Kay Grace in her own words

Written by
Kay Grace
Added
April 09, 2010

My earliest memory as a fundraiser is…

suddenly finding myself, at the ripe old age of 22, as chair for my Southern California city for what was then called CommunityChest (United Way). I learned fast – and was fortunate that I had been a volunteer for my university (from which I graduated at 20) so at least knew the vocabulary!

My first job as a fundraiser was…
with a children’s services agency with a fabulous mission, an excellent board, a supportive staff, a wonderful group of non-board volunteers. Although I had never done professional fundraising before (I was a journalist and then an educator) I knew most of the people through my volunteer fundraising and they had great faith in me. It was that faith and trust that lifted my confidence and contributed to my first successes. The quality of involvement at the agency set a standard for me for all the years I have been in the profession. I saw what was possible, and I strive for that continually with all the organisations I work with.

I wish I had…
known what I know now when I started my work. But, the profession has changed and I think it is a credit to my own education that I have continued to learn both from experience and books and just by listening to others.

I wish I hadn’t…
waited so long to find this career – I was nearly 40 when I entered into the profession after years of volunteering – and the last 25+ years have been pure bliss. I did not know you could love a job so much!

My most embarrassing moment as a fundraiser was…
as a volunteer for my university, soliciting another volunteer for her gift. She had told me she had limited time and I squandered my time with her talking about personal things (we were old friends) and she had to remind me that I was there to ask for her campaign gift. I was very embarrassed, but we rescued the moment and she made the gift.

My happiest moment as a fundraiser was…
(and is) when I hear from others how my teaching and guidance has changed not only their perspective, but their success. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear from someone I have taught or worked with – or who has read one of my books – thanking me for helping them be more effective. That is an exponential impact and that’s what I hope to leave as my legacy.

My funniest moment as a fundraiser…
is not really my own experiences but hearing the things that others have experienced and bring to my classes. I incorporated some of them into one of my books – Fundraising Mistakes That Bedevil All Boards – It is great when people are open about their funny experiences: it always enlivens the classes, encourages others not to be shy about their experiences, draws people together and improves the dialog.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done was…
ask members of my own family to contribute to an endowed book fund at the university most of us attended in memory of my grandfather. They were harder on me than any prospects I have ever had. It was undoubtedly the hardest ask I have ever made.

I don’t like talking about…
the needs of an organisation – I like talking about the needs the organisation is meeting and why an investment in the organisation is an investment in the community. The primary principles of my writing and work are:

  1. people give to you because you meet needs, not because you have needs;
  2. a gift to your organisation is really a gift through your organisation to the community.

Another important principle I believe is: fundraising is not about money, it is about relationships – if you build the relationships, the money will come.

Other fundraisers say I am…
inspiring, wise, focused and a good resource.

My most treasured book about fundraising or marketing is…
my own first book: Beyond Fundraising – while that may sound very self-serving, it incorporates all of my beliefs and stories and examples – now it its second edition (1997, 2005).

The books that changed my life…
are anything by the Dalai Lama and the poetry of e.e. cummings.

If I could give one piece of advice to fundraisers today…
it would be to remember that you are not “fundraisers” – you are philanthropic relationship builders who work to uncover shared values, identify dreams, match the donor’s dreams with your organisation’s mission, broker the dream and the opportunity into a mutually satisfying vision for your community – and then the money will come. Going for the money without all the rest is not true philanthropy and it will not be long-term. Philanthropy is about investment in our communities – and we must build long-term investment and investors.

If I wasn’t a charity fundraiser, I would be…
a writer and photographer. And I intend to follow those pursuits one of these days when I slow down (which I cannot imagine doing right now!)

My favourite charity or not-for-profit organisation is…
Family Violence Prevention Fund – they have expertly defined their global mission, engaged and retained a solid board and a strong staff. They were recognised by the Ford Foundation with a $7.5 million challenge grant to create an endowment (which will be in place at US$15 million by mid-2010) and are proceeding effectively even in these tight economic times with a campaign to create an International Centre to End Abuse at San Francisco’s Presidio. They address issues from domestic abuse to trafficking and are the go-to organisation for The New York Times and other publications on the issues. Long considered a “woman’s issue” they have moved the conversation out into the public and engaged men as leaders in their programs including Founding Fathers – an annual US Father’s Day commemoration – and Coaching Boys Into Men – a ‘playbook’ for sports coaches that is distributed in the US and now globally (by UNICEF). Their leadership is visionary, they are grateful for their support and volunteers. It is a magnificent organisation – a model.

At the moment, I’m reading…
World Without End by Ken Follett for pleasure; and Hot, Flat and Crowded by Tom Friedman for stimulation.

Fundraisers who have influenced me include…
Henry A. Rosso and Robert Payton, who were my mentors; my leadership mentor was John W. Gardner.

I’m always being asked…
how I ended up in this profession! And my story, of course, is similar to that of others: I began as a fundraising volunteer while busy in another career, realized that this had passion and power for me; when I faced an abrupt career change just shy of 40 I was guided into philanthropy as a profession – and the rest is history. I briefly left the sector once – very discouraged by an experience I had working for an organisation – but it did not take long to miss the mission and vision of our sector and I came back. I have not left since, and never will.

I would like to be remembered for…
the impact of my thinking in moving our profession from transactional fundraising to transformational philanthropy.

The next big thing is…
the next several years of serious reconstruction of the nonprofit sector. We will see many organisations merge or close in the wake of the global economic crisis. New leadership will step forward that is representative of 21st Century philanthropists and their dreams of a better world and their expectations of accountability, transparency, nimble responses to chronic and current issues, curtailment of bureaucracy and opportunities for involvement and engagement at new levels.

The future for fundraising is…
very good. Our sector will be restructured, we will see fewer nonprofits, more accountability, more donor dreams driving philanthropy, changes in the relationship between the for-profit, nonprofit and NGO sectors – governments will need to cut back further and individuals with capacity and passion will have to increase their support globally.

My favourite thing in life is…
perceiving change in myself and others as a result of intentional self-discovery and deliberate implementation of new ideas.

About the author: Kay Grace

Kay Grace

Kay Sprinkel Grace understands the challenges of 21st century philanthropy as well as its opportunities, and brings her experience from working with countless nonprofit organizations to bear on the current issues affecting donor development, fund raising, outreach, message strategy and volunteerism.

As principal of her own organisation since 1989, her clients include public media, hospitals, universities, arts and cultural organizations, environment and social justice organizations, churches and education, as well as community-based services.

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