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Si Seymour and His Mantra—Relevant as Ever in 2022

Mendal Bouknight
Published:  09/28/2022

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Now accepting nominations for the 2023 Si Seymour Award recipient until May 1, 2023. Learn more

Beginning his career in philanthropy in 1978, Mendal Bouknight had mentors along the way who shaped his understanding and passion of the profession.

In 1980, at 28 years of age, Mendal joined Emory University’s Alumni and Annual Fund Office. In 1979, after a $100 million gift, Emory had launched a $162 million campaign retaining the firm Brakeley John-Price Jones of New York as counsel. The “resident consultant” sent to live with Emory for three years was Jim Seymour, nephew of Si Seymour. Over the next three years, Jim mentored Mendal with the teachings and mantra of his Uncle Si.

This is the first of three articles connecting the teaching and times of Si Seymour to the current environment of philanthropy

As AHP prepares to honor the legacy of Harold J. "Si" Seymour with the 2022 Si Seymour Award given to an accomplished professional colleague, this is an opportunity to reflect on the times when Si Seymour was paving the way for our profession as we know it today.

Harold J. "Si" Seymour's teachings are as relevant in 2022 as they were when his book, Designs for Fundraising, was published 56 years ago in 1966. As taught to me by his nephew, Jim Seymour, Si’s four-word mantra, "Top Down; Inside Out"* is the undeniable pillar for philanthropy with impact.

He was an early voice in philanthropy credited with articulating basic principles followed by the Brakeley group with whom he was associated. Their approach..."philanthropy/fund raising was a business."

Recent articles in the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Wall Street Journal raise concerns. They even call it a mistake, claiming fundraising has "shifted to big-game hunting" as the only means to achieve maximum return on fundraising investments. 
Seymour would contend that is exactly where fundraising should be.

"Si’s was the generation of tracking progress using 3" x 5" index cards and the rol-o-dex," recalls George Brakeley III, Executive Chair of Brakeley Briscoe, Inc. "He would marvel at today’s access to prospect data, wealth screenings, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and expect to see documented Moves Management."

And Seymour would applaud the evolution of philanthropy’s workforce with a greater presence of women in leadership. He would encourage the profession to reflect this nation from all walks and origins. 

"Most assuredly," Brakeley says, “Si would implore nonprofits to invest first in the personal relationship.” Seymour valued a repeatable, predictable base of annual, committed donors and the long-term potential this base provided. That base is built and sustained on personal contact and stewardship.

He would insist major gift focus elevates the momentum and energy for philanthropy which nonprofits should build on. As is stated by AHP in describing the Si Seymour, “He fostered and promoted exemplary standards of excellence for volunteerism and philanthropic support.”

Seymour is quoted as saying, "While the impulse to give originates in the heart, the act of giving is essentially a responsive process," he writes. "People give because other people ask them to give—and most of all, and most frequently, when seen face to face." 

My concern in today’s environment is we (professionals and boards) find ways not to ask, not to see people face to face, or not to engage in the relationship. We are often too transactional.

Within AHP, a cohort of Health Systems Philanthropy Leadership Group (HSPLG), has been benchmarking optimizing effectiveness and has affirmed major gift focus ($10,000+) is the key for results, delivering a sound ROI and allocation of staff and resources. The research done by HSPLG affirms major gift officers (MGOs) with portfolio’s greater than 150 donors/qualified prospects do not allow for effective relationships and coverage by one MGO. It is better to have a portfolio of 110 or so top prospects so the MGO can deliver timely proposals while meaningfully stewarding and building the relationships. That MGO can more often deliver an ROI closer to 7:1 or greater and be in the relationship and stewardship role that is so often overlooked.

The recommendation: continually evaluate your MGO portfolios to give them a timely, dynamic, and manageable number. Get your boards, physicians, C-suite, and staff involved in donor/prospect gratitude and conversations. Embrace Si Seymour’s mantra, "Top Down; Inside Out."

In the next articles, we will delve further into Si Seymour’s principles and his challenge to another leading scholar of the day. We will explore how this resounds across our profession today and the challenges we feel to deliver results with impact. And all of this while putting emphasis on sustaining and enhancing relationships that evolve into the next generation of major donors with time.

For now, celebrate the impact and legacy of Si Seymour and the honor and prestige this award carries as we honor our 2022 recipient, Jory Pritchard-Kerr, FAHP.

*Top Down; Inside Out is the “discipline to always approach fundraising from the Top Down through the giving pyramid first with lead gifts and major gifts, then working down through the prospects and donors. "Inside Out" begins with those who have the closest connection to the organization’s mission i.e., Boards, Key Volunteers, Previous Key Donors, Organization Leadership, then working out to those with understanding for the cause who may be encouraged to support and participate. Part two will dissect this in greater depth with some great quotes from Si Seymour.

NEWS  /10/25/18
2018 Si Seymour Award recipient Sharon A. Jones, CFRE, FAHP, shared her story of involvement with the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy.

Meet The Author

Mendal Bouknight headshot
Mendal Bouknight
Coach and Mentor to Boards, CDO's, MGOs

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