Howard Davis is a veteran fundraiser, who has climbed the ranks from a volunteer at Interlochen Center for the Arts to his current position as a director at Lawrence Technological University. Howard's passion for fundraising is represented by the emphasis he places on making solid and meaningful connections between organizations and the people who support them, always seeking an outcome in which all parties will benefit.
As a novice professional fundraiser myself, Howard provided a great deal of insight on how to excel in the fields we have both decided to pursue based upon the passion that burns within – the passion to make a difference.
How did you become involved with the fundraising profession?
Howard Davis, as many in the non-profit sector do, began his work as a volunteer. He worked on special events and outreach initiatives at Interlochen Center for the Arts, which developed into a full time position after the then Director of Alumni Affairs recognized his natural talent and dedication to fundraising.
“I never had thought about being a fundraising professional,” Howard said, “but I realized I could make a difference and that I had something to contribute.”
Howard committed one year to Interlochen, which ultimately turned into five. Beginning his fundraising career in 1996, he has worked with a handful of Detroit based non-profits, including the Charles H. Wright Museum for African American History and Lawrence Technological University, where he is currently the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations.
Share something humorous about your first job in fundraising.
“There’s a lot of stories,” Howard laughed, “too many.”
Howard recounted a story about Bill Cosby when he visited Interlochen Center for the Arts. Being one of only two minorities in a staff that had 3-400 year round staff, Howard recalls being strategically placed many times to represent the organization’s diversity.
“He arrived on campus and got out of his car. He had been there before but I don’t think he was expecting to see me. He was extremely casual. He stepped out of his limousine with dollar store flip-flops, cargo shorts, and a under-sized t-shirt. As he greeted everyone, our eyes caught several times.”
“I stuck out my hand - he took me in for a bear hug, and said, ‘If my wife hears about this. I’ll know it was you that told her.’”
It was telling – and showed diversity in fundraising. Bill was able to relate to Howard specifically in that moment, as they shared a connection. From this experience Howard was able to grasp the concept of relations and familiarity as it corresponds with giving.
What advice would you give to a fundraising professional mentee?
Howard stresses that it is key to have a set of personal standards and a sense ethics. Howard realizes that sometimes fundraising is like a sell – you are trying to convey something to a client. But he also knows it is not just about the sell – it is about the promise they will create from supporting your idea. It’s about impact.
“It’s about the relationship. It’s about doing good work. It’s about having an impact. It’s about people having a sense about how they can support their community. It’s all of those things.”
Finish the phrase: If not a fundraiser I would be ...
“.. In business for myself, determining how I can personally make a difference by creating an enterprise.”
Howard believes it would most likely address the area of education, which is a subject he is passionate on and able to point out unmet needs which can be filled.
What is something you wish you knew earlier in your fundraising career?
Throughout the discussion, Howard continued to revisit the idea of impact and personal connection. Beginning his career, he did not have a full grasp of the strong personal connections which are associated with giving. As an experienced fundraiser, he now knows you must first capture the heart, then the mind – and after, the dollars will come.
“It’s more than about people’s capacity to give - it’s about the affinity.”
What is the legacy that you want to leave?
Howard’s ultimate professional goal is to feel that he has made a difference in the lives of the people that benefit from his work. His affinity has been mission driven with each organization that he has worked with. Howard wants to know that through his contributions, he has left the organization in a better place.
“At Lawrence Tech, there are students who are able to get their degree, who I may never know or never see again, because I was able to raise the money to provide scholarships or the lab to create an appreciation for science. I don’t have to know them individually, but I know I’ve made a difference. I get a great deal of gratification from that.”