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Do You Know Debbie Miller?

March 2nd, 2010 Posted in In The Spotlight

Debbie Miller


Debbie Miller began her career in development research in 1987, working at her alma mater Virginia Tech. In 2003, she took the position of Director of Prospect Development with the global charity The Nature Conservancy, one of the world’s largest non-profits. There, she led research efforts on a multibillion-dollar fundraising campaign, one of the largest ever undertaken by any charity. During this time, Miller has also had a thriving career as a consultant and public speaker, and recently formed a new consulting firm, Philanthropy Inc., to bring her innovative principles and techniques to a wider range of clients.





You were at Virginia Tech for more than 15 years. What changes did you witness in development research?

The field really underwent a sea-change. When I began, the technology revolution hadn’t arrived at our development departments.  Our efforts were hands-on and low-tech.  We read newspapers and magazines for stories about Tech alumni. We spent countless hours in the library. By the early 1990’s technology revolutionized our work.  Public data such as real estate records or SEC filings become available to us digitally.  The university began to keep vast, detailed digital records on alumni.  New screening and research tools allowed comparison and matching of our database with public records highlighting the best potential donors for additional research and eventual solicitation.  Rather than following best practices, we were creating them.

You went from Virginia Tech to The Nature Conservancy.  Was it a big change?

The fundraising strategies at universities differ with those of other non-profits.  Universities pursue their alumni – a support base with strong ties to the organization.  Solicitations can be very natural within these relationships.  At a large non-profit like The Nature Conservancy, you can have millions of donors.  While people may have given to your charity, even large donations, you have little information where you rank on their “cause” list. With a high-net-worth individual, they may give to dozens or hundreds of non-profit organizations. And you don’t have the same familiarity universities have with their alumni.  Relationships are the key to access in the non-profit world, so we carried out extensive relationship mapping projects, finding shared board memberships, business interests and the like which would allow us to gain access to existing donors and increase their involvement with our organization.  The scope of our donor base made database mining, screening and other tools much more expensive, thought still a necessity.

What new trends are you seeing in the industry?

The greatest potential for philanthropy exists in the developing world. In the past, the majority of funds raised for projects overseas came from the United States. Within five years, the Asia-Pacific region will surpass North America as the wealthiest region in the world and will become home to the most high-net-worth individuals. These wealthy people are younger and have a greater interest in global philanthropy. Increase the philanthropic infrastructure in these countries and the number of trained fundraising professionals and the potential for successful global fundraising becomes clear and very exciting.

What do you hope to achieve at Philanthropy Inc?

Philanthropy Inc. is dedicated to the business of fundraising.  By placing a focus on analyzing your data and its potential, and by utilizing tools and services from for-profit partners like Brian Lacy and Associates, we assist clients in raising more support.  We bring a professional business perspective and responsible solutions to the challenges you face.



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