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Realizing the Power of the Individual, with Elizabeth Zeigler

Realizing the Power of the Individual, with Elizabeth Zeigler

Episode 107: Realizing the Power of the Individual, with Elizabeth Zeigler

Elizabeth Zeigler is a master in the art of fundraising. As CEO and President of Graham-Pelton Consulting, she uses her powers for good. Unlike other consulting firms, Elizabeth’s works to help nonprofits get the support and funding they need to achieve their philanthropic mission. In this episode, Elizabeth discusses the exceptional power of individual giving, and she provides a refreshing example for how companies can create equal opportunities for flextime employees.

Episode Transcript

00:11 Kristy Wallace: Welcome to the Ellevate podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, with my co-host Maricella Herrera. How's it going?

00:20 Maricella Herrera: Hey, good. Everything's good.

00:22 KW: I'm so excited for today's podcast with Elizabeth Zeigler because she's just like my female role model. We had a great conversation. I know y'all are gonna love it. She talked so much about work-life balance and creating opportunities to succeed as a working parent. She's now the CEO of Graham-Pelton Consulting but had been there for a good part of her career and continues as the leader to create a culture and an environment that is supportive of the workforce and the employees and creativity. So, just great conversation. But before we get to that, I know you're all anxiously waiting. I just wanted to say thank you because I get messages all the time on social media, on LinkedIn, in personal events from those of you who listen to the podcast and find inspiration and support and community through the podcast. And that's why we're doing this, and it's just really meaningful to know that it resonates with you, that the impact we're trying to have is really happening, and keep the feedback coming. I love feedback; I know Maricella does, too. So thanks again to all of you for the support. It means a lot, and it helps keep us going all day, every day to support women and do... Support women through the podcast as well.

01:52 MH: Yeah, share your feedback, follow us on social, send information. I know we get a lot of emails to Thank you everyone for your guest suggestions, for your stories, for calling us out on stuff. We love hearing from you guys.

02:10 KW: We wanna give you a little bit of a heads up because the next couple of weeks you're gonna be hearing from some phenomenal guests, all who are speakers at the upcoming Ellevate summit.

02:22 MH: Yeah, I'm excited about that. We have a ridiculous line-up. It's been an effort to really bring diverse voices to the table. People who normally are not included in the gender equality conversation are gonna be there. We're gonna have everything from athletes to people from NASA to people in entertainment, media, business, you name it. I'm very, very excited about this. So the summit is happening June 21st in New York City. If you wanna check it out, you can find it on our website, and we'll also be live streaming it. If you can't attend in person, you can sign up to watch the live stream on our site.

03:11 KW: Yeah. Absolutely. So enjoy the next couple of weeks. I hope you learn a lot from these guests and join us on June 21st in person in New York City or via live stream to the Ellevate Summit. Alright, let's get to my conversation with Elizabeth. Have a great week everyone.


03:41 KW: I'm joined today by Elizabeth Zeigler, the President and CEO of Graham-Pelton Consulting. Thanks so much for joining us today.

03:47 Elizabeth Zeigler: Thank you.

03:48 KW: So your story is a really interesting one. You really are a trailblazer. You're the first woman to lead a fundraising consulting firm in the non-profit services industry. Can you explain to me first off a little bit more about your organization, and then how did you get here?

04:04 EZ: Absolutely. Well, our organization, and it sounds jargony, but we are a fundraising consulting firm and what we're able to do is work with all kinds of non-profits in order to help them achieve their missions. So usually achieving the missions comes through raising money. And so we work with clients to prepare them for fundraising campaigns and then implement them. So at the very highest level, it's like we're the architects of a campaign and then as we get into the detail of the work, we're guiding them on how to approach individuals to ask them for gifts.

04:38 KW: And so you specifically focused on the individual giving campaigns versus some of the other funding mechanisms like grants or foundations.

04:47 EZ: Right. Individual giving is our major focus because when you think about philanthropy in the United States in the year 2016, $390.05 billion were given away, and about 90% of those dollars were given by individuals when you count the dollars from living individuals, people who recently passed away, and then family foundations. So the lion's share of philanthropy comes from that source.

05:13 KW: And do you find that that giving is driven by specific situations? I know you hear a lot about after a natural disaster, something that's heavy in the news, there seems to be a spike in giving. But what about the ongoing gifts and just action around that?

