Career portraits and interviews collected from the frontlines of fundraising.
Despite living on the East Coast for more than half his life, Mike Fazio remains a rabid Cleveland sports fan, and continues to believe that one day they'll win the Super Bowl.
Chief Advancement Officer
St. Benedict's Preparatory School
We still live in the most generous country in the world. Pandemics, wars, recessions. It doesn’t seem to matter. Americans still give. And they still give more than anyone else in the world. But only if we keep asking.
My 22-year career as a fundraiser could be attributed to one of those generous Americans. I attended an all-boys Jesuit high school, and by my senior year my father’s financial situation was dire. It was looking very likely that I would have to finish my high school career elsewhere. At the 11th hour, we were alerted that an anonymous donor had heard of our situation and stepped forward to cover my tuition balance. This was my first experience with philanthropy beyond the collection basket at church.
It really opened my eyes that people existed who could make others’ dreams possible. I am forever grateful to that donor.
Upon graduation from Fordham University, I decided I wanted to continue my studies and earn an MBA. With no means to pay for it, I applied for a job in Fordham’s Admissions Office, having been told tuition remission is a benefit for employees. I didn’t get the gig. Undeterred, I applied for a job in the Advancement Office running the nightly phonathon. I figured I would do this, earn my degree, and move on. But I fell in love with what we were doing in that office.
I kept moving into new roles both at Fordham and elsewhere and now, 22 years later, I’m still at it. And I still love it.
One of those roles was at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey. At the time, there were only 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States, and thus only 28 VPs for advancement. I was one of them. And, at 32, I was by far the youngest.
Saint Peter’s didn’t have the strongest culture of philanthropy but, over the course of a few years, we changed that. We set records for dollars raised and alumni participation, secured the largest commitment in the University’s history at the time, built an enormous student center, and helped put St. Peter’s back on the map, where it rightfully deserves to be. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity by Dr. Cornacchia [Eugene J. Cornacchia, Ph.D., president of Saint Peter’s University]. A lot of people thought he was crazy for making that hire. I’m glad it worked out (and I’m sure he is, too).
Now I’m the Chief Advancement Officer at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, which has made a tremendous positive impact on the lives of our students, many of whom have faced significant challenges related to chronic poverty and racism, and 85% of whom are on full or partial scholarship.
St. Benedict’s has forged a strong relationship with the U.S. Naval Academy, and I’ve internalized a mantra of the Navy SEALs: ‘The only easy day was yesterday.’ We remind our students of this important mindset all the time. We adults could use a reminder, too.
Every day presents challenges. Together, we can face anything. But we have to keep our focus forward. Yesterday is gone. We got through it, right? We’ll get through today and tomorrow, too. And when we do allow ourselves a second to look back, we’ll realize it wasn’t that bad.