Brenda Rothwell’s work encompasses community development efforts across all levels of society. Her leadership efforts include fundraising and volunteerism across a spectrum of areas from President of St. Monica’s PTA to Senior Fundraiser with Queensway-Carleton Hospital; from Board Member serving the Ottawa Mission to Board Member serving the Peter Clark Long Term Care Centre.
Ms. Rothwell’s board governance skills and fundraising efforts have raised millions of dollars for important causes, including thousands of bursaries for her alma mater Algonquin College. With a deep history in capital campaign fundraising, public speaking, and the ability to translate passion for good causes into group motivation, she currently serves as the Executive Director of the Algonquin College Foundation.
How many years have you been involved in fundraising?
I have been in the field for twenty-two years.
Why are you involved in fundraising?
I love people coming together to support passionate causes — which often also results in strengthening communities.
In your opinion, what has been the biggest influence or change in the fundraising profession since you started your career?
The emphasis on leadership gifts has transformed fundraising goals.
What most concerns you about the fundraising profession?
I worry that seasoned fundraisers are not taking the time to mentor those starting out in fundraising. I was fortunate to have wonderful mentors to inspire and guide me throughout my career and I take mentoring seriously.
If you could change one thing about the fundraising profession, what would it be?
I hope that the trend of fundraisers annually switching jobs changes. This trend results in some donors believing fundraisers are not loyal and can cause donors to disrespect our profession.
In your opinion, are donors different today, making “the ask” more strategic or different and affecting how you prepare and conduct your work?
With an emphasis on major gifts, donors are very informed with their charity selection. Donors conduct research on the charity so the donors know emphatically that their donations will go to the areas directed. Donors are also interested in knowing how much of their donation goes to administrative costs. When meeting with donors, I am aware that they already know a lot about our cause before we begin our dialogue.
What is your motto?
Each donation—small or large—is special. Some donors sacrifice just as much to give a small gift as donors who give large donations. I make a point of referencing this often in our foundation.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were younger?
There is no “perfect.” Most people face obstacles through life. The more we share our journeys the lighter the road travelled.
What has been your most memorable experience as a fundraiser?
Truly, the sum is the whole of its parts. At the start of my career, I oversaw special event management with my favourite event being Kanata Country – a large outdoor music festival attracting 2500 country fans. Then I moved into capital campaigns and my first experience was the “Hand in Hand” campaign. I relished every step of the campaign from hundreds of small donor handprints on the construction hoarding to the experience of a five million dollar gift strategy.
Who is your favourite historical figure?
Mahatma Gandhi’s power of internal strength remains a reference point to me whenever I face challenges. If you believe in yourself and want to live authentically then I think Gandhi’s exemplary life is inspirational. Gandhi's philosophy was not theoretical but one of pragmatism, that is, practicing his principles in real time. Asked to give a message to the people, he would respond, "My life is my message."
What do you hope to do that you haven’t done yet?
In the area of charitable work, I look forward to volunteering in the area of literacy. I can’t believe the number of Canadian adults who are illiterate. The skill of literacy opens so many doors. I hope to help open these doors some day.
The Association of Fundraising Professionals Fundraiser of the Year Award is given annually by the Ottawa Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. It recognizes a resident of the National Capital Region who, as a fundraising professional, is judged to be an exemplary fundraising executive and a leader among professional peers.