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The Philanthropic Autobiography of Nicole Reese

18 January 2013 Introduction to Philanthropy and Fundraising Nicole Reese

When I was a child, my parents' dining room table was always the center of family life. With five children, my mother and father, and, more often than not, a few kids from the neighborhood sitting down every evening for dinner, the scene was loud, chaotic, but always good spirited and loving. As the youngest of the Reese clan by a decade, I would always find myself nestled in next to my father at the end of the oversize cherry wood table. Dad always said it was just easier for everyone to fit if he and I shared the end, but I knew that he liked to keep me close to protect me from those times my older siblings decided to gang up and tease me. My father is a dying breed of man; he is noble, honest almost to a fault, and works on tending to and nurturing our country's democracy the same way he did his own children. Spending the first part of his life on a dairy farm in small-town Wisconsin, he learned the value of hard work, The Green Bay Packers, and labor unions and a young age. His family moved to Oregon a few months after his 11th birthday, and shortly after arriving here my father came face-to-face with something he had only heard about before: segregation. At that time, many of the lunch counters in downtown Portland were segregated. He and my grandmother left the restaurant in disgust at the actions of the owner. Grandmother Marie said to him that they didn't need to give their money to people who thought they were better than everyday-folk. Dad still talks about that day the way some men talk about finding Jesus; from that day on, my father was an activist.

It was because of his and my mother's passions for social justice and the environment that politics were a standard topic of conversation at the dinner table. He made sure that all of us kids read the newspaper and learned how to form and justify our own opinions. So it came as no surprise that the summer before I went into second grade, my father sat me down one night after dinner to talk to me about the upcoming presidential election. As unbiased as he could, my dad explained to me the four men running for president, Bush, Clinton, Nader, and Perot, and informed me that I must chose which candidate that I liked the most and then volunteer on their campaign. I sat there for a moment, thought of the candidates and what they stood for, and then stated I wanted to help Mr. Nader, because he seemed to be the nicest to animals and trees. My father laughed, and gave me a big hug while saying, "That's my baby girl!" I remember my first visit to the campaign office being scary, but very exciting! There were people rushing everywhere, phones ringing, and so much paper! It had been decided that I would canvass the neighborhoods with my dad telling people about Nader's positions and then asking them to vote for him when they went to the polls. At our first few doors, my dad introduced himself, then me, and then went on with his pitch. By the time we made it to probably our tenth house, I figured I had the hang of it, so when a gentleman about my father's age opened his door, I piped in with, "HI! I'm Nicole, and this is my daddy David! You should vote for Ralph Nader! He is really smart, and wants to help people!" The man and my dad exchanged looks of surprise, both trying not to laugh and my honest effort. The man then asked me, "Oh really? Well, helping people is good, and we do want a smart man in the white house... thanks for the info. Is

there anything else I can do for you two today?" Without missing a beat, I added, "Yeah! You should give us money to help him! You should see how much stuff we have to hand out to people! It's got to be real expensive." At that moment the man looked at my father and expressed, "That is quite the little fundraiser you've got there! She makes a good point; let me go grab you two a soda and then I'll get my wallet." My dad took the $5 the man gave us, and replaced it with one out of his own wallet. He still has the bill framed in his office today; he says that he likes to remember the moment his youngest child found her calling in life. From that summer on I would spend my vacations volunteering for various organizations. I cleaned cages and stuffed fall appeal envelopes for the Oregon Humane Society for a few summers, and when my parents felt I was of an acceptable age, they let me go and volunteer at the local Planned Parenthood office. I would mainly help in the fundraising office, but when one of my brothers were available to come with me, I would get to help women make their way through the protesters that would show up every now and again. When I turned 18, the legal age to fundraise in Oregon, I got a summer job canvassing for The Fund For Public Interest Research. This organization ran local door and street canvasses for national nonprofits like the Sierra Club and The Human Rights Campaign, as well as for the local PIRG groups. I would work for the Fund in the summers when I was home from college, and feel good about my summer job. It wasn't until after I left the first college that I attended that I realized that I could make a profession out of something I love.

