Since January is National Mentoring Month, I wanted to take this opportunity to profile one of my fundraising mentors, Michele Minter, the former Vice President of Development at The College Board and former Director of Development at Princeton University. Michele is currently working as the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity & Diversity at Princeton. I first learned about Michele from her father, a former community foundation leader, and have had the pleasure of knowing her for the last few years. I hope that you take something away from her distinguished career in our field.
How did you get into fundraising? Why did you build a career in this field?
I spent the earliest part of my career as an administrator for performing arts organizations, and it was natural to learn about grantwriting and special event fundraising in that context. During the same time period I did some consulting for the National Endowment for the Arts by serving as an evaluator for proposals. I was intrigued by the decisions that faced organizations as they planned their fundraising priorities and applied for funds: did they really have a clear understanding of their mission and strengths? How much were they prepared to adjust their plans to conform to the agendas of funders, and why? I thought the questions were fascinating and decided to consider development as a full-time profession. Once I had made the transition to major gifts fundraising, I was deeply impressed by the thoughtfulness and commitment of both donors and fundraising volunteers. Those relationships added another dimension of fulfillment to the work.
What has been your greatest fundraising success? And your greatest fundraising challenge?
Although I’ve raised individual gifts at the eight-figure level, my proudest fundraising work involved Princeton University’s Women in Leadership Initiative, a program that I launched (with the help of extraordinary volunteers) to engage alumnae donors. It has helped to build a generation of alumnae leaders for the University through a series of cultivational and stewardship activities and communications. After more than ten years, the Women in Leadership Initiative is still thriving, still raising money successfully, and still serving as a national model and a model for other programs at Princeton.
My greatest fundraising challenges have involved federal grant competitions. Federal proposals require huge mobilization of cross-functional teams and all-out efforts to meet tight deadlines. At the end of the process, failure to get the grant can be deeply disheartening even though it is always a risk. Major gifts fundraising can also involve a lot of pressure and the potential for disappointment, but even a solicitation that is declined can move the relationship forward. Federal grantwriting is far more impersonal and the possibility of a “no” at the end is much more stark.
In your non-fundraising life, what are you passionate about?
I do a lot of volunteering in my community. One of my passions is the Fund for Women and Girls at the Princeton Area Community Foundation, where I co-chair a giving circle that brings together local women to raise money to support the needs of girls in Trenton, NJ and the surrounding communities. I’m also passionate about my family, and especially my two endlessly fascinating (and confounding) kids.
Who have been some of your fundraising mentors? How did they impact your career? What did you learn from them?
My first boss at Princeton University, the then vice president of development, taught me virtually everything I know about working with donors in the field. His coaching on strategy, his example of how to handle conversations effectively, and his skill at follow-up were the best possible training that I could have had as a young fundraiser, and he has continued to be a resource and friend ever since. I was fortunate to have had that opportunity to learn the ropes from a senior colleague who took such a personal interest. I also learned a lot from the Princeton alumni volunteers with whom I worked on soliciting their classmates. In many cases they had a depth of knowledge and experience of fundraising that surpasses that of professional development officers. Working with so many alumni volunteers and watching their different styles taught me how to be nimble, read cues carefully, and be prepared to adjust strategies on the fly!
Now that you are no longer actively working in fundraising, how are you remaining engaged in the field?
This year I chose to make a transition out of professional fundraising in order to focus on Higher Education administration more broadly, but I am still deeply committed to and involved with philanthropy and the advancement field. I’m co-editing a book for CASE on donor education, which will be a resource for advancement professionals who want to understand better how to organize a family philanthropy program, a giving circle, or activities that will help donors become more confident, informed and effective in their philanthropy. I also serve on the Leadership Council of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and as a steering committee member for the Women’s Funding Network’s “Millions Give Back: A Black Women’s Philanthropy Campaign” project. And I try to keep my development skills from getting rusty by doing some fundraising for local causes.
Stay tuned for next week’s profile, which will be of an impressive young fundraiser that I have been fortunate to mentor over the last few years.
Do you have any questions for Michele? Did anything in Michele’s experience stick out to you or resonate with you? How have you benefited from mentors in your fundraising career?