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Passion seen as key to fundraising action

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Triangle philanthropists Jim Heavner and Ann Goodnight have their own ideas about what makes a worthy cause.

Yet at a recent meeting of the Triangle chapter of the Association of Professional Fundraisers, both agreed that sometimes the ultimate success of a fundraising project depends on a little of what Heavner calls “outrageous cheerleading” from professionals in the field.

Heavner, a radio personality on the Tar Heels Sports Network and founder of media company VilCom, co-chaired the $5.1 million campaign that funded the renovation and expansion of the Memorial Hall performing arts center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Goodnight and her husband Jim, co-founder and CEO of the SAS Institute in Cary, are well known in education circles, having co-founded high-tech private school Cary Academy in 1996.

Questioned at the Association of Fundraising Professionals luncheon about their philanthropic decision-making, Goodnight and Heavner both listed strong personal motivators behind the projects they chose to take up.

“I was not sitting around waiting for someone to come say, ‘Let’s fix Memorial Hall,'” Heavner said.

Both agreed the role of fundraising professionals as facilitators was key to their own charitable endeavors.

“The donor may have a vague idea of something they want to do, and it’s going to be that development officer who can refine it,” Goodnight said.

Heavner said the refining process must be straightforward and structured.

“I believe we love instruction,” he said of volunteer fundraising recruits. “I believe we spend too much time in motivational speeches – early to bed, early to rise. What we
really want is to be told how.”

Natural feedback, he said, is much more valuable than fancy recognition schemes.

“The most important thing is the recognition that you get from the people that you work with on a campaign,” rather than from outsiders, he said. “It’s about being told tomorrow morning that what you did yesterday afternoon was useful.”

Heavner suggested such simple recognition vehicles as a monthly newsletter, like the one he printed during the Memorial Hall campaign “in which we made sure each of the committee members got caught doing something right.”

Plaques and naming ceremonies happen after the fact, he said, and are not day-to-day motivators but simply “hygiene factors” that “only matter if they get left out.”

The most critical element to successful fundraising is the development professional’s response to the lowest moments of a campaign, Heavner said.

“Don’t ever show them any doubt,” he said. “Several times I was in a state of abject depression.”

He said Priscilla Bratcher, then director of special campaigns in UNC’s development office, “would sit me down and say, ‘We’re going to do this.'”

In such moments, Heavner said, he would think to himself, “You know more than I do ‘cause you’re the professional,’ so I would sit up a little straighter, and we would go back and do it.”

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