05:35 EZ: Right. So the giving after disasters really is a spike in giving and there's philanthropy that's just happening at an ongoing level, and almost every year you see an increase or we see an increase as we measure it. And so when you think about some of the traditional non-profits or the top three recipients of philanthropy in the country, they're in the religious sector or the education sector and then you get into human services, social services, health and so on. And there's the environment and the arts and others. But the kind of connections that people have with non-profits, if you think about someone who graduates from an institution as an alumnus or an alumna, they're part of the alumni body or a grateful patient at a hospital or a member of a cultural institution. So there's that ongoing relationship development that happens with non-profits and their constituents.

06:29 KW: And I've seen non-profits, they may have a gala or an event that's a specific driver. Sometimes there's annual campaigns where they're really focused on raising awareness, but what are some of the more successful ways you've seen non-profits really keep the fundraising pipeline, philanthropy pipeline ongoing?

06:53 EZ: Right. It's really at an individual level. So going back to who gives the money away in the United States or individual human beings and so creating those relationships becomes very important. When you talk about event fundraising in particular, that is a very expensive way to raise money. It can cost 50 cents or more to raise a dollar. And usually what's happening during those events, there's some fundraising but it's also what we call friend-raising that's happening. And so the best fundraising is face-to-face dialogues with individuals to talk about the mission of the non-profit, why that mission matters, really talking about the people that are being served by the mission and how important they are and the kind of transformation that can happen in their lives through philanthropy.

07:44 KW: Yeah.

07:44 EZ: It's really special.

07:46 KW: Do you have some favorite philanthropies?

07:49 EZ: Do I, in particular?

07:50 KW: Yes.

07:50 EZ: Yeah. Well yeah, if you looked at my giving, you'll see that I tend to give in two areas, one education. So my own alma mater's and my daughter's school. But what I'm really focused on right now is a social service agency on whose board I sat for a number of years. And once I became CEO of Graham-Pelton, I had to step down from that, but I haven't stepped away from that kind of giving because giving at that root cause for me in terms of supporting families and children and parents as they are struggling in order to get them in a place where they're more self-sufficient is really important to me.

08:32 KW: Absolutely. We've talked at Ellevate a few times around the relationship between women and non-profits, and I know you've done some work here and we get a lot of questions. I mean, the difference between volunteering your time, board service and then financial support and contribution. How do you differentiate between those three in terms of impact? And then can we start talking a little bit about women in philanthropy.

09:02 EZ: Yeah. Absolutely. So the three we're serving on a board, financial support, and...

09:07 KW: Your time.

09:08 EZ: Time, okay.

09:09 KW: Like volunteering.

09:09 EZ: So volunteering. Alright, so when we think about non-profits and the ways in which people can support non-profits, there are those three ways, it's offering time, bringing leadership and expertise, and then also also financial support. I think the non-profits would tell you the ideal would be to have all three in one person. But when we work with our clients and we guide them especially to think about recruiting board members or involving people in terms of their time, it could be three different profiles that exist, right? So what we're seeing in the younger generation, one 48 years old with the people who are younger, wanna spend more time hands-on experiencing the mission. So there's the volunteering that happens there in order to build the relationship that will then hopefully, it leads to the financial support. There are individuals that wanna bring their expertise or we work with clients, for example, an all-girls school that wants to build a building for STEAM, their STEAM curriculum, and recruiting people with particular expertise in the different STEAM areas becomes important, and financial support always is paramount to a non-profit and so it's important to look at the complement of the three.

10:27 KW: Yeah. And I... So I'm involved with a few different non-profits in New York City, but one, I was recently actually in a discussion around fundraising and the impact of individual donors. Because I think, oftentimes, you may feel that $100 or $300 or whatever that that contribution is, $20 isn't a lot. But when you compound it over time, and you start to build that rapport with that cause, you know, people will donate more and more over time. And then, as you mentioned, it could get into gifts in your will or what have you, how do you really quantify or can you quantify that exponential impact of that initial gift?

11:19 EZ: It's such an interesting concept. And as you're talking, I'm thinking about one project that we did for a university that monetized the cost of not engaging alumni early after their graduation.

11:32 KW: Oh, that's interesting.

11:33 EZ: And so if you didn't capture them, so to speak, as a donor within the first five years, what that meant in terms of potential lost opportunity in terms of philanthropy. So there are ways of looking at it, and it depends on the value that non-profits and their boards place on engagement going back to volunteering time, lower level gifts and the level of patience in order to develop larger gifts. And you're touching on a topic that's really important to us at Graham-Pelton because we talk a lot about the word philanthropy and so often we think philanthropy, or I think people think philanthropy is in the realm of the rich, you know, the largest gifts that we see, the seven, eight, and now nine-figure gifts that we're seeing made by really generous people. But at Graham-Pelton, we know that philanthropy simply means good will to the human race and good will comes in all the ways that you're talking about: Volunteering time, bringing leadership, making small gifts, making large gifts. And when we work with our clients, that's how we approach it. So, it's larger. Philanthropy is actually... It might sound counter-intuitive, but it's larger than the big gifts.

