Conversation with Jerry Linzy
Eddie Thompson: Thank you for joining us today on this podcast! Today we have an exceptional person. We’ve been going after the icons in our industry. If you looked up the word icon and philanthropy, you’d see Jerry Linzy’s picture.
I could tell you all the accolades for Jerry, but I’d rather spend the time with him, communicating with you two really important thoughts or questions.
Let me begin with the first one, Jerry. What have you learned that’s really made a difference? You’ve been doing this almost 50 years?
Jerry Linzy: 50 years at least. I tell you, Eddie, I think early on when I was just a development officer — I served as a development officer for a University and two hospitals before becoming a consultant. I also was in private business doing something entirely outside of fundraising. What I found out from all that experience is that it’s a cumulative process that everything you learn at one place can be applied to the next place.
I tended to think of myself as a dream maker, in some ways, for the organizations that I work for, the clients I work for – whether they were a volunteer, a fundraiser, development officer, how do we lead that process to accomplish the kind of dreams they have for their organization?
I had a friend who used to say we don’t want to diminish what we do as fundraisers because it’s a noble profession – we don’t want to have people say, go out and hit up someone or ding someone for this or that. So, what I found out was what we do is honorable and that we do make dreams come true. That as a basis built the foundation that I was able to grow forward on and build upon. That made a huge difference for me in my career going forward.
The other was just simply being able to, and having the willingness, to know that you don’t know everything. In fact, in my case I knew very little it seems because I kept learning going forward. I thought, “Gee, I thought I knew that but I guess I didn’t.” So, I was able to reach out to other people. I had the privilege of working with Jerry Panas for 30 years who was a great mentor and teacher, and Don Gray who was at the University of Wisconsin and other people like that. I found with development officers they were always willing to help or provide advice or counsel or just answer a simple question for you.
You’ve got to be willing to not be full of yourself, but just to say if I don’t have an answer, somebody must have an answer and let me reach out to do that. It’s kind of what I learned going forward at least in one sense of the word.
Eddie: You make a tremendous amount of sense. What’s the biggest mistake you made and what did you learn from it?
Jerry: I think the biggest mistake was assuming that I knew more than I assumed and not reaching out to get help. Even when I looked at a project or looked at an issue or something that I wanted to help somebody accomplish – the unwillingness to look out and talk to other people or get outside the box for a long time. I’m one of those people, as my wife would say, who hates change. I had a favorite shirt and I would keep it and every time I’d find it in a charity or to be thrown away, and I’d go pull it back out and say what’s going on here. Early on, when you do something and you do it successfully it gives you a false confidence that everything is going to work just the way it worked the last time. So, the hardest thing I had to learn for myself and then therefore pass on to the people I work with, either institutionally or as a consultant, was to be able to say to them, it has worked this way for a long time but if this is a different circumstance, it won’t work that way again, and you’ve really got to make those adjustments and be thinking more about that.
Having been burned several times myself, that was a valuable lesson to learn. Though I’m still reluctant to change, I have to confess, knowing the price you pay if you don’t when you need to, then that’s the lesson to be learned.
Eddie: What have you learned about boards, Jerry?
Jerry: Every book you read and every article you read about boards always stressed the importance of what the board’s role is at your organization – that they’re the leaders, that they are the people who set the agenda in many ways, and who are the donors and the getters, so to speak. As much information is out there about it and there are seminars and workshops (we do them ourselves) about board development and how you have a more effective board, it’s a continual amazement to me when I meet with organizations large and small the fact that lessons aren’t learned very well and planning is not done very well.
Our view has been that the Board of Trustees or the board of directors, Board of Governors, whatever their nomenclature is, they are key – right there with your mission. They really only have three roles, in a sense. The strongest one of course is fundraising – to generate charitable support for your organization and the mission. The second one is to be a strong advocate, a roaring advocate really, for your mission and your organization. And, the third depending on the kind of board it is of course is governance responsibilities to hire and fire the chief executive. They have those three primary roles and they often get off into all these other kinds of areas and in many cases not to ask somebody else for a gift.
