From teaching high school in a remote village in Nigeria to leading campaigns to expand a seniors and veteran’s long-term health centre in Ottawa, Daniel Clapin has built a rewarding career on the personal mandate of improving lives and contributing to the growth of the fundraising sector.
Like many of his contemporaries in the Canadian non-profit sector, Daniel Clapin did not set out to become a fundraiser. As one of five children born to a Francophone father and an Irish mother, Ottawa-raised Dan emerged from high school in 1974 with the urge, common to many young adults at that stage in life, to break out of what he knew. “I had no grand ideas that I wanted to save the world, but I did want to experience it,” he says.
As a student of Social Communications at the University of Ottawa, Dan had a plan to begin a career in media, but he really started to connect to the outside world through volunteerism and philanthropy. One year, he found himself raising money for a village in India with a group of peers. “I didn’t know anybody from India, or much about the country. All I knew was that it was for others, and it was going to do some good,” he says.
Working on the campaign ignited Dan’s interest in the developing world. Little did he know, it was the seed that would grow into a rewarding career. Rather than heading to Europe after graduation like several of his friends, Dan looked for ways to both see the world and make an impact. His research brought him to Cuso International, an organization that works to reduce poverty and inequality through the efforts of volunteers and partnerships. He requested a posting in Nigeria and soon found himself in a remote village called Darazo in Bauchi State, teaching levels 1 to 5 at Government Secondary School Darazo.
Wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, Dan very soon realized that he wasn’t a very good schoolteacher, but he found support with his colleagues. “A Nigerian teacher took me under his wing and helped me become better at the job,” he says. “I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.”
After he finished his two-year contract with Cuso, Dan travelled from Nigeria to Sudan and from there to Egypt, Israel, and parts of communist Europe. “That’s where people weren’t going, so of course that’s where I wanted to go,” he explains. “I saw hunger, poverty, and disease up close, and I started to nurture this notion of wanting to help. Coming from Canada, I realized how blessed I was. There had to be something I could do for other people. That’s where it started to work in me.”
After stops in Holland, England, Ireland, and New York, Dan arrived back in Ottawa in 1980. Infused with the idea of development, he volunteered for the local chapter of Cuso, and worked at the Cuso head office in Ottawa, later getting involved with relief efforts for the famine in Ethiopia. For a short while after working with Cuso, he took at position with Katimavik, a youth program. As a group leader, he worked with young people aged 16-21 in Ontario’s Georgian Bay area.
In parallel, more Canadian non-profits were beginning to hire fundraisers. With his few years of experience, Dan took a job as a Development Coordinator with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada in 1985 and worked there for the next five years. At the same time, he and other new fundraisers began to hold regular meetings to share knowledge and best practices. “A bunch of us were working at non-profits in isolation,” he says. “We’d get together in somebody’s basement and hold informal workshops. It was very useful to get to know others who were in the same position.”
In 1989, Dan learned about a new certificate program focused on the volunteer sector and arts management at York University. After a few years of involvement with the local grassroots network for non-profit fundraisers in Ottawa, he was pleased to find that universities were starting to offer formal educational opportunities for the sector. Dan enrolled in the program while working with the MS Society, learning from instructors and guest lecturers who worked for other significant charities.
With his new training, Dan was hired as Development Coordinator, Annual Giving at the Ottawa General Hospital Foundation in 1990, where he had a focus on direct mail. However, with advice and coaching from a colleague Jean-Louis Bouchard, Dan developed a keen interest in planned giving. From Jean-Louis, he learned about different ways of giving through estates and securities. “Jean-Louis took me under his wing and helped me along,” he says.
It wasn’t long after joining the Foundation that Dan became the Development Coordinator for Individual and Planning Giving, launching the hospital’s first planned giving program. “It was a formative time for planned giving,” Dan explains. “Here in Canada, some of the players got together to organize the Canadian Association of Gift Planners (CAGP). Jean-Louis and I started the Ottawa chapter in 1992, and it’s still going strong today.” Dan’s efforts proved successful. By the time he left the organization in 1997, he had confirmed an estimated $14 million in anticipated gifts.
