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Senior Vice President Stuart Sullivan reflects on philanthropy, pipeline development, leadership

Graham-Pelton is pleased to welcome Stuart Sullivan as Senior Vice President, providing leadership to the firm’s healthcare practice in addition to serving higher education and other nonprofits.

Of Stuart, Graham-Pelton President and CEO Elizabeth Zeigler says, “Our clients will greatly benefit from his successful track record developing major giving campaigns and raising tens of millions in highly competitive and dynamic philanthropic environments.”

Stuart recently shared his thoughts on the shifting dynamics of philanthropy, its impact on fundraising, and his leadership within it.

You have extensive experience with both Higher Education and Healthcare fundraising, ranging from Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer for The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Temple University. What is a unifying component of these diverse sectors?

To be truly successful in philanthropy, you have to inspire partnerships and engagement outside of the development office. Whether that’s working with

Deans in higher education or Doctors in medicine, the more you build a cadre of support and trust, the more you’ll witness that multiplier effect. Leaders in philanthropy must consistently think strategically, globally, and across the entire operation so all efforts can work in concert with one another.

There has been a great deal of change in philanthropy lately. The Giving USA Report, for example, illustrates what serves as a dog whistle of dynamic shifts in giving – the increase of mega-gifts or the increase in giving toward social and environmental organizations, for example. What advice in response to these changes would you give your clients?

We are witnessing a polarization of wealth that’s led to an increase in giving but also means that overall support is built primarily from very large gifts. We can no longer rely on the traditional 80/20 rule – it now looks more like 95/5, where five percent of donors are giving 95% of all gifts. In some of my experiences, I’ve witnessed that figure look more like 97/3.

We’re also seeing relatively flat support of giving toward education, especially from among an institution’s alumni base. That’s endemic to what’s happening in the marketplace, and I echo my colleague Pat House’s recent guidance on mitigating that trend in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. It’s worrisome, but we’ve got to practice diligence in fundraising to compel supporters.

We must practice excellence by paying attention to all levels of giving, including having the confidence to be as progressive and creative to approaches in all facets of development, from annual funds to planned giving to events, as possible. You still have to grow giving. And I would argue that goals based on building a pipeline of support at all levels are just as important as goals based on that aforementioned to 5% of dollars.

We’ve heard for many years rhetoric around the cost to raise a dollar, and what is “acceptable” for a fundraising office. I encourage every office to do their due diligence to figure out their sweet spot. It’s different for every organization, and for your growth strategy.

You maintain a similar philosophy about maintaining a healthy pipeline when it comes to staff leadership development.

I do. The quality of your staff is paramount. Keep in mind what turnover in our industry looks like: a constant 15 to 20 percent. That’s why it’s important to be a hands-on leader, which means leading by example and taking time to develop people for both the strategy at hand and long-term development.

Organizations must learn how they can grow their own talent from within. Promote the right people into roles based on raw talent, and spend the time and effort to train your staff to refine that talent to become even more effective. You don’t always have to recruit externally. Similar to a donor pipeline, a leader must consider a pipeline that elevates your team effectively. How does one create that dynamic among management and leadership? Help your staff identify their own next career move and engage them in the steps required to make that happen.

You’ve made a significant impact in your three-decade career serving premier organizations. What was it that attracted you to join Graham-Pelton?

Graham-Pelton’s culture is what attracted me to the firm. I’ve witnessed a high level of professionalism, dedication to the organizations we serve, a commitment to our fellow colleagues, and a genuine empathy and focus on the well-being of our clients – not just organizations and not just as development teams, but as people. Because of that, we’re able to tailor our approach based on each client, and I’m empowered to work to assess needs and address them creatively while remaining client-focused.

Having a great time, doing meaningful work, and adding value? It doesn’t get much better.

Contact Stuart directly via email or by calling 1.800.608.7955 ext. 1222.