Generations of Generosity: Association of Fundraising Professionals Arkansas Chapter Honorees
By Jillian McGehee | Photography by Sara Reeves
Paul Gardner pursued a career that complements his passion for people and enriching the lives of others. As a result, he insists it has never really seemed like work. He retired in December 2014 from his consulting firm, Gardner & Associates, but still shares his expertise for select projects. In addition to helping organizations achieve campaign goals, Paul serves as a mentor for young professionals in the development industry – a favorite part of his job. The local affiliate of the Association of Fundraising Professionals is recognizing him with the Lifetime Achievement Award, a new honor that celebrates an individual that exemplifies a well-established history with AFP and philanthropy.
Shannon Fleming, Senior Director of Development at the Reynolds Institute on Aging at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, met Paul in 1986 when he began his fundraising career at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Paul was the chief development officer at the UAMS Cancer Research Center (now the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute).
“Within my first few months, Paul contacted me and said he’d like to meet with me the next time I was in Little Rock,” Shannon says. “Paul has served as my mentor both professionally and personally. He has dedicated countless hours to me, and others like me, to help us be better fundraisers and individuals. Paul is one of the handful of people who has worked hard for more than 30 years to ensure AFP Arkansas has an impact on the fundraising professional and those who are dedicated to this career path.”
Serendipity led Paul to his career in fundraising. “None of us ever said, ‘I’m going to be a fundraiser when I grow up,’ but as I look back on my life, I realize it’s always been in my DNA. I grew up in a home with benevolent and giving parents, encouraging me to do things like hosting lemonade stands to raise money for church projects. When I went to West Virginia for graduate school with plans to teach and coach, a fundraising consultant hired me and the rest is history.”
In life’s big picture, the most rewarding aspect about being a professional fundraiser is each journey and its end result, Paul says. “It may be a donor who is very pleased and happy, or seeing new programs succeed or even ones that have been in existence for a long time being energized with an influx of fun. It’s knowing that the homeless are sheltered, people are being fed at food banks and there’s better delivery for health care and education.”
In his 50 years as a fundraiser, Paul says he can count on both hands the days he didn’t want to go to work. “My greatest gratification came in my efforts at UAMS and the cancer center, working with such high caliber philanthropists as the late Pat and Willard Walker. It’s amazing to consider that Arkansas is classified as a poor, rural state, but we’ve always been ranked in the top three in the U.S. for giving per capita.”
Philosophy to live by:
“If you’re the kind of person that has to get the credit, then fundraising is not for you. It’s about everyone else and serving others so that they can fulfill their missions.”
For “being reared in a home that gave me the basic foundation for a life of fundraising and the opportunity to be involved with so many generous donors and organizations.”
“This work is a calling. It’s a ministry, a passion. There is no room for self-gratification.”