The Goldie Company

Parley: August 2015 — Accidental Fundraiser Jean Crawford

Jean Chambers

Drive to Evolve: Jean Crawford made a career of making transitions, but her passion for fundraising has always remained front and centre.

Jean Crawford has always liked people. Before she had children, she worked in public relations, making the most of her interest in communicating and relationships. When her second child started school, however, she decided it was time to go back to work. In her search for a new job, she came across an advertisement for a position as a Development Officer at McMaster University, and very shortly she was knee-deep in her first capital campaign. “That’s where I learned the fundamentals,” she says.

Working in a sector that values relationships appealed to Jean. After McMaster, she became the first president of Hamilton Civic Hospital’s newly formed foundation.

“At this point, my career started to become very exciting,” she says. At the time, hospitals in Ontario were very new to fundraising campaigns. Government had, by and large, funded most capital projects, but now hospitals were being asked to appeal to communities to raise a portion of those costs. This shift meant fundraisers had to learn a lot, and quickly, prompting Jean and many of her peers, including veteran fundraisers Dan King, Judy Angel, and Gord Durnan, and Carol Oliver to meet, share knowledge, and collaborate.

“It was a wonderful time for learning and sharing,” Jean says. “We were all in the same boat—and remember there was no internet, barely fax machines—so we gathered frequently to discuss our challenges together.”

Recognizing the importance of professional development, the hospital regularly sent Jean to the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) conference in the United States. “The American fundraisers had very well-developed materials by that point,” she says. “Many of us went to courses during the summer and we were among the first Canadians to gain our professional certification.”

That small group of peers saw the value in education—not only for themselves, but also for their board members, volunteers, and other stakeholders. “Many people still felt that funding hospitals should be the government’s responsibility,” Jean says. “We had to help them understand why we needed to do it, and how we were going to do it.” They started the Canadian chapter of the AHP.

For Jean, the demand for organization-wide education on philanthropy presented an opportunity. After her time at the hospital foundation, she started a small consulting firm from her home that focused on fundraising consulting and helping organizations and boards understand their roles in the fundraising process. “People had the idea that fundraisers were magicians, and that hiring one would solve all of their organization’s funding challenges. That simply wasn’t—and isn’t—the case!” she says.

After a successful few years, Jean decided to return to an organization, spending some time with the Toronto East General Hospital before landing at the Canadian Diabetes Association. “It was an entirely new experience for me,” she says. “The national structure was challenging, and more and more organizations had begun to compete for donations.” Technology had also become more advanced, though it was still quite expensive for most organizations.

Jean didn’t stay long at the association—she was fired, she admits. “It stopped me short, but I came to understand that you learn from your failures as well as your successes.” This brief pause in her career gave Jean an opportunity to think about the changes she was seeing in the sector. The industry had come a long way in a short time: more and more people were needed to fulfill a growing demand, and, due to her extensive network, Jean found herself being contacted by organizations and executive search firms on a frequent basis.

That sparked an idea. She decided to combine her professional credentials, industry knowledge, and people skills with her valuable network to form a boutique search firm specializing in non-profit organizations. In 1996, she launched crawfordconnect.

Starting a new firm was daunting, Jean says, but she knew could do it. “People were at sea; they needed us!” She started letting people know that she could help them hire. After a year on her own, she recruited friends, all former fundraisers, and together they built a successful company—and continued to share what they learned with the flourishing sector through courses, speaking engagements, and publications. “Sharing knowledge was a big part of our philosophy,” she says.

Another of the company’s strengths was supporting professionals and organizations with career transitions. As somebody who made a number of successful career transitions, Jean was uniquely suited for this work. “Many skills can be adapted from one field to another,” she says. In the early 2000s, her company worked with many corporate leaders who were migrating to non-profit organizations. “They felt they could apply their business skills and solve all of the challenges, but they didn’t stop to consider the significant differences between the two worlds,” she says. Taking an idea from her past, Jean offered a transition program and began a peer group for these leaders so they could discuss common issues and learn from each other.

Though she has parleyed her skills into a number of careers, Jean has kept the lessons she learned from fundraising the central theme. “For me, it was always stimulating – we were always learning, speaking, and enjoying genuine camaraderie. Even today, my best friends are fellow fundraisers I met during my career.” 

Now retired, Jean coaches people on their interview skills and supports them as they make career transitions. In the past she served on the advisory committee of the MBA/MPA non-profit management and leadership program of the Schulich School of Business as well as Imagine Canada, the Trillium Foundation and many industry associations. In 2004, she received Fellow for Life designation from the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy. She continues to be a volunteer as a Gallery Guide at the Art Gallery of Ontario and fundraises for the Parkinson’s Society.

Jean maintains that fundraising can offer a new perspective on doing business. “You know that you’re contributing to the betterment of the world, and people are truly at their best when they bring that mentality to the work. It’s nice to see that side of the world.”

Jean Crawford: Three Things Every Fundraiser Should Know

We asked Jean to share some wisdom she learned during her career. Here’s what she told us:

  1. Be forthright and honest with people. “Being in the fundraising profession is a tremendous responsibility. When you ask somebody to give their money for a cause, you’re also giving them the promise that you’ll use it how you say you’ll use it.”
  2. Keep learning. “Don’t stop educating yourself. The basic principles don’t change, but there are always opportunities to learn something new.”
  3. Maintain a good work-life balance. “Look after yourself so you can look after your organization,” Jean says. “You can only bring energy into the room if you’re feeling great