Carrying the Tune: How tenor David Chambers hit the right notes as a fundraiser.
As a child and adult, David Chambers has sung in church, school and community choirs all his life. He has always been awed and appreciative of the mysteries of music that can transform performers and listeners in a unique and profound manner.
Growing up in Hamilton, his parents provided him a core set of values that convinced him he needed to contribute to the world, rather than take from it.
After three years studying business and commerce at McMaster University, David decided that path wasn’t for him. As he considered what was next for him, he took a year to travel to England and Scotland, taking on various jobs as he visited different parts of each country–even joining an archaeological dig in Yorkshire. “There’s something to educating oneself through travel,” he says. “I met some fascinating and wonderful people from all walks of life.”
When he returned to Canada in 1975, David brought his love of singing to the tenor section of the Bach Elgar Choir. Not long after he joined, a new conductor arrived, bringing big ideas to the Hamilton institution. One of the ideas included forming a smaller touring group: the Bach Elgar Singers. At the same time, the Choir developed a subscription series and performed regularly at Hamilton Place. The Choir’s new direction meant the group needed more support. “They needed somebody to manage operations, so I took the role,” he says. ”It turned out to be 80% fundraising and away I went down the fundraising path.”
Securing financial support soon became the focus of David’s job. At the time, fundraising wasn’t exactly a career option in Canada and so, like many people who found themselves in this position, he began a self-taught, learning by experience and absorbing strategies from others who were successful in fundraising. A few years later, he made the conscious decision to pursue it as a career path when he joined the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as its director of fundraising. “It felt like I’d gone from triple-A baseball to Yankee Stadium,” David says. ”Now I would say the Rogers Centre.”
Despite the TSO’s size, he says, the fundamentals he learned during his time with the choir were transferable.
David stayed with the TSO through some major shifts in the organization, including its historic move from Massey Hall to Roy Thomson Hall.
After a few years, fundraising consultant guru Gordon Goldie asked if David would join his firm—and he did, starting with a national program for the Canadian Red Cross. Throughout the years, he worked on many more campaigns–mostly with hospitals and universities throughout southern Ontario. Some of his most memorable projects included raising funds for a restoration campaign for the Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton, and raising funds for the founding of a new Sir Wilfrid Laurier University campus in Brantford. He also spent time working on campaigns for Princess Margaret Hospital, and hospitals in London and Sarnia.
The joy of fundraising for David in consulting was meeting people who were committed to making things happen, feeling like part of their team, and contributing to their success. “Particularly rewarding is conveying and communicating the real scenario to eager people and keeping them on track for achievable goals rather than them jumping into the deep end and then finding themselves stalled.”
When Gordon announced his retirement, David and other partners made a decision to buy the company and continue their good work. For many years, David served as president and senior partner, eventually inviting George Stanois, the company’s current owner, to the table as a partner.
After some time, David felt it was time to try something new. “I needed to recharge my batteries,” he says. David and George parted ways amicably, and David sought his next chapter in life.
In 2005, he accepted the position of director of fundraising at Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, eventually becoming president of the Durham College Foundation and associate vice-president of the Office of Development. Under his leadership, the foundation has raised $21 million over the last five years, primarily for the renewal of the college’s Whitby campus, which has a forward-looking focus on “green” skilled trades. During the same time, the Durham College Foundation’s endowment fund has grown substantially–from $8 million in 2008 to $16 million in 2015.
David Chambers: Five Things Every Fundraiser Should Know
We asked David to share some wisdom he learned during his career. Here’s what he told us:
- First and foremost, maintain your integrity and be honest – always, no exceptions. “That’s the foundation of trust,” David says.
- If you don’t believe in something, you’ll fall for everything.
- Everybody has a tough call to make, but when you make it, you’re better for it.
- Flexibility is the key to success.
- Be patient, kind to others, and keep a sense of humour.
Though he has spent a large portion of his professional life raising funds, David’s philanthropy work extends well beyond the work day. Currently, he is a member of the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education, as well as the Council for Advancement and Support of Education based in the United States. Actively involved in the community, David previously served on the boards of the Certified Fund Raising Executive program – Toronto chapter, the Canadian Opera Children’s Chorus, the Board of Managers at Central Presbyterian, and volunteered for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
As David prepares to retire from Durham College after 40 years as a fundraiser, he looks back on his conscious decision to choose fundraising fondly. “What made me interested in the first place still holds true,” he says.
Fundraising also supports David’s fundamental objective, which goes back to his days as a young man in singing in church. “In all modesty, I wanted to try to see what I could do to help people less fortunate than myself and to make this world just a little bit better place.”
What’s next for David? “My plan is somewhat similar to a musical composition,” he says. “I’ve been playing and performing a lot, and now it’s time for a number of bars of rest. It’s a time to take stock, and decide what I want to do next. Whatever lies head, I hope to continue to contribute and have a positive impact.”