12:51 KW: Thank you for saying that because I think that that's so important just as much as we can all do to give back and to support the causes that we care about. What about women in philanthropy, what have you seen with that specific...

13:07 EZ: Sure. We've seen a shift and we've done a lot of work with clients and particularly all-girls schools and other women's organizations. We are also partners with the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and so we've presented with the Women's Philanthropy Institute and their leaders there. But we had the data from the academic experts, we have the anecdotes and the experience of working with clients, and we have had real success in engaging women and inviting them to bring their philanthropy, whether it's volunteering, leadership, and in particular with some of the larger gifts. Because what we've seen in the country, if you're looking at a school's level, the philanthropy, the gifts, the larger gifts that have gone to the schools tend to go to the boys schools versus the all-girls schools. And so there's this inequity in the country that we could probably trace back to tradition and the role that women typically played in the household, but it's changed. We've achieved parity in many ways in the United States. You look at some of the statistics, 50% of the breadwinners in the country are women, 50% or so of the millionaires are women, advanced degree holders, something like 65% are women, and women hold a lot of wealth in the country. So it's teaching them what kind of impact they can make in terms of making larger gifts and engaging them in different ways.

14:44 EZ: Women are less likely to feel over-communicated with; they want a dialogue. Men lock into their philanthropic priorities and tend to be consistent. Women are more likely to vary their giving. And so understanding the ways in which to communicate with women differently than men is really important. At the same time, we counsel our clients to approach women in many of the same ways that men are being approached. So meeting with a specific ask in a period of time that makes sense, not over-cultivating them to use our jargon, not letting too much time past and while you're engaging them, and to ask for big gifts when big gifts makes sense, and to show the kind of impact that women can make and with a number of our clients that have $15 million, $10 million, $5 million gifts that have been made by women, which is really exciting.

15:43 KW: That is exciting. Personally, I always respond to asks that are more tangible. So X amount of dollars will equate to Y impact. You know, $300 will send a girl to leadership development camp this summer, whatever that may be. And you sort of feel a deeper connection with what you're trying to impact.

16:10 EZ: Right. So it's right, it's all about impact. And when someone can feel that they are making a difference, and usually that will come through some sort of... They're qualifying it, and they're putting specifics around what kind of support their gift will make.

16:26 KW: Part of the storytelling, too. I mean, I think for non-profits, they're oftentimes driving impact on many different levels. And so it's a way to start to share the story of that end user, and how you're impacting them in a way that's tied to that financial component.

16:43 EZ: Absolutely, and if you're talking about gifts at a $100 instead of $1000 or $100,000, you do as a donor, wanna feel like you are making a difference and every gift counts. And so that's true. I'd say that's very true of men and women, but perhaps, in particular, in women. As we counsel our clients on some of the larger gifts, they are definitely specific thinking about an all-girls school that received a $15 million gift for their dormitories. They still call them dormitories, not residence halls, [chuckle] and other kinds of really transformational gifts. That woman made a $15 million gift for the dormitories because she didn't... She wasn't so much focused on the experience that the girls were going to have in the dormitories, she was more aware of the financial model of the school, and it's a boarding school. And she realized that the financial models... The financial status of the school will be stronger if they had more boarding students, and the reason why they were losing some boarding students is because their dorms were not up to par. So it was a bigger picture conversation with that donor. It wasn't just about the project, it was about where the project fit in the overall picture of the school, and of course, that connected to the vision of the school which is we're gonna remain all girls, and we're gonna exist in a time where there are fewer all-girls schools.

18:10 KW: I love that. I wanna get back to your career because it's really interesting, and I'm excited to hear this story from you. As I mentioned at the start of the podcast, you're the President and CEO of Graham-Pelton Consulting. How did your career there begin? Because it's not a story I think we often hear, but it's important.

18:34 EZ: Well, I love the story, so thank you for asking. I spent more than a decade as a fundraiser, first at a liberal arts college and then at a university in New York City. And it's interesting timing that you're asking me because my daughter's turning 17 on Monday. So, 17 years ago, this is my last day of work at that university before my maternity leave. And as I was approaching that maternity leave, I was giving a lot of thought to what would I do after my daughter was born? And I was commuting to New York, I live in New Jersey, absolutely loved working in New York, even loved the commute. But I realized that spending up to maybe three hours a day when I had an infant might be something that didn't make the commute so peaceful anymore.

