada, and I have yet to meet a jerk from there, but I would surmise that it is much more. I used to joke that Tosha is “spooky smart” (she knows something about EVERYTHING) yet is humble in knowing what she doesn’t (yet) know. Every now and then, you come across an individual who you would give your eye teeth up to work alongside again. Tosha is one of those individuals.
I first met Deborah almost 20 years ago. What struck me as inspiring was her natural ability and desire to play matchmaker with folks (professionally). Deborah enthusiastically shares her contacts with others and is seen as a facilitator. Deborah has been involved with some of the biggest corporations and has also been active at the grassroots level. No matter the enterprise, Deborah gives 110% and never seems to tire. Likewise, and in the spirit of celebrating women on IWD, Deborah founded Women Get on Board with a mandate to empower women to corporate boards. What a superstar!
Melissa was one of my favorite volunteers to work with, hands down. (Sorry other volunteers!) She stepped in where needed and stepped back where appropriate. Each time, it was always with the smile and cheerfulness that we have come to know from her. Even when faced with a decision that she disagreed with, Melissa stayed loyal to the organization and gave her maximum effort. Melissa has lent her talent to many local charities, and I am sure that they are the better for it.
I guess it was my mother who started my journey in the nonprofit world. We watched my mother volunteer for countless organizations and gave of her time, treasure, and talent. I knew then that I, too, could have a life filled with purpose. She was incredibly proud of me as a fundraiser and would love to debrief after some of my canvasses. I can honestly say that she imbued in me a sense of communal responsibility.
It goes without saying that my wife is my number one inspiration. While I raise money for organizations that do good, Sarah actually does good. As a social worker in palliative care, her compassion and thoughtfulness are something that I strive to achieve. Sarah is a professional listener, and so many times, as a fundraiser, one needs to vent. I am so lucky that I have such a great sounding board! Her sage advice over the years has helped me separate the chaff from the wheat — the important from the mundane. And, to boot, she is a tenacious editor!
Lynne’s business is the Donor Relations Guru, and one could not think of a more apt title. Lynne’s notion of teamwork and donor-centered thinking has elevated my game concerning how I treat others. Therefore, Lynne’s book, T-Rexes vs. Kangaroos Improving your Fundraising and Donor Relations, is a must-read for anyone in the fundraising world (boards AND bosses alike). Certainly, her southern charm comes through in all that she does, and it is that humility and attention to service that makes her stand out.
So, on this International Women’s Day, I say thank you and l’chaim to all of these women who have so generously contributed to helping me grow. I am sure that these special women have also inspired others.