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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Are you an Accidental Fundraiser?

Jeff is our favorite Accidental Fundraiser.

As the Director of Lowell Observatory, Jeff Hall didn't intend to become a fundraiser. He has a B.A. in physics from Johns Hopkins and a Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics from Penn State. He joined the staff at Lowell in 1992 as a postdoctoral research fellow, probably intending to spend the rest of his career studying solar phenomena.

But over the years of his career evolution at Lowell, he became a fundraiser. And a pretty darn good one at that.

We're going to periodically have conversations with Jeff about his path as an Accidental Fundraiser and various topics from his perspective as the director CEO of a nonprofit business. Please subscribe to this series on our YouTube channel and here.

Episode 1: How Jeff became a fundraiser



Summary and transcript

Alice: Hello, and welcome to the GoalBusters YouTube channel and video vlog series, and our first ever Accidental Fundraiser vlog entry. You may be wondering what the heck is an accidental fundraiser, and that's what today's episode is all about. It's about figuring out what that is. I'm Alice Ferris. I'm the founder of GoalBusters Consulting with me is Jim Anderson, partner of GoalBusters. And the accidental fundraiser himself, Jeff Hall. Hi, Jeff.

Jeff Hall: Hi, Alice. How are you?

Alice: Good. Great. Thank you so much for joining us.

Jeff: Always a pleasure to join you and Jim.

Alice: We tease you because we call you the accidental fundraiser because, in real life, you're the director of Lowell Observatory. You're also a Ph.D. in astronomy, but you also happen to be, frankly, a kick-ass fundraiser. So, how does that happen? How did you become a fundraiser?

Jeff: It was this gradual evolution. I've been at Lowell since the late Cretaceous! I came here in 1992, as a dewy-eyed postdoc, fresh out of grad school on a three-year research appointment entirely funded under an NSF grant. But the nature of that research program is very long term. So we got the grant renewed in 95. Then in 98, got it renewed again. At that point, the director, Bob Millis, asked me if I would take over managing the outreach programs because I enjoyed outreach. So then I was 50/50 [between research and outreach]. Then, I started meeting with the occasional donor to talk about my research and got more involved in fundraising. Then, I became the project scientist for our huge new telescope and gradually sank deeper into the molasses, you know. At the end of 2010, I was appointed the Observatory's director. And at that point, you know, we were no longer the little observatory I came to in 1992, when we had maybe 40 or 50 employees. All of a sudden, we had 100, and we had added a $53 million asset to the balance sheet in this new telescope. So yes, we're still an observatory. But we are now a full-fledged, nonprofit business specializing in astronomical research and communicating that to the public. So I'm a nonprofit CEO, in addition to being an astronomer, and we all know what nonprofit CEOs have to do a lot. And so I've ended up doing a lot of fundraising because we have a lot of ambitions and a lot of generous donors and loyal supporters. You have to go out and talk to them and inspire them about the mission, and it's a lot of fun.

Jim: Was it always a lot of fun? Did you always enjoy it?

Jeff: No, no, it was definitely an acquired skill. Because early on, it was, "I'm going to sit down with people and asking them for their money?" And it was uncomfortable, especially when you were talking about planned gifts, and sitting down with people to talk about that. I practically felt like I should have my big black robe and a sickle. But you know, over the years, I've learned that that is entirely not the case. And it's a very enjoyable and incredibly honorable thing to be able to do.

Jim: That's an interesting pair of words. What makes it enjoyable? Why do you think it's honorable?

Jeff: Because you get to go (well, when we can go all over the country) all over the country and meet the most interesting people who are so genuinely interested in astronomy. And sometimes you don't even get to talk about the fundraising pitch because they're just peppering you with questions about the universe. Then I get to be an astronomer again for a little while. It's honorable, I think, because...well, let's go back to the planned gift. You both knew Don, and he left us virtually his entire estate after a terrible decline and death from bone cancer. I was able to visit him a few weeks before he died and show him pictures of the facility he had endowed. It was a deep honor to be able to bring him happiness and that the kind of joy that he saw that his gifts were bringing us in the final weeks of his life. And that is a privilege to be able to do that.

Alice: You know, it's interesting you mentioned Don because, as you did say, we both knew him. And in fact, he became a donor of Lowell Observatory way back in the Cretaceous when I was the development director for Lowell Observatory. The thing that I appreciate about him was that, many years later, when I had the opportunity to interact with him at an advisory board meeting, he came up to me and said, "Alice, you may not remember me." I'm thinking, are you kidding me? He was my first major donor! So I was like, "of course, I remember you." And he said, "I want to thank you." I said, "Why do you want to thank me?" He said, "Because you helped connect me with this organization. And I've had just a wonderful experience being part of the Lowell family. And, and I want to thank you so much for making me a part of this." I started to cry. And it's totally that human connection that you make with people.

