Fundraising with Joy Interview – Chris Pipkins

Chris Pipkins, Associate Vice President, Advancement Information Systems, James Madison University

Chris headshotYou have probably had the experience of connecting with someone and thinking they are a kindred spirit. I had that moment with Chris a couple of years back after an inspiring conversation about leadership. Chris heads up a large Advancement Information Services team with the aim of providing intelligent information that helps the university make intelligent decisions that advance the institution. I am inspired by his commitment to self awareness and decision-making that is rooted in his core values. On top of that he has an amazing sense of humour. Chris often presents on topics such as campaigns, campaign reporting, prospect management and prospect pool analysis. He brings these topics to life and being in the audience for one of his presentations is a joyous experience. He is a committed to being a leader in our sector and has offered his talents through many volunteer roles. Active with APRA, he served on the curriculum committee for the 2006, 2007, 2011 international conferences and served on the editorial board for APRA’s professional journal, Connections.

Janice: What made you choose a career in the social profit sector?
Desperation and need of a steady pay check. I have two degrees in English Literature. To stay in higher education, my options were get a PhD or get gainfully employed. Susan Jaros, then Assistant Vice President for Development, and Carla Howard, then the director of prospect research, at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH decided to take a gamble on me.

What keeps me in this professional space are several things: our profession is still new enough to hire inexperienced people and let them make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes go by the name of innovation, sometime by the name of discovery or experimentation. The professional “margin of opportunity” is fairly high. I find that margin to be liberating. Second, we are collaborative. In the past 16 years, I’ve worked with many folks who worked in the for-profit sector and are amazed (sometimes perplexed to a chuckle) that we share information across the institution and across other institutions. This “abundance model” of information and resources makes work a little nicer and continues to inspire me. It has also led me to some valuable personal relationships. Colleagues are now friends.

Janice: What does philanthropy mean to you? Has your definition changed over time?
Katherine Hepburn is quoted saying “love has nothing to do with what you expect to get; it has only to do with what you expect to give.” Philanthropy is an expression of love. This expression has changed over the years from a purely altruistic social responsibility –“because so much has been given me.” – to something more passion centered –“what human problems inspire me to solve them”? At its core though is a joy at doing something for another person or persons. There is a barrier to entry in charitable giving—no one wants to part with her/his money or time. Yet, it seems that we find a joy that cannot be replicated with acts of consumption.

Janice: How does your organization’s mission connect to your personal values?
James Madison University educates undergraduates. It brings the benefits of a large, comprehensive state university and the one-on-one faculty-student interaction of a small liberal arts college. As it is a public university with some regional academic renown and one geared towards undergraduates and their experience, JMU provides an elite education to a non-elite demographic. I like that JMU provides opportunity for the underdog. Our mascot is a bull dog, too.

Janice: What brings you the most joy in your work?
Joy beams when a co-worker or staff member realizes her or his potential. I enjoy completing meaningful projects that help the institution, whether it be preparing a gift pyramid that generates important strategy questions for academic and advancement leadership or an information project that helps development connect alumni with meaningful giving opportunities at their alma mater.

Janice: Your job focuses on cultivating relationships and supporting others, what do you do to recharge your batteries?
Honestly, going to conferences such as APRA, AASP or CASE recharge my batteries because I get to have constructive and well lubricated conversations with smart colleagues from other institutions.

Outside of work, I like to read, swim, work in the yard, watch compelling television or movies and spend time with my family and friends.

Janice: Research shows that philanthropy and volunteerism are proven ways to increase happiness. How have you experienced this in your work and life?
JMU’s Community Service Learning department cites a study that says it takes approximately 5 years for a person to establish enough roots to feel a sense of belonging in a community. When we look at much of the new research on attachment, we see that humans are designed more to bond than to compete. Philanthropy and volunteerism are essential expressions of the human being’s innate desire to bond and belong. I experience this happiness serving on task forces and committees or as faculty for APRA and CASE. In my church, the experience with Christ is made greater because I volunteer to participate in the liturgical as well as on the administrative side of the parish. The professional and personal volunteer activities re-charge me precisely when I don’t want to go to another meeting or take another phone call. In fulfilling the obligation, I am frequently and pleasantly pulled out of my desire to relax and pulled towards the reminder of connectedness. That surprise or pleasant reminder is remarkably re-affirming, sometimes fun and laughter-filled, other times liberating because it expands my thoughts.

Janice: Our work in the social profit sector allows us to make a contribution. What is the lasting impact you want to make during your career?
I’d like to be nice to people and leave a room or a meeting better off than when it started.

© 2013, Janice Cunning. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this posting if you include my contact information. Please contact me if you wish to reprint any portion of it in any periodical or on a website

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About Janice Cunning

As a certified coach and fundraiser, I am passionate about partnering with people and teams to increase their personal and professional Joy Quota.

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