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Faculty Profile: Laura Mannion

Faculty Profile: Laura Mannion


A steelworker’s daughter
forges career as fundraising expert

By Lori M. Finkel for Spertus Institute

Pictured: Lori Finkel, left with Dr. Laura Mannion


Like many of the people who go through the Spertus Master of Science in Nonprofit Management program, alumna and faculty member Laura Mannion, EdD, has a unique story to tell. I was fortunate to be able to sit down with Dr. Mannion and learn firsthand just how unique her path actually was.

After getting her masters at Spertus, she went on to get her Doctorate in Education and earn her CFRE (Certified Fundraising Executive) designation, which recognizes both time and mastery of best practices in fundraising.Dr. Mannion has achieved much, coming from humble beginnings as a steelworker’s daughter and going on to become a respected professional and teacher. 

Here is an excerpt from my conversation with Dr. Mannion about her career path and her work.

How did you get involved with fundraising?

Most fundraisers don’t choose fundraising. It chooses them. So the story isn’t so much about when I decided to do this as a living — it’s about when I realized that I could do this. 

In college I did an internship at the Tri-City Mental Health Center. When I started, they were sponsoring a golf tournament to raise money for the cause. I’d never cold-called before. At the first business I called, a lady answered and I asked if she’d like to donate to the event. She said, “I don’t think so.” I was in shock. Did she just turn me down? Then she explained, “Listen, you haven’t given me a reason I should get involved. Take out a piece of paper and pen.” I wasn’t sure what she was getting at, but I did. “Now, how many golfers will play?” 150. “So how many goody bags, or product placements, is that for us to have our product in?” 150. She continued with other questions about the event and other promotional opportunities. “OK, read back to me what you have there.” I read, “You will have 150 product placements in our event.” And went on to describe the other opportunities she had enumerated. She came back with, “Now you’ve sold me. Alright, I’ll do it.”

You were lucky she was your first call!

In that moment, that woman changed my life. Before she explained things, I didn’t understand how cause marketing could be good for both sides: the company and the nonprofit. It took her explanation to get me to see the bigger picture.

How do you instill that same sense of understanding to your class?

One of my favorite assignments is to have the students role play with a professional fundraiser who acts as a mentor. I have a network of other fundraisers who participate from places like the American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association, and Lincoln Park Zoo. The students give a proposal to the mentor as though they were a potential donor. Then mentor decides if they would donate or not. Many students are the first generation in their family to go to college, just like I was, so this assignment is generally their first foray into the philanthropic world.

You founded the Louis J. Mannion Scholarship at the College of DuPage for fathers who would like to further their education. I assume this has a personal connection?

My dad worked in a steel factory and punched a clock every day that he went to work. I knew punching a clock wasn’t the life for me.

You’re sort of like the Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Sort of! But I put myself through school by working part-time as a cashier at a hardware store, where I also had to punch a clock. So I named the scholarship after my dad, who put off his own schooling to support our family. The award is for fathers who postpone their education for the same reason.

So if this profession chooses you, then what makes a good fundraiser?

It’s about who you are as a person. You need to be passionate. People give to people. What’s going to make the difference is whether the donor believes in you, can see that you believe in the cause, and knows you are going to steward their gift appropriately. You have to be a genuine person.

Currently, Dr. Mannion is the assistant vice president of development for the College of DuPage Foundation. She has also worked for the American Cancer Society, the Weizmann Institute, and the University of London Institute of Cancer Research.

Learn more about how you can become
one of Dr. Laura Mannion’s students >

Friday, April 19, 2013