What’s the secret to an exciting career in planned giving? In Paul Nazareth’s case, it’s a healthy dose of curiosity, a desire to help charities do more, and a natural aversion to chocolate almonds.
When Paul Nazareth remembers his early experiences with charity, he has visions of long days collecting clothing with church and selling chocolate almonds with friends. “Frankly, I didn’t enjoy it,” he admits. “But I knew it helped us to do good work.”
As a student at University of Toronto in the late 1990s, Paul mastered his “anti-chocolate almond” approach to fundraising while volunteering at the school’s call centre, making it work in his favour. “I could explain to people on the phone that we both didn’t want to make or take these calls, but fellow students needed their help and they could make a difference in a way they wished someone had made for them. It proved to be a successful method. I raised thousands this way and the university asked me back to run a team of fellow volunteers.”
Though he had begun to realize that fundraising came naturally, he was relieved when his mentor told him about a sub-sector that shifted the focus from the charity’s needs to the donor’s desire to make change and give back. “That’s when I learned about planned giving,” he says. “After I realized it was all about the donor’s story and the expression of powerful inspiration and gratitude, I fell in love.”
His studies at University weren’t leading him to the possible teaching position he had originally intended, so Paul left school and a job in advertising and took his first position at Scarboro Missions to learn the ropes and best practices of planned giving. “This is where I learned to have conversations with donors about life and its purpose,” he says. “I found that serving donors and helping them tell their story of hope and gratitude through giving really empowered them. Their gift is a testament to their values, and that’s a very special thing to witness.”
After a few years with the missions, Paul had a desire to further hone his skills, so he returned to his alma mater under the tutelage of a strategic leader and a planned giving department that was very strong in procedure and process. “Here I learned many of the finer details and the value of collaboration in a big shop,” he says.
It was a dream come true, he says, to be part of this dynamic workplace. “Every day somebody at U of T is changing the world. That’s what drives major gifts. But it was also a great opportunity to give back to the institution where my whole life started. This is where I found my profession and met my spouse,” Paul explains. “In this position, I met and worked with several donors who had similar stories. I realized that these ‘magic moments’ are what drive planned giving. Ultimately, these gifts are an expression of love – intellectual or personal.”
A practising and active Catholic, Paul calls his next career move, working for the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, his “absolute life dream job.” Here, he worked with a team on a planned giving program that strived to evolve the organization’s core revenue model – passing baskets during church services. The goal was to first thank and steward donors, then to engage at a more strategic level of fundraising into major and planned giving.
In this role, Paul was part of a team that served more than 225 churches and one million donors. It involved hundreds of donor visits and several dozen presentations a year to more than 100,000 people on church boards, finance teams and on weekends at services. “Fundraising is half asking, but mostly really serving people,” he says. “Many of the parishioners at these Churches had already figured out they were going to give, but helping them to craft the gift for maximum community impact and personal tax savings was where the challenge and professional engagement really intersected.”
After almost six years, Paul moved from church pews to an office tower high up on Bay Street to get a new perspective. He joined a team managing private foundations and working with a fairly new charitable strategy: donor-advised funds. “From the other side, charity can be very one-dimensional. Though a trust company mirrors planned giving strategy, it gives people added flexibility when they work with wills and bequests,” he says. Here Paul worked with Malcolm Burrows, one of Canada’s most well-known philanthropic planners, who was already a long-time mentor. “Malcolm is a brilliant professional who deeply understands the tax that advises the head, but also the philosophy of philanthropy that moves the heart.”
As time went on, however, Paul felt like his cubicle was getting smaller and smaller. “Working up there in the sky, I almost believed that I could free myself of chocolate almonds,” he says. But sitting on a few charity boards he was reminded (mostly by mentors who were younger than him) that giving needs to be connected to the grass-roots to stay honest. “I needed to get back to the roots of why people give.”
It was around this time that Paul began experimenting with digital and social media, and developed a growing curiosity for how the internet would fit into the future of fundraising. When he learned that CanadaHelps had hired a highly successful CEO and e-commerce expert to bring new momentum to the constantly growing online platform, Paul knew his interests were about to collide yet again. “This was my chance to come back to the sector while learning both from experts inside his team and back on the ground from small charities who work hard raising money each and every day,” he says.
At CanadaHelps, Paul has learned that while the fundraising sector moved slowly to adopt technology, the internet has changed everything. “We have donors who care and want to give, but we still have charities that close their offices on Christmas Eve and don’t open again until January 2,” he says. “It’s like a flower shop closing on Valentine’s Day! Donors of all ages are online now. They give hundreds of millions of dollars, and many small charities have fallen behind. It’s a pleasure and honour to be part of a team who works hard to democratize access to technology for charities who dedicate their lives for a cause.”
Paul shares that there is now a very large education and technology deficit in the charitable sector. Canadian charities are well-meaning and passionate, but they have little money for training and professional development. As Vice President of Community Engagement, one of his most important tasks is to spread the word. “CanadaHelps now serves more than 16,000 charities and is one of the country’s most-used online giving platforms. I work with small to medium-sized organizations to help them understand how to raise funds online, and how today online platforms account for more than just $20 gifts,” he says.
Paul’s values and ambition brought him to his current role at CanadaHelps and back to the roots of giving. “Life has a weird way of moving in circles,” he says. Not only has he returned to smaller charities, he also found an organization that started where he did: in a church pew.
He explains: “Back in 1999, some very smart young students sitting in a church pew thought of a better way to ‘pass the basket’ and make the most of the congregation’s spirit of giving. They decided to build a website with a shared platform that every charity could use.” CanadaHelps was not started in just any church pew. Those students were attended the same church Paul attended and he was the spiritual confirmation sponsor to one of them. Both were inspired by outdated fundraising methods and started on a path to be part of the solution.
For Paul, this shared focus is part of his mission as a planned giving professional. Not only does he continue to test the limits of technology for charities, he does it with a specific purpose in mind. “No matter what tool I use, it’s always just a mechanism. The real work is helping people connect to what they love and cherish, and helping them share their testament – whatever cause they care for.”
Paul Nazareth: Five Things Every Fundraiser Should Know
- It’s important to volunteer. “A lot of us as practitioners get focused on the side of the cause where we work. Volunteering in roles opposite to your job, board roles, for instance, can provide a lot of insight.”
- Charity no longer has the market cornered on saving the world. “Charities have to be aware about what’s happening with corporations looking to make direct impact, as well as social enterprise and social finance organizations that are now playing in our sandbox.”
- You should always work your network. “This is a cyclical sector, but people tend to forget about networking until they need it. That’s like not looking for a parachute until somebody’s tossed you out of the plane! Spend time networking, always. It’s more than career development.”
- Be the donor you wish you had. “Fundraisers often complain that donors don’t talk about their giving. I think it’s critical for fundraisers to publicly disclose their gifts and bequests, and regularly drop in on charities they love. Try to be that donor, that board member, and that volunteer, you wish the world had more of.”
- Whatever your job is now, be curious about the future. “Follow and feed your curiosity daily. Push outside the boundaries of ‘your job’ to a pure place that engages you. Often times you will find that where your brain is engaged will soon become what makes you most employable.”