Bruce Matthews, Vice President of Campbell & Company, spent 36 years in the nonprofit community before recently announcing his retirement from a career marked by significant contributions to fundraising in both development and as one of development’s most trusted client service partners.
Known by clients as an experienced relationship-builder who brought singular expertise into new regions while expanding the higher-education services at Campbell & Company, where he spent the last 17 years, Bruce has been instrumental in the success and growth of the firm. With a deep knowledge of higher education, healthcare and human services, and arts and culture, Bruce is one of the industry’s foremost specialists at transforming organizations—and their donors—through gifts.
“Bruce joined Campbell & Company after a long career in higher education,” noted President and CEO Peter Fissinger. “He raised our higher education expertise and displayed a work ethic, responsibility, and dependability that clients and colleagues have valued immensely.”
Bruce recently shared his perspective on the industry and his clients during his illustrious career in the nonprofit community.
How did you choose to pursue a career in philanthropy?
It was almost by default and a classic story of coming in through the back door. I was a performing musician; an orchestral French horn player, and I developed a condition that made it necessary for me to quit playing. In 1980, I took a job in Madison as the general manager of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras. And that was my first introduction to fundraising, which led me to Wisconsin Public Radio and then to the University of Wisconsin Foundation, followed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and then on to Campbell & Company.
You were able to parlay your passion for music into a new career direction.
I consider myself very lucky, because at the time it was devastating to me not to be able to play anymore. My whole life was spent practicing and performing, and I was really lucky that I found something else that I liked and was good at doing.
Over your expansive career, what changes have you seen in fundraising? And what will remain constant?
One of the huge changes has been the development and use of technology. Just a few decades ago we wrote our prospects on 3x5 index cards. At the University of Wisconsin Foundation, one woman was in charge of this enormous mainframe computer in the back room, and if you wanted any kind of information you had to beg her to run it for you. Technology now has revolutionized fundraising, how you can generate lists of names and do analytics work. You have to really be savvy with technology.
What has stayed the same is that it is all relationship-based. You cannot expect to raise consistent and greater amounts of money every year without paying personal attention to your top donors. So that hasn’t changed and never will.
What is on the horizon that could potentially impact the industry?
There is a lot of buzz about crowd funding and the use of the web. Social media and #GivingTuesday are such a phenomenon now that universities have their own giving days that are modeled very much the same. It has really helped them engage current students in fundraising so that they can address the continued decline in alumni participation in giving. So, the ways people are using social media are having a huge impact, and will continue to do so.
What advice might you have for young professionals considering fundraising careers?
I always tell people to consider this industry, which has historically struggled a bit that way because it does not have a natural academic pathway. But more and more colleges and universities are now offering courses in philanthropy and fundraising; sometimes affixed to public relations, sometimes marketing. There are master’s degrees in it as well. My advice to young people is that if they are motivated by mission-driven organizations, then they should strongly consider this career.
Can you share a particularly rewarding or memorable career milestone?
It is a very personal one. When I was at the University of Wisconsin Foundation, I was raising money for the school’s very fine College of Engineering. When they were doing their first large campaign, which went from 1987-1993, I was in charge of working in Arizona with alumni.
There was chemical engineering alum that had just recently moved to Sun City, Arizona, as a very young retiree after many years at 3M. No one from the University of Wisconsin had ever reached out to him, so this was the start of their journey.
He made a very nice gift to construct a wonderful mall, which included a sculpture and fountain in front of the engineering building. Then the university began raising money for its Engineering Centers Building, which housed a lot of collaborative, extracurricular things that the students were doing. I sent him a letter—which he kept—that read, “Now that you have funded the fountain, how would you like a building to go with it?” So he and his wife made a large gift for that as well.
But the real back-story is that after his wife died, he met me for a football game and said, with a tear in his eye, “Thank you for connecting us with our Wisconsin family again.” That was the last time I saw him. He died the next year. Too often we think in terms of what the money means to the organization, but giving has a profound impact on the people who make gifts as well.