Fundraising belongs in the same category as sales. Engaging with a potential donor to address their philanthropic needs is equivalent to pitching a product which will fulfill a prospective customer’s desires. Anyway, that’s how Mike Fiterman, ’70 BSB, sees it—and he’s in a good position to know.
Fiterman is a member of the University of Minnesota Foundation Board and during his term as chair, the Foundation raised more than $300 million each year toward a $4 billion campaign. He is also chairman and CEO of Liberty Diversified International, a now fourth-generation family business that specializes in the manufacture of corrugated shipping container components, office supplies, and building materials.
But for Fiterman and his wife, Linda, their passion is in charitable causes. They’ve worked with Children’s Hospital, United Way, various Jewish causes in the community, and other fundraising events too numerous to name. “Both Linda and I have the privilege of working with great, dedicated, and passionate fundraising people,” he says. The challenge is to keep up with the massive future demand for charitable giving.
Where is the next generation of professional fundraisers? Pondering this question gave the Fitermans an idea. “We wanted to earmark a specialty within a student’s background,” he says. “Many young students want to go into non-profit… (and) there are a few schools that have a fundraising curriculum, but Minnesota didn’t.”
As alumni of the University with a daughter who is also a Carlson MBA alumna, the Fitermans felt the Carlson School would be the best home for a fundraising program. “It was essential that fundraising development be in the business school,” he says. Fundraising is key to any organization’s sustainability. So, through the generous support of the Fitermans, a fundraising program is now a reality at the Carlson School with a new class dedicated to the topic and a new scholarship program for students majoring in nonprofit management.
Philanthropy and Professional Fundraising Strategy
The idea of adding the fundraising topic to the curriculum first came up two summers ago. Anne Cohen, senior lecturer and faculty advisor for the public and nonprofit management program, was notified that there was a donor interested in developing top-notch professional fundraisers.
When asked whether there would be an interest, she pitched the idea to her students. Their response was overwhelmingly positive. “Students were saying ‘we understand how important this function is… we see that building these relationships takes skill… we would definitely like to take this class,’” she says. So Cohen went ahead getting it developed and approved.
The class, Philanthropy and Professional Fundraising Strategy, begins this spring. The course delves into strategy from both donor and nonprofit perspectives. “It’s a seven-week class and fairly intensive,” she says. “Students are going to do a project with a real nonprofit to help it build its fundraising strategy.”
An extra perk of the program is that students will learn from professionals in the field. The Fitermans had requested that guest speakers be an integral part of the class. “We wanted (students to understand the) officers’ standpoint and what they learned during the course of their career,” Fiterman says.
Senior Katy Putzker is one of the inaugural recipients of the Fiterman Scholarship for nonprofit management majors. She first heard about the major through a course that asked her to look at what she enjoyed doing most to help her figure out what to do professionally. “I had an ‘ah ha’ moment and am so thankful that the U offers a nonprofit management path as an undergraduate,” she says. “My second major is marketing. I hope to work for a nonprofit in marketing and fundraising in the future.”
Putzker is not only receiving a financial scholarship courtesy of the Fitermans, but is also being directly mentored by Mr. Fiterman. “Mike’s mentorship is definitely helping me realize my career goals and explore exactly where I want to be,” she says. “He and Linda are so generous and are willing to work with me in order to help me get to where I want to be professionally. For me, it really isn’t about the financial support. Mike and Linda have made it so much more and have been there to support me and help me continue to realize my future dreams.”
Another scholarship recipient, Lauren Hepburn, is a junior finance and public and nonprofit management major with a minor in business law. She came to her major in a roundabout way as her sights were first set on sports management before she discovered her true passion. “I knew I wanted to work in a business environment, but learning about corporate social responsibility in an ethics class reinforced my desire to make philanthropy and social service a part of my professional life,” she says. “Going forward, I want to work in consulting because it appeals to my big-picture perspective and ‘fixer’ mentality. The most ideal version of that would be consulting for nonprofit organizations to help them fundraise effectively and structure themselves as sustainable as possible.”
As a Fiterman Scholar, her dream is one step closer to reality. “A large part of my college experience is my sorority, Alpha Chi Omega. That’s where I’ve received a lot of my experience with nonprofit organizations and fundraising, as well as support in a million other ways,” she says. “To pay for tuition, rent, dues, and expenses, I work year round. The support I receive from the Fitermans gives me more breathing room. I can focus on jobs that are interesting and great experiences, and money doesn’t have to be the deciding factor.”
Hepburn says other potential donors can look to the Fitermans as an example. “They identified an opportunity for change and used their resources to encourage that change,” she says. “Their goal is to encourage Carlson School students to work in fundraising and nonprofits, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
For the Fitermans, there is a satisfaction in giving back. “Those of us who have been given great blessings also have great responsibilities. But it also gives us a great pleasure to give to others so someday they have that opportunity to pass that give on,” Fiterman says. “The reason that it’s fun to give back is we know the dollars will be well shepherded. The University of Minnesota is one of the greatest institutions to invest in because it is an investment in our future. When you give to the U, you give to what our future is going to look like.”