At the recent Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Indiana Chapter’s Annual Indiana Philanthropy Awards, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy alumna Taylor Whitaker, B.A. ’15, won the Outstanding Young Adult award, a prestigious honor for young fundraisers.
Currently, Whitaker serves as the Leadership Annual Giving Officer at Butler University, and she has worked in fundraising since graduation. How did she come to the fundraising profession and what has she learned from it?
“I transferred from Butler to IUPUI intending to major in law. At that time, I was nannying for Lisa Maxwell-Frieden, who works in higher education fundraising,” Whitaker said. “She said, ‘You should look into the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. They have a great program and I think you might like nonprofit.’ I’ve always had a passion for serving people and after taking a class with Dr. Kathi Badertscher, I knew I needed to major in philanthropic studies.”
In one of her classes with Dr. Badertscher, Whitaker went on a field trip to the Eiteljorg Museum, leading her to realize that the Eiteljorg was where she wanted to pursue an internship. Despite not having earned enough credit hours in philanthropic studies to qualify for an internship, Dr. Tyrone Freeman, director of undergraduate programs, approved Whitaker to take the internship due to her previous educational background and coursework at Butler.
“I loved interning at the museum; I worked as a development assistant. Some of my jobs included helping with one of their largest exhibitions (the Ansel Adams exhibit) as well as helping with the 25th anniversary gala,” Whitaker said. “Even after finishing, I stay engaged. I serve on their young professionals board Agave as the fundraising chair and help with different volunteering opportunities there as well. Both the CEO/President and the Vice President for Advancement came to see me receive the AFP award.”
Even after transferring, Whitaker successfully graduated on time with a double major in philanthropic studies and philosophy and received a job offer soon after.
“I worked at Sycamore School for two years as their Advancement and Alumni Coordinator,” she said. “I worked on their capital campaign, event management, the annual fund, letter solicitation, pledge reconciliation, and engagement with alumni.”
A few months ago, she realized that she wanted to grow more and work in higher education, which led to her current position at Butler University.
“I work with annual fund donors up to $10,000. I follow up with annual donors as well as others who may have lost contact with the school. We want to make them feel special and part of the community,” she said.
The emphasis on relationships was something that Whitaker learned through her internship and classes.
“Whether it was the history class, ethics class, or donor relations class, all of my classes taught me how important it was to build and keep relationships,” she said. “I’m using that emphasis on relationships at Butler now. Forming lasting relationships is what builds your pipeline.”
The significance Whitaker places on relationship building is something that makes her stand out. Maxwell-Frieden, who introduced Whitaker to the school in the first place, said she nominated Taylor for the Outstanding Young Adult award because “even as a student, her dedication to the work of philanthropy was evident.”
“Taylor is as dedicated to learning the proper processes and procedures as she is to developing true and meaningful relationships with donors,” Maxwell-Frieden said. “This is rare in a seasoned fundraiser and is almost unheard of in a young fundraiser. She has been a dedicated volunteer as well as a dedicated employee to the institutions where she has served.”
For Whitaker, the awards ceremony itself provided a welcoming place to meet fellow professionals and learn from them. One of these professionals was the late Andre Lacy, who received the Lifetime Achievement award.
“It was great to meet him and his speech was so inspiring,” Whitaker said. “He said, ‘we (he and his late wife Julia) always believed that we left an organization better than when we started with it,’ which is a great motto to live by. Overall, it was an amazing evening.”
Sadly, Lacy passed away unexpectedly just two weeks after the ceremony.
After receiving the impressive award, Whitaker plans to continue her fundraising, philanthropy, and nonprofit management education.
“I completed the graduate certificate in nonprofit management at IUPUI and may return to complete the Master’s in Public Affairs program,” she said. “Or, I may attend Butler for an MBA. Any experience in higher education is good experience because you learn from the people who are in the program and the professors who teach in it.”
Whitaker plans to stay involved with the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy as well. She will be mentoring a current student in the bachelor’s program in the spring.
“Anything I can do to help the school get more students into its programs and get more people into the field,” she said. “If there’s a way I can help, I will because they helped me.”
Her advice for current students?
“Keep an open mind for any opportunities. Don’t get caught up on certain organizations you want to intern or work for. I made multiple connections from my internship at the Eiteljorg Museum who helped me get to where I am today. Any organization you work for provides unique opportunities for where you might be going. You never know what you could learn from the people at an organization and what they could learn from you.”
Abby Rolland is the blog content coordinator for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.