Catherine Fox

Forming Personal Connections

Recorded: March 11, 2014

Being a fundraiser is a wonderful way to establish meaningful relationships with people. Catherine Fox began her career in fundraising in the late 1970s and shares her insight into the field of nonprofit fundraising. Catherine talks about the importance of establishing personal connections with philanthropists as a way to help them understand and support relevant programs. She also talks about ways fundraising is changing and how we might adapt.

Catherine Fox’s career in fundraising launched in 1977 when she became Executive Director of Friends of the River.  Catherine has gone on to building relationships that have helped to support the Sierra Club, the Trust for Public Land, The Environmental Support Center, Save-the-Redwoods League, the Wilderness Society and Save the Bay. She has served on the boards of numerous foundations and currently is a Member of the Board of Directors for Bay Nature, in Berkeley California. She has degrees from Santa Clara University and San Francisco State University.


Catherine Fox:    One of my very first fundraising experiences that was so positive and actually stayed with me for decades was when Friends of the River got its first 1,000 dollar check in the mail.  And in 1978, that was huge because nobody was even getting paid salary then, you could just get reimbursed for gas. And it came from a man in Los Gatos.  I was the fundraising director, an executive director of the foundation, and I thought, “Well, I don’t know how this is.”  So I picked up the phone and called this man named Jim Compton and said, “This is the biggest check Friends of the River has ever received and we’re thrilled, and I really want to understand why you did that, so can I come see you?”  And he said, “Sure, come on down.”  And I remember thinking, “Well, I should probably get out of my t-shirt and jeans and maybe put a dress on because a thousand dollars.”  So I drove down to Los Gatos in my Fiat and pulled up to the Los Gatos Swim and Tennis Club, I believe it was.  Here was this elegant man with a little bow tie on waiting for me. That was Jim Compton and he was going to buy me lunch there.  And we were walking up the stairs to the restaurant and I said, “How long have you been a member of the club?”  And he said, “Well, ever since I built it.”  And that was the beginning of this wonderful friendship and professional relationship with Jim Compton and the Compton Foundation.

Catherine Fox:    And one of the great joys of being a fundraiser is that you get to establish that kind of personal connection.

Huey Johnson:    Yeah.

Catherine Fox:    And give people with the means, but perhaps not the time, a way to really fulfill their dreams as well.  And my hope is that people coming up behind us as fundraisers find a way to make those connections.  In these days, it just gets harder and harder.  In my last job, I had a lot of people just email me saying, “We don’t need to visit.  Your time’s too busy, just send me – attach the proposal on email and I’ll let you know.”  So the ability to make those one on one connections is getting harder.

Catherine Fox:    I think these generations that are coming up behind us, assume that everyone’s an environmentalist, or they don’t really think about it at all because how could you not care about the environment?  So that proclivity by the Millennials to join an organization isn’t there anymore.  They form their own communities through their networks, and it’s not necessarily networks that rely on the out-of-doors.  How do you still keep people aware of that sense of place and that it’s still under threat?  And it could be that that next generation, the Millennial’s and the Gen X’ers can’t imagine someone would deliberately harm the environment, and that’s going on all the time.

Catherine Fox:    The environmental movement now is part of – it’s mainstream America.  It’s no longer so much a fringe element anymore, and you can get degrees in natural resources and in environmental management, and nonprofit administration.  And if there is access to higher education by people of all colors, I would like to think that some of those — some of that talent is going to come into the environmental movement in a natural way.  But frankly, every organization I’ve worked at, you look around the office and its mostly white faces. So why would someone who’s African American or Asian American want to come and work where they’re the only person that looks like them? I think that takes a very courageous person to do that.  So, I hope we can see organizations that are forming around issues that affect the health of communities, and that’s the next wave of the environmental movement, is keeping the air and the water clean so that families and small children can grow up in healthy environments, and then that may generate an interest in what’s the greater world around them and perhaps even give them a sense of what wilderness is.  It’s not just a calendar on your dentist’s office wall, but it’s something that really means something to you.

Huey Johnson:    Boy, that’s important.