Jeff: Absolutely. And we were his family, you know. He was a lifelong bachelor who would very loyally come to all the board meetings and interact as much as he could. And it was always nice to go up to Seattle and see him.  So yeah, you realize, after you gain some experience, meet with people and hear what they want to do, it's not like you're picking their pockets. It gives them joy to help you. [Fundraising] is empowering them to do something very meaningful to them. And that's just really fun.

Jim: I can't think of any better words of encouragement for those people who might be accidentally fundraising and who may still be at that point where it's a little uncomfortable. So what you shared is how you're not asking somebody to do something they don't want to do. In most cases, if you're talking to them, they've already made the decision. They want to help you. You're just helping them figure out how they can do it.

Jeff: Right. And what's the best way. That's one of the fun things about doing this at Lowell because we do all these research programs, outreach, historic preservation, capital projects, and every donor is a little bit different. Some people love to support the science, and others really want to enable us to reach lots of kids in the outreach programs. It's nice to have this menu that you can roll out in front of them.

Alice: Well, that's great. And thank you, Jeff, for taking a few minutes out of your very busy and very Zoom-y day.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

What We Should Really Fear Right Now



Nearly everyone on the planet is currently a part of something that has already changed the world. The global experience of the COVID-19 pandemic is something everyone is sharing. It is changing our communities, our culture, and each of us individually. The world we return to will not be the same as the one we had. Some of those changes will be painful, and others will improve our world. Not everyone sees that. I’ve been thinking a lot about how different people are coping with their circumstances. I’ve also been angry about how unethical people are profiteering and fearful about how others are using this crisis as an excuse to take actions they’ve always wanted to take.

A few years ago, I was confronted with an organization that I felt was taking improper advantage of inexperienced fundraisers, specifically targeting those working at religious organizations. While I am not religious myself, I thought that this was unethical. Their actions seemed purely profit-driven, cloaked in philanthropy. It led me to coin one of my “Jimisms” which is a thought or concept I have that becomes a regular saying or quote. This one was, “The only things nonprofit organizations have to fear are the charlatans, the ignorant, and the angry.” I’ve thought about that a lot as I’ve seen people reacting to or using the COVID-19 crisis for personal benefit.


During this crisis, nonprofit fundraisers should be fearful of the charlatans. These individuals are profiteering off of the fear people have during this stressful time. Every person who becomes the victim of someone selling false cures or solutions loses a bit of trust, and that will harm all of us. Trust is the most important relationship we have with our donors. If they are trusting less, our work will be increasingly difficult.

The ignorant in this situation are those individuals who genuinely don’t understand what we are facing and who want to immediately force us back into risky activities that will lead to
further infections and deaths. The ignorant are also those who do not understand how a nonprofit organization works. They might think that you should work only as a volunteer. They do not know that each nonprofit is a business; instead of profits going to the few in power, financial gains are invested in the organization. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Some unethical people are running nonprofit organizations. But for the most part, the vast majority of money raised is reinvested in serving our communities.

Finally, we have the angry. They are furious about, well, everything. They are angry that their regular routines are disrupted. They are angry because they have to follow “someone else’s rules.” They are angry because they often perceive that some in our society are getting a free ride while they have to work so hard. They also tend to be very selfish and do not understand service or philanthropy. 

The three groups of people I just described were probably very much like this before COVID-19. A person doesn’t become a jerk because of a crisis. However, those emotions and attitudes are being amplified and revealed more clearly.

I’d like to add one more thing nonprofit fundraisers should fear. That is the people in decision making positions who are using the challenges we are facing as an excuse to take actions they wanted to take in the first place. They are using the crisis as a shield to fire or furlough people, to cut services and benefits, or to close facilities. These actions may be genuinely required in some circumstances. But I have already seen many examples of people taking such steps when they are not necessary. That person merely desires them. Anyone who falls into this category and makes such decisions is quite unethical and bordering on morally corrupt.

