A Special Interview with Edith Falk, Former Chair and Co-Founder of Campbell & Company

Edith-FalkOn March 1, 2015, Edith Falk, Co-Founder of Campbell & Company, has retired as Chair after nearly four decades of exemplary service to the nonprofit community. Ms. Falk is widely known throughout the nonprofit community as one of the preeminent thought leaders in this sector. Ms. Falk will continue serving as counsel for Campbell & Company engagements on a selected basis.

To honor her legacy, we recently sat down with Ms. Falk, who reflected on her work over the past 38 years.

Q. What led you to a career in philanthropy?

I honestly can’t say that I made a deliberate decision to go into fundraising.

The word “development” meant something totally different at the time. I just knew I wanted to work in the nonprofit community, where I could make a difference. That desire led me to work for several organizations in a writing, communications, and fundraising capacity. Then I met Don Campbell, who talked with me about starting a consulting firm that would bring a “donor centered” approach—a novel concept at the time—to its work with nonprofits. We started Campbell & Company in a two room office on the 20th floor—in the very same building where our firm headquarters is located today.

Q. What was the world of philanthropy like when you started?

It was much simpler. Most of us were generalists, with enough knowledge about the various functions of a development operation to be close to “experts” on all elements. Organizations had only very limited information on prospects and donors. Donor segmentation was very elementary. In fact, in the very early days, we used 3x5 notecards with different colored tab to identify different segments! There was no need for complex messaging, and few donors talked about impact. Nonprofits could basically say, “We do good work, and that’s why you should support us.”Edith-Falk

Q. Who has been your role model?

There really hasn’t been one person, although Don Campbell clearly was an important mentor. He taught me what it meant to deliver outstanding client service and what it means to go the extra mile. But mostly I have learned by observing people along the way and taking away lessons on what worked for them and what didn’t. I have also learned by being willing to reflect on my own experiences—both successes and failures. I had to ask myself if there were things I missed or clues I didn’t read when things went wrong.

Q. How has fundraising changed over the last four decades?

Fundraising has changed in a number of ways. For starters, it’s a true profession now. When I started, there was one text book, which everyone read when they started in the field. Now, you can even major in fundraising! There is such a significant body of knowledge about the field today, much of which is highly specialized. CASE, AFP and other professional associations were just getting started then, but now the resources for fundraisers are truly abundant.

Also, the advent of data and technology has enabled fundraising to become more of a science. These tools allow us to look for patterns that suggest future giving behavior, and we’re able to use that information to help organizations better engage their donors over time.

Additionally, there have been some tremendous changes in the gender and racial dynamics of the profession. When I was first doing this work, there were very few women in this role—even fewer in the decision making process. But the pendulum has now swung in the other way. And while we have made good progress in terms of racial and ethnic diversity, we still aren’t where we need to be. Thankfully, there are many younger people moving into and up in our profession who represent the increasingly diverse constituency base of our communities.

Q. Where do you see the area of philanthropy in the future?

People are—and continue to be—quite generous. Giving in this country reflects about 2% of our GDP, and while the younger generations seem to be quite engaged in philanthropy, it remains to be seen if that percentage will rise. How we engage these newer philanthropists will be critical. Younger donors are asking very thoughtful questions about how their gifts will impact the organization. “How is my gift going to be used? How is it going to make a difference?” Organizations have to be smart about how to get their attention, and strategic about how they turn them into sustainable donors.

Of course, the use of data and technology will continue to be a major factor in the way we do our work. How we can leverage “big data” to communicate and engage with our community and donors will be critical.

I also think we are going to see increasing interest and engagement in social impact investing.  It’s a smart way for individuals and foundations, in particular, to make a difference, especially in supporting human service and environmental causes, and I think we will see this spreading to institutions in other sectors.

Additionally, we’ve already seen a lot of money going to donor advised funds. They are certainly a useful way to engage the next generation in philanthropy, but they can be challenging to navigate, and they do tie up the money until the donor decides how to use it. While I can’t say what I think the future is for these funds, there is no doubt they will continue to grow, and we’ll get smarter about how to leverage these resources.    

Q. What piece of advice can you give to young professionals in fundraising?

It’s important to take the opportunity to try new things: volunteer for assignments, push yourself out of your comfort level, and keep learning. Get involved in professional associations and volunteer to serve on boards of organizations whose mission you care about. You will learn a lot through this experience. Think about becoming an expert in one aspect of our profession – something that’s interesting to you and where you can make a difference. If you can position yourself as such an expert, you’ll be sought after…and find your work enormously gratifying.

Q. While you are planning, what are you most looking forward to during your retirement?

I’ll still be involved with Campbell & Company in a limited capacity, but I am most looking forward to doing things I didn’t even know I was missing. Attending a lecture, taking a class—I just started a seminar on Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies, and the homework requires listening to music—what a treat! I’m very much looking forward to being involved in a city that is so rich with culture and educational opportunities. Or, you know, just picking up a book and reading for more than 15 minutes at a time! And of course, spending time with our grandson.

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Sarah Barnes

As an Online Fundraising Consultant, Sarah Barnes works with organizations to optimize their online presence through analyzing data that ultimately reveals strategies for the future. In her work with clients, Sarah most values opportunities to review and assess online data from multiple channels such as an organization’s website, social media channels and email marketing initiatives, to inform decisions, as well as working closely with organizations to brainstorm and identify and optimize strategic online fundraising initiatives.