The York University program that Dan completed in 1990 was an early sign that the fundraising sector was finally on the road to becoming “professionalized.” His next milestone was to join the growing ranks of fundraisers acquiring their Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification. In 1994, he achieved his credentials. “Studying for the CFRE exposed me to a wealth of resources. We had a reading list to devour; we formed study groups,” he says. “I believe getting certified was the right thing to do – not just for me, but for the sector. Accreditation was taking fundraisers out of the bake sales and bingos and into the board room.”
For several years thereafter, Dan served with his local chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives (NSFRE) which eventually transitioned into the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), where he still participates as a mentor. From the mid-to-late 1990s into the 2000s, he served the local Chapter in various capacities, including chairing the Education and Ethics Committee, and he started an initiative called CFRE Study Buddies to encourage learning between colleagues preparing for certification.
After leaving the Ottawa General Hospital Foundation in 1997, Dan became the Director of Alumni and Development for Saint Paul University, where he focused on major gifts and planned giving, also working with the University’s Rector and Campaign Cabinet to raise more than $6.7 million for a specific campaign. “It was an exciting time for me. At work, we introduced a donor recognition program. We raised funds for bursaries, endowments, and a few endowed Chairs. And everywhere I worked over the years, I hosted AFP or CAGP meetings. It was good to see the sector growing.”
For the new millennium, Dan set a personal goal to work towards the Advanced CFRE credential, which signifies a mastery of professional standards in leadership, management, and ethics at an advanced level of practice. “This was my new grand adventure,” he says. In 2002, Dan received his ACFRE, becoming the third in Canada to achieve the credential. “It was a milestone for me in terms of learning,” he says.
In 2011, Dan began to feel like it was time to move on from Saint Paul University. “When you’re too comfortable, that’s the time to make a change,” he explains. At the same time, Dan’s parents were beginning to show signs of age. His mother had early signs of dementia, and his stepfather was fighting prostate cancer. While he was touring long-term care centres with his parents, a new position came up at The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre Foundation in Ottawa. “My father was a veteran, and so was my stepfather. I had an understanding of veterans’ issues and caring for aging parents,” Dan says. “When I got wind of the job, it seemed like the moon and stars had aligned. I knew I had to apply and it worked out.”
Dan became the Foundation’s Executive Director, and to this day, he’s been delighted with his choice. “The Perley Rideau is a beautiful place to work with Canadians who defended our country. The stories are phenomenal here,” he says. The long-term vision for the Health Centre is to become a Centre of Excellence in Frailty Informed Care. Over the years, Dan and his team have helped the Health Centre work toward that vision, as well as establishing annual resident priority needs lists to help donors more easily identify opportunities to make a difference.
Looking back at his career, Dan says the Perley Rideau is the right place to bring it to a close. “Life is many things, not just work – it’s important to bring balance to your home-life and your job,” he says. However, he’s not quite ready to commit to retirement. “I’m still excited to get into the office every morning. This work brings me great joy and I like to think I’m impacting the lives of others,” he says.
From the young man with an urge to make an impact in developing countries to the many roads along the way, Dan somehow became a professional fundraiser and hasn’t looked back. “I’ve never found it a challenge to ask others to help,” he says. “I’ve spent a career hearing no, but the yesses are beautiful and they keep me going.”
Daniel Clapin: Three Things Every New Fundraiser Should Know
- Learn to say thank you. “It’s the least expensive and most efficient form of fundraising. Just say it! Pick up the phone and say it. Write a little note. Say thank you to staff, donors, etc. It will all come back in spades.”
- Know who you are fundraising for. “You’ve got to feel it in your heart for others to hear the pulse. Get out of the office. Understand needs and wants. Participate in activities. Be present, understand. Here at the Perley Rideau, I go through the halls and say hello. I’m a storyteller! I can’t tell the stories if I don’t know the stories. Take time to listen and learn.”
- There are no shortcuts in fundraising. “Follow the rhythm of the gift. Results are not always as quick as you might think. The donor is taking the lead; you’re following.”
- Pay it forward! “If you reach out and others have helped you, remember that lesson learned and give back to the community. It’s good karma.”
For more about Dan’s continuing work to build and grow the sector, please see The Goldie Company’s Winter 2018 newsletter (PDF).