This week's feature is an interview with Nick Foster, who serves as the Associate Director of Development for the School of Medicine at the University of Virginia. We covered a lot of topics, including how he plans his travel schedule, questions to ask on donor visits and how to stay connected to your children when traveling. And I learned about a very special bear in the process! Enjoy!
Q: How much do you travel for your position? How do you decide where to go?
A: I cover a total of 11 states, and two cities in Virginia (States: Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin. Cities in Virginia: Lynchburg and Richmond).
To cover the territory effectively I visit one or more of the states in any given month. A trip could be “simply” traversing Los Angeles, or making the 600 mile trip from Minneapolis, MN to Chicago, IL via Rochester, MN, La Crosse, WI, Madison, WI, and Appleton, WI.
For the first twelve months in the role I divided my time, proportionally, between the states. For instance I visited California, with over 500 med alumni, four times; and Mississippi, with just over 100 med alumni, for just three days. Now, as I’ve qualified individuals, and gift discussions have developed my travel schedule is determined more by these conversations than simply trying to visit a territory.
Q: What's your theory on travel planning? Get the anchor visit first or just go for it?
My theory is “You’re not going to raise money, that often, from behind a desk. Get on the road and engage those individuals who have shown they are invested in your program by the giving of their time, talent or treasure.”
I subscribe to the “book it and then secure the visits method”. Working with physicians everything can be very last minute. Trips generally come together a couple of days out. As I sit here writing this (Thursday) I’m going to Michigan for four days next week, I have seven confirmed visits, three “I’d love to see you, call me when you’re in town”, and two “I won’t know my schedule until Monday, call me then”. You just have to do it and if you have spare time when you’re on the road, you can always focus on your moves management plan for donors who aren’t in the area.
Q: What are your favorite questions for donors on a discovery visit?
A: The general theme of the conversation is to get to know the individual. I usually I like to hear about their current relationship and feelings towards UVa, what their time was like in school, were there any mentors, why did they go into medicine, how did they get to UVa, where did they do there residency, how did they ended up in the city they are currently working, how long have they been in the area, family and pastimes. I like to ask if they have any questions, or if they keep up with the news from the school.
Most importantly, I always thank them for their support and ask what inspires their philanthropy, and ask if there is anything I can do for them.
Q: What are your best 2nd visit questions? How do approach a donor to see if they will entertain a proposal?
If the first visit has gone well, then I try and interact with the alumni between visits. This might be sending articles in their practice area, telling them how their giving makes a difference, inviting them to events etc. (I use the fundraising software to remind me and then track these interactions, try not to go rouge with shadow databases!)
On a second visit I might ask “you mentioned in our first visit that you’d received a scholarship and that gave you the opportunity to come out of medical school virtually debt free. I hope that gave you the opportunity to select the area of medicine that interested you the most. The financial aid package that you likely received was most likely due in part to a generous alumni, like yourself, making a commitment to the school and endowing a scholarship fund. Doc, you’ve been a loyal and generous supporter and I was wondering if we could have a conversation about ways that you could set up your own scholarship and give students who are coming out of medial school now a similar opportunity to the one you experienced.”
Q: What are your favorite travel loyalty programs?
Q: Tell me about Stuffed. What other things do you do to stay connected with your son while you are on the road?
Stuffed is a travelling bear that my son gave me. If you press his paw he says, in Henry’s voice, “Hi Dad, I love you and I miss you”. Stuffed sits in the passenger seat when we drive, and he loves having his photograph taken when we visit interesting places. You can follow him on Facebook at The Adventures of Stuffed the Talking Bear.
When I’m on the road I’d like to say that we Facetime each evening and I read him bedtime stories, but Henry isn’t interested in that! I might get a quick “Hi Dad, I’m going to play, bye Dad.” I do try and get a good morning “hello”, and check in after school to hear how his day went. I also text pictures of Stuffed.
I also try and bring back a gift that is from the area, for instance I brought him the book The Three Little Javelinas from Phoenix, and Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding from New Orleans. He also just got a Cub’s t-shirt from Chicago!
More about Nick Foster: Nick started his working life in the music industry. For six years he worked for a record label and events company. In this role he oversaw 120 events a year and was part of a team that had success with getting a record in the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart. It wasn’t until he moved stateside that he decided it was time to take his career in a different direction. Following a short spell at Waffle House, everyone should work as a line cook or waitress at some point in their lives, he ventured into the nonprofit world.Nick started working for a small school in Mobile, AL that served children with Autism. Under Nick’s leadership the school successfully grew its annual fundraising totals by over 150%. After a brief stop in Hattiesburg, MS at The University of Southern Mississippi, Nick found himself at The University of Virginia, working in the School of Medicine. Nick’s role at UVa is to work with enthusiastic alumni who want to partner with the University to make the student experience and our worldwide research reputation as strong as possible. Nick will play a significant role in the University's upcoming Third Century Campaign.
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.