Inside Track: Marriage leads to career break
Wife’s encouragement, support gives Keith Hopkins confidence to start his own fundraising firm.
During his two-decade career in fundraising, Keith Hopkins has had a hand in more than 175 campaigns, most of them in the West Michigan region.
Hopkins has worked on campaigns ranging from less than $1 million all the way up to $100 million.
He has worked with Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, Family Promise, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Salvation Army and Kalamazoo Civic Theater — to name a small handful.
He recently worked on the $7.5 million West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology “Leave Your Mark” campaign, which once fully funded will allow the organization to purchase and relocate to the fourth floor of a new building being constructed on Grand Rapids’ West Side at First Street and Seward Avenue NW.
Hopkins said he typically works on eight to 10 campaigns each year.
This month, he is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Hopkins Fundraising Consulting, the firm he started after deciding it was time to go out on his own.
Hopkins began his career in education, teaching at Grand Rapids Community College for four years and then at Heartland Community College in Illinois for another four years, before joining Monaghan Associates, a fundraising firm in Grand Rapids.
He said he spent the initial years at Monaghan Associates learning from the firm’s seasoned fundraisers: Tom Monaghan, Bill Schmiedicke and Roger Krahn.
“They each taught me how to run campaigns,” he said. “I mean major nonprofit fundraising campaigns, multimillion-dollar efforts.”
He said all three of his mentors excelled in different aspects of fundraising, and he was lucky to be able to learn different skill sets from each of them.
“I was so blessed to be around those guys with different skill sets who were willing to teach me how to do this work,” he said. “Slowly, they began to turn campaigns over to me.”
He said the first major campaign he worked on was a multimillion-dollar campaign for the Wyoming Public Library.
“They wanted to renovate the library and enhance its children’s area,” he said. “It was my first introduction to community campaigns.”
When Hopkins was presented with the opportunity to become an investor in the firm, he said he decided to instead set out on his own.
“My kids were really young, and I would have had to come up with quite a bit of money to invest,” he explained. “I talked with my wife, and we decided to bet on ourselves instead.”
When explaining what he considers his biggest career break, Hopkins responded with an unconventional answer, “marrying my wife.”
But he said it really was a decision that has impacted his career, because he never would have had the courage to strike out on his own while raising two young kids without his wife’s encouragement and support.
“At the time, my daughter was 12 and my son was 7, and starting a business is a big risk and you have to have a spouse who’s behind you,” he said. “Her faith and support are an incredible gift.”
In the initial years of building his business, Hopkins ran four to five campaigns annually. He said most of his business came through word-of-mouth advertising.
One of the biggest challenges he faced was the 2008-09 recession, which hit Michigan hard, but he said in the end, he found recessions aren’t necessarily the worst time to run a fundraising campaign.
“During a recession, there can be less competition for fundraising,” he said.
He said one of the most common questions he gets is, “When is the best time to run a campaign?” and he’s learned “you can’t time it to an economy.”
Hopkins said in the past decade, there have been a couple of significant changes to running fundraising campaigns.
First, he said technology has changed things. For instance, he noted in the past video was not a piece of the campaign strategy, whereas today, you wouldn’t dream of launching a campaign without a video that can be shared on social media.
He also thinks virtual reality technology is poised to make an impact on fundraising.
“VR will be inexpensive, and nonprofits will be able to use it to take a donor on a virtual tour of a shelter or a day in the life of a homeless person and give donors the opportunity to see what it is like to live on the streets. That is going to open up opportunities.”
He said international organizations will be able to use VR to take donors on tours of impoverished areas across the globe and strike an emotional chord in a way not currently available.
He also said there are major generational differences nonprofits have to think about when running a campaign, which will continue to inform fundraising decisions.
“Millennials tend to want to volunteer in different ways than the baby boomers do. They want information compressed, and they don’t want to be stuck in meetings,” he said. “They like to be engaged quickly and be given a task, so they can interact. Baby Boomers tend to like to spend more time and are more civically minded around giving of their time.”
He said he thinks the difference is a reflection of busier lives, noting baby boomers often were one-income families, with one parent staying at home, while Millennials tend to have both spouses working and are sharing childcare more equitably.
But he said one thing that hasn’t changed and that will never change is the importance of relationships in fundraising.
“Fundraising is about relationships,” he said. “It’s always a people to people business. One of the No. 1 reasons people give is they give to people they like and trust.”
He said one of the biggest challenges of fundraising is getting people to part with their hard-earned money, which means they have to have a compelling reason to do it.
“Nonprofits have to make a pitch in two ways,” he said. “They have to make a good business case about why giving to their organization is a good impact for the community, and they have to show the numbers behind that, and they have to make an emotional pitch. They have to show the people story; how giving impacts lives.”
Hopkins said he sees charitable donations continuing to grow in the coming years.
“Last year in America, $373 billion was given in America to charity. That is bigger than the gross domestic product of most nations,” he said. “As a country, we give more to charity than most countries produce in goods and services.
“And the baby boomers, the single biggest generation, have a huge net worth they will be passing to the next generation. The recipients of estate gifts will have to decide what to do with it — hold onto it or give some to charity. No one wants his or her money going to Uncle Sam. I expect to see giving skyrocket with that big transfer of wealth.”
Hopkins said the biggest portion of giving comes from individuals and families.
“About 75 percent of giving is from individuals, 15-16 percent from foundations, 5-6 percent from corporations and 8-9 percent from estate gifts,” he said.
And he said Grand Rapids is a particularly generous community.