Fundraising Mentee Profile: Leticia John

As National Mentoring Month 2012 draws to a close, I wanted to profile a young fundraiser that I have been mentoring.  I have had the pleasure of knowing Leticia John for probably about three years or so.  Leticia is the Development Officer at The Whitby School in Greenwich, Connecticut, with prior experiences at Iona College, Youth, I.N.C. and Changing Our World.  We first met while she was studying at our shared alma mater, The Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.  I have been and continue to be proud to help her in any way that I can as she builds a career and grows in the wide world of fundraising.

How did you get into fundraising?

Entering my first year as a graduate student at NYUWagner, I joined the Youth, I.N.C.’s  staff as an intern.  My program of study was a Master of Public Administration in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy.  I was thankful to obtain the position at Youth, I.N.C. because the organization worked with many small youth-serving non-profit organizations to help build their fiscal and managerial capacities to be successful in fulfilling their missions. Thus, I had a firsthand opportunity to work directly with executive directors, participate in trainings that focused on management, board development and of course strategic fundraising among many other topics. Working at Youth, I.N.C. was an invaluable experience, where I was able to learn the essentials of supporting start-up/small NPO’s and how to raise funds through one-on-one solicitations, direct mail solicitations, events and board development.

I decided to stay within the fundraising field because I realized it was an essential skill to have in the non-profit sector. Furthermore, there is always a demand and need for individuals to take on the responsibility of soliciting funds, whether through fundraising events or one-on-one interactions.  I also believed that I would develop a skill set that would be transferable in many other professions (e.g. policy and campaign management, program and event management, communications, executive leadership positions in public and or non-profit organizations and the like).  To the same extent, I really enjoy my daily activities as a fundraiser because it fits my personality — I get to plan events, meet new people, do research and make a real difference that has an immediate effect. Closing and stewarding a $10,000 gift and what that $10,000 can provide for an organization gives you an awesome feeling.


Based on your experience at Iona College, what are some pros and cons of higher education fundraising?

I’m not sure if my answer will be unique, but typically institutions of higher education have larger and more dynamic fundraising programs and capacities.  One of the biggest opportunities is that you have a larger pool of people to solicit.  It’s a great arena for someone to start their career; you can test materials, events, approaches, etc.  An obvious con is that higher ed (in my experience) is more bureaucratic and there may be too many “cooks” in the kitchen (for example, Vice Presidents, Assistant Vice Presidents, Directors, Associate Directors, Campaign Managers, etc.) with roles that can be very segmented or overly cloudy.  Some may also suggest that it’s harder (depending if you are raising unrestricted or restricted funds) to build a case and/or illustrate the impact of funds raised.

Nevertheless, I loved my experience at Iona because it was dynamic and there were so many opportunities to develop my skill set as a fundraiser.  The catch to any fundraising program is assessing if it has sufficient capacity and enough resources to effectively take advantage of those opportunities.

I think a larger conversation can be had on the pros and cons of working for a small or large fundraising team, though it really depends upon what you want to accomplish in your career as a fundraiser.


In your non-fundraising life, what are you passionate about?

Oh, this is thought-provoking!  I make an earnest attempt to just enjoy life.  I am very social and truly enjoy interacting with people.  There are so many beautiful places, tasty foods, fun adventures to experience — why not be passionate about experiencing it all with friends and family.


Where do you see the future of fundraising in the next 10 years?

I think the field is on an upward trajectory. However, I believe that raising/soliciting money is also becoming very personal.  We all know that people give to people, but donors are becoming much more strategic in the organizations they support and supporting organizations that are personal to them, have meaning to them, relate to them, and have an effect on them.  As a result, fundraising has to become more creative and interactive.  It will be interesting to see if nonprofits with similar missions will compete or collaborate as they grow to make impact.

I also think that fundraisers who are in senior leadership positions are more inclined to stay in their positions than ever before.  I imagine this will have a negative impact on junior and mid-level fundraisers who are trying to advance their careers.  Nevertheless I think fundraisers will always be in demand and they will become an invaluable source to an organization the longer they are there raising funds.


If you didn’t have a chance to read last week’s Fundraising Mentor Profile, check it out here.

Do you have any questions for Leticia?  Has your fundraising career been similar to hers?  Do you see the future of fundraising in the same way?

Fundraising Mentor Profile: Michele Minter

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?