Marc Hilton, Vice President of Campbell & Company, recently announced his retirement after nearly four decades of outstanding service to the nonprofit community. Known as a valued and respected leader who has contributed significantly to the philanthropic industry, Marc joined Campbell & Company in April 1991, and has been a core contributor to the success and growth of the firm. Over the years, he has served arts and culture organizations, professional societies, institutions of higher education, human service organizations, research libraries, historical societies, and more.
“Marc has always been a tireless advocate for his clients. Anyone who has worked with him recognizes his deep commitment to furthering his clients’ work. He strives to make sure they receive the highest quality of service and outcomes possible,” said President and CEO Peter Fissinger.
Marc recently shared his reflections on his 39-year career.
How did you end up pursuing a profession in philanthropy?
During the summer between my graduate studies, Michael Reese Hospital’s public relations department offered me a job to write the history of a Chicago medical school founded in the late 1890s. I’ve always considered fundraising as a part of the greater field of public relations, and that experience ultimately led me to development.
For the next few years, I continued to write and also taught history at Illinois Institute of Technology, which led to an opportunity to do development and alumni outreach. And then Russ Weigand, the Senior Vice President of Campbell & Company at the time, recruited me to be the Vice President of Development at the Chicago History Museum. That united my passions – my new passion for public relations and development with my long-standing interests in American history.
How did you develop such strong, time-tested relationships with your clients?
Just like any other business relationship, the most fruitful are those that are not transactional, but based on trust. As is true in the for profit world and certainly in the nonprofit world, we are all striving to form and achieve relationships that are deep and lasting.
Being honest, forthright, and attentive are key. And it is important to tend to peoples’ needs in ways that are of benefit to them. Philanthropically speaking, donors invest in people they respect and in whom they have confidence. Likewise, our clients retain professional advisers because they understand the importance of integrity and candor. They seek independent judgment and individuals that will first carefully analyze a situation, and then creatively develop a workable plan for how the client’s institution can achieve its goals.
In your 39 years in the field, what industry changes have you seen? And what fundamentals will remain constant?
It is a profession that is always evolving. One principle that hasn’t changed is that the spirit is fundamentally ingrained into American culture; volunteering and philanthropy have been an integral part of the American character since our nation was founded. Supporting nonprofits and enabling them to not only continue to provide services but also to grow is really basic to our character.
And the surprises you often find in our field have also not changed. When I first entered the field in the 1970s I was surprised to I learn about the large unanticipated bequests that institutions sometimes received. You would hear about these stories from time-to-time and say, this is truly remarkable. But when you think about it, these recipient institutions have actually been engaging these “unknown” donors consistently all along by delivering on their promises every day – be it high quality education, vital social services to the less advantaged, or beautiful art or music made available to all.
In terms of new changes, I am proud that Campbell & Company has taken a lead in analytics and developing new ways to discern the motives and propensities of our clients’ prospective investors. I believe the whole field of analytics will continue to evolve and bring a new level of expertise to our profession.
What do you think might be the most impactful change we will see in philanthropy over the next decade?
It will be interesting to see how the Baby Boomers, my generation, become engaged citizens while no longer pursuing full-time work obligations. I recently read that 11,000 of us are retiring every day this year! How are we going to use both the wealth we’ve inherited from our parents and our own accumulated wealth? Will we spend it ourselves, pass it onto our children and grandchildren or share at least some of it with the nonprofit organizations that we’ve developed relationships with over the years? I assume all of the above, but I anticipate many Boomers will be quite generous to many nonprofits.
In my new status, I have already begun new relationships. I’ve been volunteering at a soup kitchen washing dishes, I’ve joined a new nonprofit board, and I’ve thrown myself into vegetable gardening, so I am applying my labors in an entirely different way.
What piece of advice can you give to young people considering a profession in fundraising?
The nonprofit sector has well over a million, diverse opportunities so it is important to find your passion. I would recommend examining organizations of interest, but also finding one with a well thought out mission and strategic plan, led by people of integrity who are really smart and from whom you can learn. You need to feel that sense of chemistry, trust, and respect.
Tell us a story exemplifying how you have found your work as an advancement professional to be rewarding?
The Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) comes to mind. They are geophysicists interested in what is below the Earth’s surface and in applying technology not only to discovering energy resources, but also to discovering other vital resources like water. As a professional society they were focused on growing their membership program, producing high quality publications, and successfully organizing their annual meeting, but they had never spent much time thinking about philanthropy. Their very perceptive executive director decided this was an area they could enhance. I came in as their mentor and spent three to four years with them. We originally projected that SEG could raise no more than $5 million. But after the campaign’s first year they had secured $10 million and by the end of the effort SEG, had raised more than $17.5 million. I felt privileged to have helped SEG discover the benefits of developing a successful philanthropic program.