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Inspired Leadership

18 Dec 2023 3:19 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Alumni Profile

with Tami Vinson, ILD Steering Committee Chair

Current Job Title: Director of Development and Community Engagement  
Organization: Mackintosh Academy (Littleton)

1. How did you begin your fundraising career?

After graduating with a business degree, I applied to join the Peace Corps. Back then, you were accepted but had to wait an entire year to get your assignment. So I moved to Colorado and worked in outside sales for a bit. During that time, I met my now-husband. When my assignment finally came and I had ten days to accept or decline, I decided that it wasn’t the right time for me.

It was at that same time that I decided that pursuing my master's in nonprofit management was the better path for me. I worked at an independent school in Atlanta while commuting to Athens to get my master’s at UGA in the evenings.  It was my first development job and it taught me so much. We were in a multi-million dollar capital campaign to expand to a high school and I had the opportunity to be a part of each stage. I had no idea this work (specifically in campaigns and independent schools) would end up being so foundational to my career.

One of my proudest accomplishments at the school, though, didn’t have much to do with fundraising. For the capstone of my master’s program, I created a volunteer program at the school and an all-school volunteer day to get students interested in volunteerism early. The Head of School loved the idea and gave me the opportunity to present it to the Board. Afterwards, I was given the title of Director of Outreach Activities and the  opportunity to bring my capstone to life by implementing the all-school service day in 2006. Every person at the school (800 students, teachers, administrators, families, board members) volunteered in the community. We called it Helping Hands Day and they still hold this event each year.

I moved back to Colorado in 2007 and held a few development positions before the Boys & Girls Clubs, where I was the Director of Annual Giving for 3.5 years. During that time, I had the opportunity to work on building a major gifts program where we partnered with Dini Spheris, a national consulting firm. A few years later I ended up accepting a job as a consultant with the firm and it ended up being the most important decision of my career. I stayed with the firm for seven and a half years and gained an incredible amount of experience and grew my toolbox and network.

I really enjoyed the work and the opportunity to work with so many different organizations. The variety and problem-solving kept the work so interesting, meaningful, and fulfilling. In no other job would I have had the chance to work with so many leaders and teams dedicated to such a variety of missions. Everything from the arts, healthcare, education, human services, animal welfare, early childhood and more. It was the smartest decision I could have made and no single decision has ever made quite the impact.

I started my current role at Mackintosh when I enrolled my daughter in Pre-K. I was ready for a change and less travel, and the school needed a development director. I had no idea it would end up being a home, but 4 years later, here I am. It’s incredibly meaningful work for me and I know my efforts have made a big impact on the school. Our fundraising efforts have increased significantly, and we’ve wrapped up two campus expansion projects. This position is an intersection of my personal and professional lives. As a needs-based school serving gifted and twice-exceptional learners, I know first-hand how much these children and their families need the school. 

2. What's the best piece of advice you've been given about  fundraising?

Be humble, hungry, and hardworking.

You don’t have to have all the answers. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t have the answer but that you will get it. Bring in the expert witness (the subject matter expert). Usually this is someone on the program staff.

Utilize your team and play to people’s strengths. Don’t be afraid to involve others for the greater good and greater gift. Give a voice to those in your organization who are on the front lines delivering your mission. Connect them with your donors. Don’t be threatened or insecure about bringing others in to help with your donor. It’s not a competition. Success breeds success. In the end, everyone is working towards the same goal.

If you’re only chasing participation gifts (or a %), you’ll miss out on meaningful giving and the opportunity to grow gifts beyond participatory gifts.

Listen. Ask thoughtful questions and really listen to the answers. All you need to know is in the conversations. Ask for money and you’ll get advice. Ask for advice or their thoughts, and eventually you will get the gift. Be patient.

