Member interview: Brenda Cressey on how to ask for money

From the December 2015 issue of The Rotarian

Brenda Cressey is a superstar in the fundraising arena. As the endowment/major gifts adviser for The Rotary Foundation in Zone 26, Cressey helped lead an ambitious fundraising campaign in District 5340 (California) called Millions for HOPE (Health, Overcoming Poverty, Education), which had netted a staggering $15 million in pledges at press time. Launched in January, the first phase of the campaign culminated in October in a gala dinner in San Diego with Rotary International President K.R. Ravindran scheduled as the keynote speaker, and will continue into the celebration of the Foundation’s centennial next year. A Rotarian since 1989 and a member of the Rotary Club of Paso Robles, Calif., Cressey is a Bequest Society member and a Major Donor.

THE ROTARIAN: How did the Millions for HOPE campaign start?

CRESSEY: This campaign has been a true collaboration of individuals who are passionate about Rotary and The Rotary Foundation. [Cressey named so many people that it was not feasible to include them.] After serving my first year as endowment/major gifts adviser for Zone 26, I learned quickly that many districts did not have a fully trained team to help identify, cultivate, or solicit major gifts or endowments. In fact, many districts told me that they had only one person in that position, who had often served for several years. I suggested three things: developing a district core team that can communicate with and support advocates from the clubs; using a multiyear strategy, since it can take more than one year to solicit a major gift; and creating a full campaign with milestones culminating in the 100th anniversary of The Rotary Foundation.

TR: What is the fundraising strategy that you have developed?

CRESSEY: It’s a four-step process: identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. You must first identify potential donors. In our training session, we established advocates from clubs. We provided them with club recognition reports with past giving history and asked them to decide who may be the top potential donors. The next step is for the advocates to cultivate or find out what area the donor has a special interest in, such as eradicating polio, the peace centers, water, etc. The cultivation process may take several weeks or months. Once it is completed – when the advocate thinks the timing is right for a donor to be asked – a liaison from the district core team will solicit the donation. The advocates do not do the asking. We want them to focus on identification and cultivation. Finally there is the importance of successful stewardship – thanking the donor as many times and in as many ways as you can. Keep them informed about how the gift is making a significant impact, which may ultimately open the door to new gifts.

TR: What are the keys to a successful fundraising campaign and being a successful fundraiser?

CRESSEY: You need to have a cheerleader, someone who really wants to make it work. As a fundraiser, you have to have a passion for The Rotary Foundation and want to share that feeling with other people. Listen to what potential donors have to say and provide them with an opportunity that will meet their wishes. And you have to have patience.

Make your donation to The Rotary Foundation’s Endowment Fund at

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