19:23 KW: Sure.

19:24 EZ: And I said, "What are my options?" And in a larger sense, I knew that I wanted to work. That's always been very important to me, but I knew that I didn't wanna work five days a week, and so I started to think about my options, and I started with the university and there was someone at the university that encouraged a colleague of mine and I to prepare and deliver a job share proposal. And between the two of us, we had something like 18, 19 years of experience and we outlined every detail: What days I'd be in the office, what days she'd be in the office, she could use the health care, I didn't need it and so on. And we delivered that proposal and just based on the time frame and the turnaround and the answer was no, I'm pretty confident there was no real analysis of it.

20:19 KW: Sure.

20:20 EZ: And that was really disappointing to me coming from the environment in which I worked for eight years. The fact that this was a woman that was looking at it and it actually gave me the freedom to consider other options, I felt very loyal to that university, and to the people, the leadership there, and the declination of it [chuckle] made me feel free to go out, so I did. And then you sprinkle in a little experience of having an infant and being home every day. And I realized how important it was to me but I also thought it would be important to my daughter and how I raised my daughter and I have some aspect of a career. And I went out, I said I'll go out and I'll look for different job opportunities. And then I'll be able to choose. And so I had four or five, four offers of employment and I was deciding. One was an independent school, fewer universities and one was Graham-Pelton. It was actually a cousin of mine who said, "You should check out this Graham-Pelton thing. It's new and you might be a good fit there."

21:25 KW: Power of networking?

21:26 EZ: Exactly. So, thank you Maureen. And I went and I called, and I reached a woman who served as the second in command at the time at Graham-Pelton and I started interviewing with her and among the job offers, I decided I would go with Graham-Pelton. And the reason that I did is because I listened to the words of our founder and CEO at the time, and I believe what he said about his vision of the company and I only met him for about three minutes listening to his vision, but it resonated with me, I believed him. And I thought, "This is what I'm going to do and if it doesn't work out, I'll just go get more job offers." I wasn't concerned about that as an option.

22:12 EZ: So, I started. I started working three days a week when my daughter was four-and-a-half months old. And so here I come into a company that was young at the time and in startup mode, you know what that's like in the days that are fun. And in some ways, you're... Every client that you have is precious and you wanna exceed their expectations and grow the business. And that was the mode that the company was in. And I think I was perceived as someone who's dabbling, someone who maybe wanted to get out of the house. I felt a little invisible among the people who were doing that every day, when I was only doing that three days a week.

22:57 KW: Sure.

22:58 EZ: And so I quickly... I felt like it was quickly, got the attention of the CEO, and I asked him, I hadn't spent much time with him, but I said to him, "Can a woman who works at this company part-time advance?" And those were all carefully chosen words, and he looked at me and said, "Why are you asking that question?" And I said, "I'm asking because I want to know if I am limited by my three-day per week status and I know that my compensation is limited by the days or hours that I work, but I really don't want my responsibilities to be limited by the days or hours that I work." And he gave an answer that was, "Yeah, of course you can advance." And that was the end of that conversation. But 48 hours later he came back to me and he said, "You know, I've really been thinking about that question, that was a good question and let's sit down and really talk about it." And we did. And so, not only did I find a place that was open to three days a week. I found a leader who is open to sitting down and talking about how someone who is flexed time could advance within the company.

24:14 EZ: And so the dialogue began right away and that communication was always so important. And you know the end story was, as you know, you referred to my title now, I was the first one to be appointed to the executive team from within and I became president of the company in fewer than 10 years, and then taking that full title from our founder last January who was very confident in stepping aside and moving into his next business and allowing me and others to grow the company.

24:56 KW: You don't hear stories like that often unfortunately and it's phenomenal to hear a story not just anyone being able to advance in a workplace where they are finding the right mix between personal and professional, and carving their own path. But I think also, more importantly, a leader who is intentional about ensuring a culture and opportunities for everyone. And how has the company grown during that time?

25:32 EZ: Well, when I joined Graham-Pelton we had one office, and now we have offices around the country and we have offices in London, Dublin, and Edinburgh, Scotland. And so if you just look at the footprint of the company, there's that kind of tremendous growth in terms of the headcount, you know, going back in time, I don't know, maybe a dozen now, there's 100 people, but we don't measure our success on footprint or head count, we look at the kind of impact that we make with our clients, and the kind of clients that we work with today. Many of them are the kind of clients we worked with back then, we're just doing it on a larger scale. So the footprint is bigger, the team is bigger, therefore our reach is bigger, and the impact that we know that we can make in the non-profit world is more significant, because we're bigger.

