Building The Bear and Fundraising with Brian Gerrity



           My professional background includes over 7+ years of sales and business development. My last role job was with a non-profit in the sports sector called Positive Coaching Alliance.  I worked in Partnership Development, selling Partnerships to youth and high school sports programs.  After succeeding in the role for over 3 years, I took on additional responsibilities to help the organization. These additional responsibilities included creating an Associate Board from the ground up (among other tasks),  which included fundraising.

      I learned very quickly fundraising was like having a complete different conversation with people from what I was used to. While uncomfortable at first, I learned from my peers how to have conversations with people about money, giving, and connecting them to the mission of our organization. Mastering this skill has helped me develop into a more complete and well- rounded professional. I believe all business professionals (including small business owners) can benefit from learning how to fundraise.

          The guest for this blog knows about the ins and outs of fundraising. Brian Gerrity is the Senior Associate Athletic Director and Executive Director of the Mercer Athletic Foundation.    He recently wrote a book called “Building The Bear.” The book is about setting priorities and goals, developing programming, major gift strategies, donor cultivation and stewardship, drafting an annual calendar, marketing a fundraising operation and coordinating special events.   I asked him specific questions about challenges with fundraising, benefits of learning fundraising, and what small businesses can learn from reading his book! 


Nick Cipkus: What are three challenges fundraisers face?

Brian Gerrity: 

  1. This is particularly important with the recent passage of the tax bill. Fundraisers need to keep up to date on industry trends, tax code changes, and advances in technology. Changes in technology – which could be something as simple as mobile gift processing or website development – can have dramatic impacts on giving.
  2. The best piece of advice I received when I first started in development was to always remain active. It is easy to say “I’ve closed 3 gifts today, I think I will take the rest of the day off,” or, “we are running ahead of pace year-over-year so I will wait for the mail to come in tomorrow.” Being active, making the extra call and staying motivated is difficult for some fundraisers.
  3. People have limited resources and multiple interests. There are countless groups trying to raise money to operate. A former colleague of mine would be very straightforward- her line to potential donors was always “how can we be one of your top three charitable organizations.”




Nick Cipkus: I believe all small businesses would benefit from training on fundraising. Your thoughts?

Brian Gerrity: I completely agree. First of all, customer service is critically important. Everything from how you answer the phone to greeting folks when they attend a game to going the extra mile for a donor plays into the bigger picture. My wife is a small business owner – she owns and operates Homegrown Yoga in Warner Robins, Georgia. Her customer service is top notch and it is one reason she has been successful. A second key fundraising skill which translates perfectly is stewardship. This goes beyond a simple thank you card. Stewardship is managing the 364 days you are NOT asking a donor for support. Stewardship can be as small as a phone call after a game or as big as an organized donor trip. Small business is built on the foundation of personal relationships – a customer feeling valued (aka receiving the benefits of proper stewardship) leads to repeat business.



Nick Cipkus: List the biggest misconception about fundraising. Why?

Brian Gerrity: The average person thinks an athletic fundraiser’s job is to go to games and take people to lunch. I would be willing to bet every athletic fundraiser has been asked if they work during the summer at least once during their career. Are lunches part of the job? Yes. Do I go to games? Yes. But those are small parts of the picture. The hours of behind the scenes work, travel, phone calls, mailings, proposals, and managing relationships make this profession a 7 day/week job. I would recommend to anyone who thinks athletic development is glamourous to shadow a fundraiser for a day!


Nick Cipkus: I work with small businesses and help them grow. What can small businesses learn from your book?

Brian Gerrity: There are two themes in the book that I think are important for small businesses. First and most important is culture. Strong culture within any organization aligns with and leads to success. When our Athletic Director accepted the position at Mercer, he dramatically overhauled our department culture which has led to the most successful stretch in our university history. Understanding who you are, where you want to go, and how you are going to get there all plays into the overarching organizational culture. The second theme is branding. I spend time in my book talking about our branded programs and the terminology which goes with that branding – “I’m a Bear Plus member” rather than “I am a $1,000 donor.” To go back to my wife’s business as the example, she has branded several of her programs – basically wrapped together yoga, gear and special events. If she tried to sell each of those items separately she would have to work exponentially harder – instead she has created an exclusive membership bundle which is attractive to her clients.



     The saying, “Experience is the best teacher,” is true with fundraising.  Whenever I want to acquire a new skill, I look to those who experience.   As I continue helping small businesses grow, I will continue to learn from those around me.  Excuse me as I head over to Amazon and purchase , “Building The Bear.” Wishing you a great 2018.

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