3. If there were a session from ILD you could go back and take again, which would it be?

ILD founder and faculty member Jen Darling’s session on the development plan and the major gifts session. I still remember the panel of speakers and their donor stories really stuck with me. I still have the development plan packet that Jen handed out to the class.  A wealth of knowledge! [Jen Roe Darling is President & CEO of Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation and recently taught the Development Plan session once again with colleague on co-leader Christy Clay, an independent consultant, coach, and facilitator.]

4. How has ILD supported you in your career development? or What do you value about ILD?

I went through ILD at a transition point in my career and it really helped me lean into my job with confidence. My ILD mentor was especially supportive and transformative. When I felt like an imposter for leaving my NPO and going to work for a big consulting firm, my mentor reassured me that the work I was doing was equally meaningful, impactful, and that I was still living my mission-driven career.

Through career journeys over the past 10 years, my ILD mentor has still been there as a sounding board and always one of my biggest cheerleaders. His confidence in me helped my confidence in myself grow.

I’d say the same for the incredible professionals I’ve met through ILD. Classmates from class 5 and fellow committee and steering committee members. It’s such an amazing group of professionals with so much passion and dedication to this program we all care so much about. I admire the devotion of time and energy from the volunteers. With only a very part-time staff person, it’s truly amazing how the program is fueled by volunteers. I’ve seen it and lived it as well.

I’m honored that an ILD alum and friend asked me to join the mentor committee a couple years after I graduated from the program. It gave me the opportunity to give back, pay it forward, for all that I got from the program. I was even more honored when I was asked by Gordon Smith and Ann Irving to serve as Vice Chair of the Steering Committee, because I was the first alum to serve in the role. Gordon was actually one of the people on my interview panel back in 2012! 

I value the determination of the steering committee to deliver such an important program to the incredible cohort each year. These professionals are each remarkable on their own at the kickoff in September and seeing and hearing from them at graduation in May, truly restores my faith in the profession and I am always reinvigorated and hopeful at the change I know they will bring. It’s humbling and an honor to be a small part of that.

5. What are you most proud of accomplishing professionally?

I’ve worked on a ton of capital campaigns for various organizations. In many of them, I was the interim development director/ VP during some portion of that time. I really enjoyed the coaching aspect of the work. Sometimes it was the ED or Board members. But oftentimes it was the advancement staff. I enjoyed getting to share my expertise with them and use the capital campaign or feasibility study as a management tool for growth in the team.

I still have a stack full of thank you notes from former clients that mean the world to me and every once and awhile I go back and read them. We all need a pat on the back sometimes to lift us up. I enjoy the behind the scenes work that being a fundraising consultant afforded me. Knowing that on the ribbon cutting day of the multi- million dollar project, my client and their team were thanking me for my part in the effort was incredibly validating.

 6. What is one fundraising skill that you are currently honing or working on?

Coaching my current boss, who is new in the role, how to approach development work and supporting her as she grows into it.  

7. Is there a gift you are most proud of closing in your career? What makes it special to you?

My first six-figure gift will always be this special donor story to me. The family had been giving around $5,000 annually but we knew there was capacity and interest in giving more. After a few visits and learning about their love of art, my CEO and I pitched a $150,000 gift to fund the arts programs at the organization. They immediately agreed and my boss almost choked on his chicken salad at Piatti’s. When we got to my car, I had a $50 parking ticket for being over 18 inches from the curb. I was bummed but my boss  was so excited for the gift and proud of me that he said, “don’t event worry about it, I’ve got it covered!”

One month later I mailed a newsletter to the family with a sticky note of thanks. They immediately called me and mentioned seeing the newsletter and asked if there was anything they could help with. I knew I had to act fast. I thanked them and said I’d call them right back. It had mentioned in the article that we had to cut back summer programming due to funding cuts. We had also cut back one week on the outdoor summer camp in the mountains because of funding cuts. So, I called back and presented two options. $50k for summer school programs or $50k for the mountain summer camp extra week. They said they wanted to help with both! Over the course of a year, this family had increased their giving to the organization from $5k to $250,000.

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