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Humans of Fundraising: Jim Lyddy

“Getting to know the challenges of many non-profit organizations and helping them enhance our society in countless ways is, I believe, why I was born.”

Jim Lyddy
Former Development Chair, The Mayo Clinic; Senior Vice President, Graham-Pelton

I was working as an Assistant Director of Admissions at Georgetown University when a good friend of mine called to see if I might be interested in taking his job in the Development Office. He was going on to graduate school full time and paved the way for me to have an interview with Georgetown’s Vice President for Development. I was offered the opportunity to become the executive assistant to the Executive Vice President, with the commitment to become involved in all aspects of the University’s recently announced campaign to raise $81 million. It was an outstanding opportunity at an early age to learn about philanthropy and what it could mean for donors and an institution. I loved to learn and was excited to pursue another aspect of university management.

One of the most powerful lessons I have gained during my life is the value of empathy and authenticity, especially when dealing with difficult situations. As a result, whenever the going gets tough, I tell myself to get into a position as quickly as possible to convey to another person or client that I need to be candid about my concerns. In my opinion, being empathetic and, consequently, being authentic are the two best things someone can think about you! It’s this authenticity that builds trust which, in turn, allows a greater pursuit of understanding the genuine expectations that others have!

While I was extremely fortunate to have received my doctor of philosophy in higher education administration at Catholic University; and while I was fortunate to become a Vice President for Development at a quality university at the early age of thirty; and while I have been most fortunate to serve in the top development leadership positions at other excellent universities; and while I had the opportunity to work closely with comedian Bob Hope and several of his friends, including President Gerald Ford, Arnold Palmer, Lee Iacocca, Lenny Wilkens, Pearl Bailey, and William Simon, in my role as the Executive Director of the Bob Hope International Heart Research Institute – without question, the quintessential part of my experience was as Chair of Development at Mayo Clinic. To work with best-in-class development professionals, physicians, research scientists, and Trustees was simply an extraordinary experience.

But the most rewarding part of this work in philanthropy is to help donors who are committed to making a difference in medicine actually do so. That has been the most incredible opportunity in my career that will always inform my work to serve others in need, including now during my tenure at Graham-Pelton. The great humorist and author Mark Twain was once asked what the two greatest days in one’s life are. His response was profound to say the least: The two greatest days in one’s life are first, the day you are born, and second, the day you find out why! Getting to know the challenges of many non-profit organizations and helping them enhance our society in countless ways is, I believe, why I was born.

My personal philosophy is to always expect a surprise in whatever I do – a phone call, a face-to-face meeting, or other communication. The purpose for taking this approach is that when I see the surprise, I will have enough agility to cope with the surprise. Another important part of my philosophy is to let others know that I will not hesitate to be vulnerable from time to time. This means that I will cultivate the notion of shooting straight and getting others to trust me. This works for subordinates and superiors alike!

2020 and now 2021 have certainly held their share of surprises. While I was often traveling before we were all restricted to our home offices, I would be focused on my singular client needs in front of me. However, I now find myself connecting with some old friends who are also in the same restricted positions. These people are open to phone calls, emails, and virtual sessions when the previous perception had been that everyone was way too busy for such interactions. I have, therefore, resurrected some terrific relationships that had been dormant for way too long.

People seem to love these contacts and I surely do as well. Some of these connections even bring up my earliest career as a member of the Bridgeport North End Little League baseball team, which played in the 1957 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. We lost to Monterrey, Mexico 2-1 and beat Escanaba, Michigan in the consolation game. Monterrey, Mexico was one of four teams in the series that year, and they went on to beat La Mesa, California in the championship game. Even 64 years later, it remains an honor to have been on one of these four teams.