When you sit down and look at a board about a potential board member and you say to them this person comes to us and he or she has a great network of people in this community, they’ve been working with others and we know they support all these things and they’ve got their Rolodex (that dated me!), if you look at all that and they said, “gee, that’ll be a big help to us.” The question I always ask is they’ve got a great network, but have they agreed to use the network? If they’re going to come on and not reach out to those people to help you then what’s the point? It’s amazing how strategically important they are and how non-strategic we tend to treat the process of identifying and recruiting new board members. That’s a mistake that gets made by organizations large and small.
Eddie: Jerry, you’ve had a long-distinguished career, but as you pause today and you look at the current environment and let’s go back to the mid-80s, how has philanthropy changed?
Jerry: I’m not sure I can remember that far back! Philanthropy hasn’t really changed, I don’t think, all that much. Because of tax considerations and changes, the way people want to give their gifts whether it’s through planned giving through their estate plans or if it’s annual support or capital campaigns, those kinds of things to me have remained not much different than they were in the 80s. Our level of development officers and level of sophistication and how to work with that has changed considerably in a positive way because there’s much more education and much more experience in all those areas to help out.
There’s a lot more competition today. There is an absence of qualified people in many ways, even though there are people who practice the art particularly in planned giving and major gifts and so on. Those people who do that successfully are much better than they ever were because there’s so much education and things that they have they didn’t have before.
But, there’s still not a solid program of development officers who at the beginning level really stay. Turnover continues to be a huge issue today. It was probably back then as well, but they just don’t stick around long enough.
I do a little series that I have on my own. I have mentored, in my community, young development officers and I have this program, if you’ll forgive my ego, called Coffee with Jerry. We meet at a coffee shop in the morning at about 7:30 or 8:00 where we have coffee and it’s like a park-benching process. They can ask questions, we can talk about their career, we can talk about anything they want to talk about for generally an hour to an hour and a half. It’s just surprising to me that when I talk to a young person, I find that the person has great talent, understands at least the process of building relationships with a donor, etc. And, in six months I found that they left and went somewhere else simply because they really didn’t want to go out and ask somebody for a gift or they weren’t making a lot of money at that level. I find that across the board whether it’s working for a hospital or a young person comes to the university or to the Humane Society or whatever it might be.
Eddie: Jerry, we’ve taken more time than I asked you to give today. I just want to say how much I appreciate you and what an icon you are in our industry and we are so thankful for your leadership and most importantly we’re thankful for your heart. You’re a good man, Jerry Linzy!
Jerry: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
Eddie: Thank you for joining us on the podcast! Be listening to us as we’ll have other icons on here in the future.
Jerry: Thanks all!
About Jerry Linzy.
Jerry Linzy is Executive Partner Emeritus of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners— a major force in the field of Financial Resource Development. The firm is headquartered in Chicago. Since its founding in 1968, the firm has served over 3,900 client institutions.
The last time Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners totaled the dollars, they found that Jerry has been involved in campaigns for the firm’s clients that have raised in excess of billions.
The dollars are important, of course. But no less important is the regard clients have for his work and leadership. He brings care, concern, and creativity to his involvement. He views every situation as an opportunity that needs to be explored, a door that needs opened, a challenge to besolved.
Mr. Linzy brings to his position remarkable experience. He has nearly fifty years (thirty with Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners) experience as a senior development officer in major healthcare institutions and higher education. Since joining Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, he has been involved with every type of institution and has been successfully related to most of the major clients of the firm.
While working with institutions throughout the United States, Canada, and Australia, Mr. Linzy remained an active volunteer in his community. He served as an alumni member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Evansville and President of the University’s Alumni Association. He served two terms on the Evansville City Council.
Additionally, he was a member of the Corporate Council for Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan. Mr. Linzy is past International Chair of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy—its highest office, and a distinct honor, for professionals in healthcare.
Jerry Linzy is a contributing author of The NonProfit Handbook. For twenty-two years, he taught in six tracks at the AHP Institute at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He is the former Dean of the Capital Campaign and is Senior Faculty for the Institute for Charitable Giving.
The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy represents thousands of hospitals and medical centers in North America and the world. They provide an award each year to the one person who has contributed the very most to the healthcare institutions in the world. Jerry was honored with the Si Seymour Award.
Organizations he works with, or has worked with, will confirm he is an astute strategist and an effective problem-solver. He brings an extraordinary skill and talent to his clients. He is acclaimed by both the volunteers and staff he works with. His standards are high and he is dedicated to the success and the best of those he serves.