I returned to Oregon disheartened by the conservativeizm of the Southern Mid-West to discover that the canvass office I had worked in over the summers was in need of a new canvass director. I accepted the job and within a few months, the Portland Door Canvass office had the highest fundraising average in the country. It was at this point that the Fund's national canvass director called and asked me to move to Seattle to not only run the door canvass office there, but to also run the fundraising and field operations of the Yes On I-937 campaign. I937 was a first-of-its-kind initiative that set a renewable energy standard for Washington State, requiring that by the year 2020, 15% of the state's energy come from renewable sources not counting the 60% of the energy the state already got from hydroelectric power. I knew this move and this position would forever change the trajectory of my life and my career, so I agreed. I-937 passed by a very comfortable margin, largely due to our strategic placement of door canvassers in key swing districts. After the success of the campaign and the love I had developed for the Western Washington philanthropic community, I had to leave my job at the Fund because I knew it was only a matter of time until they would transfer me again to build an office for another initiative in another city. After bouncing around a few contract fundraising positions, I finally landed at People For Puget Sound, a local environmental nonprofit that worked on restoring the health of the region's greatest estuary. To say that I loved my job there would be an understatement. For three years I lived and breathed that organization's donor base. When we started the door canvass, the organization had just over 5,000 members primarily based in Seattle. In the three years the

canvass was operational, we had doubled that 10,000 around the Puget Sound region. The problem with expanding an organization at such a rapid rate though, is the growing pains of staff size. Despite the fact the membership base had doubled, and the revenue had increased dramatically, the organization was still facing financial hardships. A series of bad staffing, management, and budgetary decisions led to People For Puget Sound's ultimate demise. In May of 2010, I found myself on the wrong side of layoffs where roughly 25% of the staff was cut. One year later, the organization shut its doors for good. Regardless of the unpleasant way I had to leave the organization, I value my time at People For Puget Sound as the most enriching and educational part of my fundraising career to date. While at this organization I served as the Canvass Director, Regional Canvass Director, and ultimately as the Membership Manager. Even though canvassing had me face-to-face with donors 75% of the time, it was through my role as the Membership Manager that I learned the big picture of philanthropy as opposed to just the tactics of fundraising. One of the first lessons I learned was that Western Washington philanthropists have a lot of moxie! I like to think of donor cultivation in terms of dating. When a donor makes their first contribution, you are taking them on their first date with the organization. You have to wine and dine them, but you also have to show that your organization has substance and can get stuff done in order to get that second date/renewed membership. By the time the organization gets that third date, the third year donation, you can rely on the fact that your relationship with the donor is stable. However, like with any relationship, you can never grow complacent. You must always show that the donor is still important to you, and that you are

still committed to your cause, otherwise they will lose interest and send their donation elsewhere. The challenging thing about Western Washington donors, and the wonderful thing about them really, is that they are so educated, and up to date on the issues. It is a challenge to find an active philanthropist in this area that is not following at least two blogs on issues they are passionate about. On more than one occasion, I have found donors giving me an update on a policy issues. But this is why Western Washington is the ideal place for me to be doing this work. When I think of fundraising, and when I think of what I do as a fundraiser, money is not the first thing that comes to my mind. People do not give money for the sake of giving money. As was stated in Achieving Excellence in Fundraising, fundraising is not the end game; it is merely the "servant of philanthropy" (Temple, Seiler, & Aldrich, 2011). As a fundraiser, it is my job to connect people with issues they care about, and help show them a way they can make an impact on that issue. Currently I work as the Membership Coordinator for KCTS 9, Seattle's PBS station, and at the station, I see it as my role to highlight specific projects to donors that I know they would connect with. If one of our donors has a particular interest in local history, I am not going to ask her to donate so we can continue to show Downton Abbey, I am going to tell her about local programming, and local history projects we are working on. By doing this, not only am I increasing the likelihood that the donor will give a larger contribution (Lewis, 2012), but I am helping that particular donor affect something she cares about. In my mind, there is nothing more important that helping people achieve the root of philanthropy; helping them illustrate their love of man.

Works Cited Lewis, C. (2012). Trends in Northwest Giving. Seattle: Philanthropy Northwest. Temple, E. R., Seiler, T. L., & Aldrich, E. E. (2011). Achieving Excellence in Fundraising. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.