26:27 KW: And it is showing a leader who cares about the culture and the people and is able to really grow a business exponentially. And I think sometimes it becomes a challenge or there's a debate between the focus on profits, the focus on people and so it's great to hear this story and the full picture of it.

26:54 EZ: Right. One of the things that I learned from our founder was you pay attention to your people and you take care of your best people, you spend your time with your best people and grow them. You talked about culture and people and profit and there's so many conversations that we have internally about those topics because obviously we're a business and so we have to be focused on revenue and profit, but actually we're mostly fundraisers who are consultants, and the reason why we're fundraisers is because we care so much about people and missions and transforming lives in whatever ways we can. And so, there's this, at least in my own mind, there's an internal struggle, because I'm running a business that needs to be profitable, but we really get out of bed every day because we care about our clients and the people that they serve and we talk at Graham-Pelton, "Why do we do what we do?" We do it because humanity depends on philanthropy. And when you think about the definition of philanthropy as goodwill to humanity, think about what would happen to our civilization if there wasn't that kind of goodwill, that kind of philanthropy, I think it would dissolve, I think civilization would dissolve.

28:10 EZ: So that internal struggle or real business model of we have to be focused on profit, but really we wake up because of our impact and that we can make and our clients, and the reason that we can be successful in affecting those changes with clients is because of our people. And so at Graham-Pelton our people are first, they're number one. And creating the culture where they can thrive and grow. And just going back to some of the aspects around flex time or flexibility, right now we have... Well, we have a woman who will be going out on maternity leave and it'll be her second one, so we're hoping she'll come back. When she came back the first time, she said, "I wanna work three days a week," we say, "Great." We have a male colleague, who is in the UK right now, because his wife won a Fulbright scholarship and she's studying in the UK and he said, "Can I still work at Graham-Pelton?" I said, "Absolutely, we have an office in London," and so now he's with our team over in the UK. And we had a man who took paternity leave last year to be at home with his new baby for three or four months. And when you can offer that kind of flexibility to the people that you work with, they're gonna work hard and they're gonna wanna stay, and that's what we want.

29:35 KW: Well, and I think a keyword there is people, right? 'Cause oftentimes, you tend to... Does it feel sometimes that the workforce is seen as more of a line item and not as the individuals, I mean, people?

29:55 EZ: Yeah, more like an asset than a person.

29:58 KW: Yeah, and it's about the people. And how do you support the whole person. One last question for you, because I was reading your bio and this really struck me and I'm... As many of the listeners of the podcast know, I'm always searching for advice and mentorship wherever I can get it and this sounds like something I wanna know more about. So you write about you have a reputation among your clients for spotting opportunities others missed, what does that mean and how do you do it?

30:30 EZ: I think at a larger view, it means that I'm creative in thinking. I believe that there's a solution to every problem or obstacle and that there's not only one way of doing things. And I'll give you some examples with clients, but I think a lot of times our clients think that it's a yes or no question, with yes can someone give or no, can they not give. When that's not really the question or a colleague of mine and I were just at a meeting where this individual is being recruited as a campaign chair and he shared with us his concerns about that role, and we had a conversation of what that role could look like for him. There's not a one-size-fits-all role for a campaign chair.

31:21 EZ: And by the end of that meeting, he said, "I think I can see a way of saying yes to this." So there are clients that sometimes, especially when it comes to asking for gifts, and asking for big gifts, there are clients that sometimes limit their thinking whether we go back to women and giving, there may be a client that approaches Graham-Pelton in any of our consultants and says, "We're thinking about asking this person for a million dollars," when actually they could give $5 million or $10 million. And so, showing them the possibility to that outcome and partnering with them is really what we do. So it goes back to... I just think there's a solution for basically any problem, there's not one way of doing things. And we do it in partnership with our clients.

32:14 KW: Thank you, Elizabeth. It was great chatting with you today. I really appreciate you being on the Ellevate podcast.

32:19 EZ: Happy to be here. Thank you.

32:22 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate, if you like what you hear, help a girl out, subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars and share your review. Also don't forget to follow us on Twitter at Ellevate Ntwk, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member, you can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website,, that's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller, she rocks, and to our voice-over artist Rachel Griesinger, thanks so much and join us next week.


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