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What donors love

Photo of Joan Garry and Drew Dyson.

The story you are about to hear is true. No names are changed. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This is just a moment to celebrate and spotlight the power of nonprofit leadership and to offer what is quite a compelling argument for innovation.  

The Princeton Senior Resource Center (PSRC) in Princeton, New Jersey, with a Candid Platinum Seal of Transparency, under the leadership of Drew Dyson offers us a textbook case of how investment in professional development pays off.   

I won’t bury the lede. When other organizations post-pandemic had crumbling capital campaigns, PSRC reached its $5.35 million goal.  

What has been Drew Dyson’s recipe for success?  

Drew was a new CEO arriving at PSRC a year before the world shut down. He knew that building his own capacity as a leader would grow his organization’s capacity. He sought out support from the Bunbury Fund at the Princeton Area Community Foundation knowing that capacity-building was their jam. He asked for and received professional development funds for an executive coach.  

Coaches are advocates and at their best, compassionate truth-tellers. During the pandemic, far too many leaders saw coaching as a luxury, but Drew knew a thought partner and a truth-teller were key for him. He was reminded how profoundly his community needed him, especially during the pandemic. Not to mention, thought partnership allows a nonprofit CEO a space to dream bigger. It enabled him to tap into his imagination, helping to answer the question: What do challenging times make possible?  

His answer to that question: Drew saw that hybrid program delivery work would not only enable him to reach the homebound but also expand his reach internationally. This was evidence of his vision for a world-class hybrid senior center in a best-in-class space. For him, the days of an ad hoc program in an old gym in the corner of a municipal building were over.  

He energized this board and led stakeholders around this vision—a vision with roots in the lessons learned in a global pandemic. The organization bought a building and began a capital campaign.  

Audacious? Only if you don’t have the fundraising strategy and a compelling destination that lights up funders, who are excited about being a part of the journey.  

Drew was not and could not be the only beneficiary of professional development. Technical staff learned about the delivery of world-class hybrid learning, and as a result, technology, which is normally a function in operations, became centered in the leadership of PSRC’s development of new muscles to lead and manage a fully hybrid senior center.  

Perhaps you find yourself laughing thinking about older adults and technology—not often, a “perfect match.” But Drew’s team makes it work, putting themselves in the shoes of their constituents and providing them with a new facility to use technology to be connected. 

So, why could Drew raise money when others could not? He did what donors love. Funders like words like “best in class” and the idea of working with a local organization that can become a national model. They love knowing that they are investing in a growing organization that is committed to proactively prioritizing their leaders and team members’ own professional development. It’s exciting for donors to see an organization with imagination. The takeaway: Show innovation to a funder, and you can “have them at hello.”  

Donors like to be challenged to look at things differently. Drew’s team made an argument of the centrality of technology, forcing folks to bust the myth that technology is a support service or a component of overhead. That’s just plain smart. Funders also love to touch the work. Amazing but true, construction on the new space was complete before the final dollars were raised, because Drew worried interest could diminish. However, the opposite was true. State-of-the-art technology equipment, along with audio-assisted hearing devices, all made the case that PSRC was able to deliver world-class hybrid experiences for its community.  

Drew and his team made it clear from day one that this was not just a facility, or merely a building where constituents engaged in activities. To attract older adults to become ‘regulars,’ PRSC had to create a sense of belonging. The best illustration of that commitment—to belonging, to warmth, and to the community—is the fireplace you’ll find there. It wasn’t just a nice touch.  

As we support organizations large and small in their efforts to fundraise, fueling their ability to drive impact centers around the following aspects:  

  • A vision for an exciting destination that fires funders’ interest up.  
  • A path to that destination, which demonstrates new ways of thinking and innovative decision-making.  
  • An organization with a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity.   
  • A leader who understands that a building is vital and can function as a kind of prop for their ability to engage in the kind of storytelling, which compels people to want to know and do more for your organization.  

Drew Dyson is a minister by training. One of Drew’s priority coaching goals was to make a smooth transition from his previous career as a minister and become a first-class nonprofit CEO. 

On the effective nonprofit leadership front, I believe he can claim ‘mission accomplished.’ As for his career switch, it is very clear that he has found a new calling.  


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  • Brian Roberts says:

    May 27, 2023 8:00 am

    Thanks for this inspiring article! Go Drew Dyson & Joan Garry-thanks for the world of difference you both make in the nonprofit world!

  • EMORUT says:

    May 26, 2023 7:13 am

    I would to get to know you better and get mentoring from you so that I get to learn from you.
    I have an organization giving people living with disability vocational skills in order for them to be economically independent. And am trying to connect with donors for purpose of getting some funding but looks like am lacking some computer skills.

  • Omega Alston says:

    May 25, 2023 9:18 pm

    Very inspirational and my question is how long did it take him to accomplish this?
    I believe , I could do something as big with vision, but I have a need a bigger board with passion.

  • Kadoogo Geoffrey Henry says:

    May 25, 2023 1:02 pm

    Bright ldeas this is what we want here at vision for Africa school in Kamuli Nawanyago Subcounty. How can you mom Joan help us get some donors?we woul like to get development grants.

  • Gail Frahm says:

    May 25, 2023 9:06 am

    Awesome work to Drew and his coach! I, too, started my new role as an Executive Director for Disability Services Resource Center in August, right before the world shut down. There were very minimal funds to run any programs, so with my past experiences, I dug deep to get creative and pushed for grants for things that would improve our outreach capabilities ... new computers, a digital sign, partial roof replacement, replaced one of three furnaces (hey, when you're from MI, you need a roof and heat to have a creative space to work). Our fundraisers went virtual and shifted. New donors were tapped and our board put their faith in me as their new ED to help them not only survive, but thrive. Last year we loaned out (at no cost) over $250k in medical equipment, built 8 accessible ramps, provided our extra lumber for two additional ramps, started a new-to-us summer enrichment program for youth and young adults with disabilities (we had 20 participants), provided adaptive sports and award programs for the participants safely, did Zoom artevents where we used the artwork in the first-ever Calendars and Caring Cards which we sold as a fundraiser, and so much more! We are currently raising funds for a new accessible van (206k miles on our 2001 van with a lift) and we are almost fully funded for a parking lot project at the office. We are becoming a first-class business offering some second-hand items. Practical, relatable, and innovative are some ways I would define our tactics to thrive through the pandemic.