While there are a lot of concerns, fears, and uncertainties at this time, I’m optimistic that the kind, generous and compassionate people in the world far outnumber the “charlatans, the ignorant and the angry.” You just have to do your part to help some find the confidence to prove it. Remember, “you should be fundraising now!” If your mission was valuable to the people you served before this crisis, it is likely more important now. People need arts, social service, mental health, a clean environment, and all the other types of nonprofit organizations. If they loved you before, they love you now. If you serve people, pets, or the planet, you are providing an essential service.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Alice Ferris to Receive Founders’ Medallion From Largest Community of Fundraisers in the World


Alice Ferris, ACFRE, CFRE, MBA will receive the AFP
Founders’ Medallion at AFP ICON in Baltimore on March 29th

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the largest community of fundraising professionals in the world, will honor long-time fundraiser Alice Ferris, CFRE, ACFRE, with its Founders’ Medallion for her extraordinary contributions to the organization and the fundraising profession. Congratulations Alice! We are so proud of you!

(Reprinted from the AFPGlobal.org)

(Arlington, VA)  The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the largest community of fundraising professionals in the world, will honor long-time Arizona fundraiser Alice Ferris, CFRE, ACFRE, with its Founders’ Medallion for her extraordinary contributions to the organization and the fundraising profession at its upcoming international conference, AFP ICON 2020, in Baltimore, Md.

The AFP Founders’ Medallion is presented to members who, through their dedication to the principles of ethical and effective fundraising, honor the legacy of AFP’s founders: Harry Rosen, Benjamin Sklar, Abel Hanson and William R. Simms. Recipients must have been members for at least 20 years, served with local chapters and at the international level, and worked to foster the development of the profession and the fundraising community throughout their careers.

Ferris is the founding partner and chief executive of GoalBusters, a consulting firm in Flagstaff, Ariz., focusing on small nonprofits. Through her consulting firm, she is currently supporting fundraising activities for KAWC Colorado River Public Media and Border Radio in Yuma, Ariz., the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wisc., and Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., among others.

Prior to launching her consulting firm, Ferris served as director of development and similar positions for a variety of organizations, including Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff Medical Center and KNAU Arizona Public Radio, all located in Flagstaff. At each organization, she vastly increased membership and fundraising numbers, such as leading KNAU to its first $1 million fundraising year.

Ferris has more than 30 years of affiliation with public broadcasting and has appeared on numerous public television and radio pledge drives, including national PBS fundraisers for Downton Abbey, Ken Burns: America’s Storyteller and Suze Orman’s Financial Solutions for You.

"It was a total shock to get the call from AFP President and CEO Mike Geiger asking me to accept this honor,” Ferris said. “Honestly, I thought he was calling me to serve on a task force to select the next recipient! AFP has been such an ingrained part of my professional identity for so long that it has always felt natural for me to volunteer and give back. The list of members who have received the Founders' Medallion includes people whom I consider part of AFP's fabric, and whom I respect as fundraising trailblazers and change-makers. And, luckily for me, a few of them I consider mentors and friends. I'm sure that they, like myself, did not commit to service to AFP and the profession for the recognition—my volunteerism is an inherent part of my calling to be a fundraiser. So this is an unexpected privilege and a gift."

An active volunteer with AFP for decades, Ferris has served as president of the AFP Northern Arizona Chapter on three separate occasions over the last twenty years—as well as every other chapter position, including multiple times as chair of the AFP Arizona State Conference. On the international level, she was on the board of AFP Global for eight years, including two years as vice chair of member and chapter services. Over the years, Ferris has held leadership roles in all areas of association operations, including credentialing, awards, membership, chapter development and fundraising.

Ferris was the 90th professional to receive the Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executive (ACFRE) credential, the most rigorous certification process available to professional fundraisers and which has only been conferred to 114 fundraisers around the world. She is also a three-time recipient of the Northern Arizona Chapter’s Fundraising Professional of the Year award.

“When you think of service and AFP, Alice Ferris comes top of mind,” said Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA, president and CEO of AFP. “She has contributed so much to AFP over the years, and her efforts have improved so many different aspects of our association and the community of fundraisers worldwide. This honor is so well deserved, and on behalf of the board and staff of AFP, I want to thank her for everything she has done for fundraising.”

Ferris earned her Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Radio-TV-Film and Economics and her Master of Business Administration with a double major in Accounting and Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She obtained her Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) in 1999 and is certified through 2020. She received her ACFRE in 2010 and has been an AFP Master Teacher since 2006.

The 21st AFP member to receive the Founders’ Medallion, Ferris will receive the honor during the Opening General Session of AFP ICON 2020, the largest gathering of fundraising professionals in the world, March 29, in Baltimore, Md.

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