Whitney Jones’ fundraising firm turns 30

Whitney Jones
Whitney Jones

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In the early 1980s, if a fundraising professional at a North Carolina nonprofit was lucky, he or she could talk to one person at a corporation and secure a large gift.

But the demise of home-grown manufacturing industries like tobacco and textiles and furniture,, coupled with the emergence of national corporations with local operations in the state, reshaped the way nonprofits raised money.

Tracking and adapting to those changes has been Whitney Jones, whose Winston-Salem fundraising firm this summer is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Since it was formed in 1981, Whitney Jones Inc. has worked with roughly 500 nonprofits, including 175 with capital campaigns, and helped them raise an estimated $500 million, Jones says.

In addition to Jones, the firm employs a full-time staff that includes an administrator and chief financial officer, plus four professional fundraisers working under contract.

The firm works with about 15 community-based nonprofits at any given time, typically in North Carolina, that are looking to raise $5 million to $25 million.

In addition to capital campaigns, the firm works with nonprofits on stewardship and cultivation of donors, building annual giving at the major-gift level, and strategic planning.

“It’s all about relationship-management,” says Jones. “Our interest in doing capital campaigns is not so much the buildings that get built or the money that gets raised but the change that occurs in order to raise a really large amount of money.”

And change has been a constant in Jones’ career as a professional fundraiser.

After earning a doctorate in English in 1970 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then teaching for a year there and for six years at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, Jones organized and for three years oversaw a festival at St. Andrews celebrating Black Mountain College in western North Carolina.

A donor to the festival was the late Philip Hanes, a Winston-Salem philanthropist who in 1977 persuaded Jones, a native of New York State, to move to Winston-Salem to become the first-ever development director at Old Salem Museum & Gardens.

After three years at Old Salem, and then a year working at Hanes’ fundraising firm Ampersand, Jones started his own firm.

In 1981, he says, most capital campaigns “were driven by large corporate gifts, and they were led by corporate leaders who really wanted to have an impact on the community in which they were located.”

But as North Carolina’s employment base shifted and more companies located here from outside the state and were “much more beholden to the stockholders than the community in which they are based,” Jones says, it became tougher for nonprofits to recruit volunteer leaders for their fundraising campaigns or to find a single “gatekeeper” at a company who could make a decision on a gift.

The fundraising landscape also changed because, with the boom in the stock market, family foundations and community foundations emerged as key philanthropic players in their communities.

Decision-making was spread among more people in the new wave of funding organizations, which also began targeting their funding to specific fields such as the arts and education, Jones says.

“So the general donors who would give to anything shifted more and more to the individual,” he says.

Adapting to those changes, he says, nonprofits are “doing a much better job of engaging individual donors and maintaining relationships.”

Relationships are key to capital campaigns, which represent “a defining moment in the life of a nonprofit,” Jones says.

To raise a lot of money, he says, a nonprofit must be prepared to explain to donors how it will better serve its community if they make a gift, and then engaged donors in a “dialogue” about the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, how it fits in with the donors’ interests, how donors want to invest their money and time, and what role they would be willing to play in a campaign.

Making all that happen often requires that the executive director develop a one-on-one relationship with major donors, personally visiting each of them three   to four times a year, Jones says.

The single greatest challenge for nonprofits is “maintaining those one-on-one relationships,” he says. “It’s hard because the CEO typically doesn’t have time, and the individual you want to meet with doesn’t have the time.”

While digital technology and social media can help nonprofits build brand recognition or manage events, Jones says, they never can substitute for the personal relationships in which charitable giving is rooted.

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