Cass Wheeler: Featured Fundraiser

This month’s Featured Fundraiser is Cass Wheeler, CEO of the American Heart Association and author of a great new book, You’ve Gotta Have Heart.

What kind of fundraising do you do and who do you do it for?

For 35 years I raised funds for the American Heart Association including Major Gifts and Planned Gifts, Special Events, Direct Mail, Bequests, Gala’s, etc.

What keeps you going? Why do you keep working in development?

It is the dollars that fuel all the other life saving programs of the American Heart Association. These programs change lives and save lives. As with any organization, donations bring you closer to achieving your long range goals and ultimately your mission. Now I want to continue helping non profits achieve their goals because I believe that if we are to have a vital America, we need a vibrant non profit sector. Volunteering is a foundation of our American culture. Imagine if tomorrow all non profits (zoos, shelters, community hospitals, boys and girls clubs, museums, symphonies, houses of worship, etc) disappeared. How different our world would be. It’s a sector that is worth preserving and it begins with adequate funding as an enabler.

<h3?What tips/advice do you have to other fundraisers in your field?

Focus, focus, focus. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Your organization should identify 4-7 fundraisers where you think you can excel and perhaps be world class. For each, look within your organization and outside for benchmarks and best practices. Develop rock solid execution plans to drive toward these best practices. Know what works and what doesn’t and provide in-depth training for volunteers and staff. Set long range goals and build a strong case for support based on your mission and strategic plan showing the difference your organization can make. Manage and monitor closely as it is usually the problems you don’t know about that will hurt you the most. Do potential problem analysis to identify what could derail your plans and then define what you can do upfront to minimize possible problems. You will also need to develop contingency plans, if in fact, things do go wrong, but it is better to try and deal with issues up front so that they don’t become a reality.

Do you have any memorable donor visits or solicitations that you’d like to share?

Making my first major gifts ask some 30 years ago while flying across Texas in the prospect’s private jet. And best of all, he said “yes” and gave the amount I asked for.

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