Director of Philanthropic Service for Institutions

Dr Lilya Wagner, CFRE, is director of Philanthropic Service for Institutions, an internal consulting group for a system of North American church-related organisations including health care, educational, and community service providers.  She is a long-time faculty member of The Fund Raising School and is on the philanthropic studies faculties of the Centre on Philanthropy at Indiana University and St. Mary’s University in Minnesota. She has been a speaker for Inyathelo’s Autumn Academy, a three-day learning event for Advancement and Fundraising Practitioners.

Dr Wagner was Vice-President for Philanthropy at Counterpart International in Washington, D.C., an international development organisation which provides a variety of services and projects in many countries.  Prior to joining Counterpart, Dr Wagner served as associate director for public service and director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.  Dr Wagner has published writings which include articles and book chapters on philanthropy, fundraising and the non-profit sector, along with books and numerous articles on a variety of general interest and professional topics. Currently she writes for an on-line newsletter published by Changing Our World. She began her fundraising career by working in health care, and has served as a volunteer and board member for human service, arts and community organisations. She holds a doctorate in education from the University of Florida in Gainesville and has two Masters Degrees in Journalism and Music.  She has taught at the university, college and high school levels, and has been employed as a public relations specialist.  She is a musician by training and vocation.

Five Questions

1. What motivates your work in this sector?

The non-profit sector houses those causes and organisations that make a difference, whether it’s for people who are homeless or hungry, or for our environment or safety, or those which fulfil the values and needs of our lives.  What government and the business sector can’t or won’t do because these causes don’t fit into the reasons why they exist, non-profits carry out.  It is highly meaningful to be part of something that makes a difference.  Perhaps another reason is that I was a refugee and homeless myself at one time, and also lived and worked in poor countries.  I vowed to find a way to help, and the non-profit sector allows me to do so.

2. What are the most significant changes you’ve observed in that time that you have worked in the sector?

In the last 25 years there have been vast changes, such as globalisation of NGOs or non-profit organisations, the acceptance of and engagement of fundraising as an opportunity and a necessity for carrying out causes, professionalisation and greater demands for accountability both from the sector and fundraisers, the vast influence of technology on communication and networking and therefore how we do our work, and in general the growth of the sector everywhere, even in places that might be surprising.  It’s exciting to have been part of that, especially as I worked for many years at the Center on Philanthropy and also on the international scene.

3. What advice would you give to new Advancement practitioners?

Read my book, Careers in Fundraising!  Seriously, I would suggest researching the field, finding out what the challenges and opportunities are, getting the right training, evaluating HOW you want to work and WHAT you want to accomplish, and then matching these to the right organisations or causes, and the tasks that reside within Advancement.  It’s a great career, whether used as a stepping stone to other positions or as a total career in itself.  Being an Advancement professional allows a person to adapt skills and experience to many settings.

4. What do you wish you had known when you started working in Advancement?

Perhaps I might wish that when I entered the profession, the same kinds of resources had been available as are now, because I had to learn a great deal on my own, sometimes by trial or error.  I would have wished for a mentor.  On the other hand, perhaps I’m glad I didn’t know a great deal because my first Advancement job was highly challenging (had to raise a high goal of debt reduction funds) and I might have been intimidated rather than invigorated.  Yes, it was tough and I wish I had what is available today, so today’s young or mid-career professionals are fortunate!

5. What are the holy grails for you in non-profit work, i.e. which sources of information are you constantly referring to and/or recommending?

Excellent professional associations are very helpful, as is networking with peers.  I always measure everything I read, attend, or speak about against the high standards of The Fund Raising School, and I believe Inyathelo also reflects these high standards.  There are so many books and opportunities for training today that it’s vital we set high expectations and criteria of excellence, and then carefully choose our sources of information, our mentors, our collegial friends, and our learning experiences