In “Mission Driven,” Tableau spoke to three humanists who found their passion in the nonprofit sector: Alissa Davis, AM’12, director of business development at Bridges to Prosperity; John Glier, AM’74, chief executive officer of Grenzenbach Glier and Associates (GG+A); and Jennifer Harris, AM’02, founder of JH Collective.

Here, Davis, Glier, and Harris tell us more about their work and why it matters.

Davis on a typical day at Bridges to Prosperity: In nonprofit work in general, everybody wears a lot of hats. You typically have a small team, and the members of that small team are asked to do pretty much everything. What’s hardest is that I have to learn something new pretty much every day—which is also what makes it the perfect job for me. There isn’t a typical day, but that’s what’s most exciting.

At Bridges to Prosperity, we almost function as a start-up. There’s a lot of risk-taking and venturing into new territories. We’re in the process of scaling our work. We just launched a program to build all the needed footbridges in Rwanda. We’re looking to solve the problem for entire countries at a time.

Glier on the importance and appeal of the nonprofit sector: Last year Americans contributed $428 billion in cash to philanthropic causes, over 2 percent of GDP, a level of giving that has not wavered in nearly 40 years. The charitable sector is composed of 1.6 million nonprofit organizations, employs more than 10 percent of the American workforce, attracts nearly $200 billion more in the value of volunteered services, delivers almost 6 percent to US GDP in resources, and comprises nearly $3 trillion in financial activity, 15 percent of the American economy.

Most of us don’t stop to realize how important nonprofits are to civil society in America, and the impact they have in every corner of our lives. Quite clearly, that’s why the sector continues to attract such extraordinary talent out of higher education.

Harris explains how nonprofits can improve their fundraising efforts: For far too long, the nonprofit sector has measured the successes and failures of fundraising through the lens of “gifts secured” or “dollars in.” Raising money is, of course, an essential output in a healthy fundraising program. And yet, in my experience, the path to organizational health and fundraising success is fundamentally holistic—it’s not transactional. It’s certainly not about “the ask” alone.

A healthy fundraising program is heart centered, mission driven, and strategic. It’s born out of the belief that fundraising leadership can activate a culture of philanthropy from the roots up through the board, into the community and the world. Fundraising leaders today continue to go up against fictitious narratives about “what fundraising looks like.” Successful fundraisers will, in my opinion, embrace authenticity, curiosity, and connection in service of humanity. They are coaches and conduits who understand that philanthropy is a path to health, healing, and social change.

Photo Creds: 
Photo by Collin Hughes