Featured Fundraiser: Katie Graf

This week’s Featured Fundraiser is Katie Graf. Thanks so much for your insights and words of wisdom! If you ever would like to nominate someone for Feature Fundraiser just send me an email. – Jason
Photo of Katie

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

My title is Development Director, Major Gifts & Grants for the Madonna Foundation, which supports the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. My background is in grant proposal work, major gift work is a new area for me and I am learning a lot. Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital is a Catholic hospital that provides medical and physical rehabilitation to children and adults nationwide – we had patients from 26 states last year – located in Lincoln, NE.

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

Initially I got started in fundraising because that is who would give me the opportunity to do more than photocopying. Nonprofits are always understaffed and most are willing to give you a chance to show what you can do. I got hooked on going to work for a good cause. Here at Madonna you see folks who have had their lives changed by a stroke or a car accident, something that could happen to anyone I know, and fundraising means the difference between that accident taking away everything important to a patient, and being able to help a patient regain their life in the fullest way possible. That’s a great reason to come to work.

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

I’m not the best person to give major gift people advice, but I have written grant proposals for a long time. I guess my best advice is to worry less about the writing and more about the message. I spend much more time these days worrying whether or not I am getting across any sense of need or urgency than whether or not it would impress my English professors. If you can find 2-3 sentences that tell a reader why it is absolutely critical they support your project, the rest seems to work out.

What is the most frustrating or difficult thing about fund development?

My pet peeve is being asked to find a project for a particular funding source. “How do we get funding from _______” is the wrong question. The need should drive all decisions about cultivating and approaching foundations – and donors for that matter.

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

There are all kinds of kooky donor stories – especially, I think, from college development offices it seems. Something about colleges brings out the folks who have stuffed mattresses with money or whatever. For myself, though, I like the ones where the process worked – doing the homework, making the connections, all the way through how keeping the good relationship after the gift led to another gift. These folks are the ones that keep us going.

What is the best fundraising advice you have ever been given?

My mom, who as a volunteer fundraiser has raised more individual donor money than I probably ever will, has told me in about 100 ways: Just get out there and ask. You can spend all the time in the world researching and strategizing but if you don’t actually go to someone and ask for what you need, it won’t matter.

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One Response to Featured Fundraiser: Katie Graf

  1. Matthew Bregman says:

    I appreciate Katie’s comment about finding (dare we say inventing?) a project just to appeal to a funding source. That way lies madness.

    Not nearly so bad, but still troubling, is trying to find new funders for specific small projects — rather than matching prospects with projects that will interest them. It’s a subtle distinction, but I think organizations waste a lot of time when they search for a brand new funder for a low-budget-item they don’t want to support with general funds. Usually that time could be much better used deepening relationships with existing funders or finding ways to engage promising prospects in what those prospects are interested in. And in my experience the small project rarely excites a brand new funder.

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