2019 40 Under 40 Winners

2019 40 Under 40 Logo

Dustin F. Williams, CFRE

Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Nashville, TN

Why is a 40 under 40 winner

1. During his time at Johns Hopkins, Dustin built a thriving regional major gift portfolio of 275 donors in the Southeast from scratch, representing nine academic divisions and numerous Johns Hopkins Medicine departments.

2. Dustin chairs the Association of Fundraising Professionals' Young Professional Workgroup, and leads efforts that focus on innovative engagement and mentoring opportunities for young fundraisers.

3. He has co-authored original content on success strategies for Millennial major gift fundraisers and presented this material to conference attendees, webinar participants, and in a published article.

4. At Vanderbilt University, Dustin closed 58 leadership-level gifts and maintained a 45% annual gift renewal rate within a portfolio of 900 prospects in FY15.


Q & A

1. How did you get into health care philanthropy?

During my senior year of college, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in development and subsequently applied to around 80 fundraising jobs the summer after I graduated. At the time, most jobs in the philanthropic sector required 3-5 years of experience, which was incredibly frustrating as there were very few entry-level positions available. Luckily, I got an offer from Vanderbilt University to work as a Program Assistant on the Medical Center Annual Giving team. The hurdles I experienced getting into fundraising have made me passionate about career building and welcoming new and young professionals into the philanthropic sector. Our communities, donors, and institutions benefit when we make it easy to choose the fundraising profession!

2. Why did you choose to make health care philanthropy your career?

I’ve had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of donors as a frontline fundraiser, but only in a health care setting have I had donors tear up during visits. It’s an incredible experience to hear about someone’s healthcare journey and walk through a patient or family’s healing alongside them. Philanthropy brings the ability to do something tangible about a health issue. For patients whose diseases don’t have cures, the acts of donating, fundraising, and advocating give meaning to what might be an otherwise demoralizing experience. It’s an honor to choose healthcare philanthropy for our patients and families every day.

3. Tell us about a pivot point or crucial step in your career journey.

My time as the Director of Leadership Gifts for the Northeast at the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation was crucial to my broader understanding of the nonprofit world and disease-specific organizations. It was my first time outside of the academic medical center/higher education world, and I enjoyed the flexibility and responsiveness that a small organization can provide. I learned to be resilient and innovative at the PKD Foundation- it doesn’t take a big strategy to steward donors well. Sometimes a simple phone call makes all the difference in the world. The Foundation also instilled in me a respect for all players in the healthcare philanthropy world, as individual organizations can connect with donors in different ways. We are incredibly reliant on each other and should continuously seek ways to partner together for the good of our communities.

4. What was your first job, and what is something it taught you?

My first job was at Vanderbilt University as a Medical Center Annual Giving Program Assistant. That job proved to be the very best training I could have received in the fundraising sector. I assisted three programs, worked directly with volunteers and donors, and made thousands of cold calls. Getting to know the intricate functions of a large fundraising operation has served me well my entire career.

5. What are your future aspirations?

I have a colleague that oftentimes greets me by saying “hey future VP!” which is embarrassing but funny. I am deeply committed to the development sector, which is why I pursued the CFRE credential, and am beginning the Executive MA program at IUPUI’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy this year. I look forward to continuing to grow and learn from so many incredible colleagues and aspire to lead a program in the future. I’ve always been very interested in improving the patient experience and hope to have opportunities to make healthcare even better for patients for years to come.
Dustin Williams

Fun Fact:

If I had to choose a career outside of fundraising, I would probably be a baker.