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Mark Climie-Elliott: Born to Be a Fundraiser

October 30, 2012

mark climie elliott and andrea mcmanus 150x133
Mark Climie-Elliott, CFRE, recipient of the 2012 Barbara Marion Award for Outstanding Leadership to AFP, with Andrea McManus, CFRE, chair of AFP.

Mark Climie-Elliott, CFRE was born to be a fundraiser. After all, he was born on Nov. 15, National Philanthropy Day. But the long-time fundraiser and this year’s recipient of the Barbara Marion Award for Outstanding Leadership to AFP credits his success to his family, his experience with AFP and the incredible colleagues he’s met throughout this career.

Climie-Elliott’s involvement in AFP encompasses all aspects of the association, including the international board. But he’s been especially active in Canada, serving as chair of the Canada Council, president of the Greater Toronto Chapter (AFP’s largest chapter) and board member of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy-Canada. He’s been a spokesperson for AFP on media and government relations issues in Canada and has also been active in the international development area for AFP as well.

During his time with the foundation, Climie-Elliott worked with a team to launch the Every Member Campaign Online Giving Tool and securing the support of AKA New Media and Stratcom as sponsors.  As chair of the Canada Council, he facilitated the strategy and groundwork for Canada to achieve “Ten Star Country Status,” whereby every chapter in Canada earned the AFP Ten Star Chapter designation.

“Mark has been so important for our growth and development in Canada,” said Andrea McManus, CFRE, the chair of AFP. “It’s no surprise that our growth in Canada has mirrored his involvement—he’s been a key leader and always has been ready to support the fundraising community no matter the issue. But at the same time, he’s not just focused on AFP Canada, but all of the profession, and he’s worked around the world on behalf of AFP and the fundraising community.”

Family Roots Leads to Philanthropy

But fundraising wasn’t the original plan for Climie-Elliott, who is the president of his own consulting firm in Toronto. He had his sights set on becoming a pharmacist but realized just as he was about to start his studies that it wasn’t anything he was passionate about.

Pharmacy’s loss was fundraising’s gain, as Climie-Elliott began working as a recreation therapist and then a community developer before transitioning into fundraising.

“My father was very altruistic, and we lived in a small town where there was a strong commitment to the community,” he says. “It grounded me at a very early age, and when I started to work in community development, it just felt right. From there, as I think is the case for many people, you work for a cause, and ultimately you get asked to do some sort of fundraising or development. And my career took off from there.”

Climie-Elliott’s career has spanned more than 30 years and includes service to such organizations as The Canadian Cancer Society, the Alzheimer Society, multiple Humane Societies, The Arthritis Society, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Children’s Health Foundation, Starlight Children’s Foundation of Canada and North York Harvest Food Bank — to name just a few. While he’s happy to be called a fundraiser, he sees himself as more of a facilitator of philanthropy.

“What I really do is help communities build their capacity through facilitation,” Climie-Elliott says. “I try to move and inspire others to work together—to work in teams and groups—to understand their role in philanthropy and how they can achieve success and build their capacity to create impact. I think that’s what a good fundraiser does.”

Community and Engagement Are Key to Success

One of the keys to Climie-Elliott’s success is remaining engaged with the larger fundraising community. If you want to stay informed and be relevant, he says, you need to remain engaged. That’s one of the primary reasons he has been so involved with AFP.

He recounts the time when he was a new member and had been asked to present at the AFP Toronto Congress in 1994. “I called the Resource Center and asked for some research,” he says. “Being in Canada, I figured I’d get the information in a couple of weeks. I received a huge box two days later with enough data and resources to write a thesis. That was a touch point for me in terms of my AFP involvement, and I’ve always said that if people don’t see the value of being a member, then they’re not using—or aware how to use—the services provided.”

But community and collegiality have also been important aspects of AFP for Climie-Elliott, and he feels lucky to have learned, shared and been mentored by many great fundraisers. “There are some amazing leaders in Canada, such as Anne Moore, Bill Hallett, Dianne Lister, Andrea McManus, Senator Terry Mercer, Krista Thompson, Susan Mullin, and so many others. They had all done such an incredible job of creating AFP in Canada, and being with them really cemented my connections with AFP.

During his acceptance speech at the Leadership Academy in Houston, Climie-Elliott recounted being at a Chapter Leadership Workshop in Edmonton, working with Susan Hosbach and Lori Gusdorf. “That moment—talking with them and seeing everything AFP “beyond the chapter” offered—was when the light bulb came on and I truly understood what AFP was all about and was trying to accomplish. And serving in a leadership position meant so many opportunities to meet great fundraisers and colleagues from across North America.”

Find Your Network—and Your Passion

Joining AFP remains one of Climie-Elliott’s three main pieces of advice for new fundraisers. “You need to join AFP regardless of who’s paying for it,” he says. “I’ve paid personally. I’ve had my employer pay. It’s the single most important investment I make in the profession every year, and the network it provides to you—especially when you’re starting out—is invaluable.”

His second recommendation? Find a good mentor. According to Cllimie-Elliott, fundraising is a continuous learning journey, and every fundraiser should start their journey early—and never stop. Connecting with a mentor can help you overcome numerous obstacles and lead to all new possibilities. “One of my mentors when I started out was Mo Davies, whose memorial I just attended this past weekend.  Mo was passionate about small and mid-size charities, and I will ensure her voice advocating for the “small shop” continues to be heard.”

Finally, it’s all about passion. “Let your passion guide you,” says Climie-Elliott. “Work in organizations you can get excited about, and look to work with people who can mentor you and inspire you about fundraising. Marilyn Marshall and Debbie Comuzzi got me passionate about this profession during my first interview for a fundraising job at the Canadian Cancer Society and I haven’t looked back.”

Passion has certainly guided Climie-Elliott through his work with AFP. “I’ve loved every second of it,” he says. “I’m very proud of the continuous growth of the AFP Every Member Campaign and excited to see that more members are making an annual gift and even more becoming monthly donors – it’s a commitment we can all make to building capacity in communities across the country. ”

Capacity-building has been at the heart of all of Climie-Elliott’s work, both for the organizations he’s worked for and for AFP. “There isn’t a day I don’t look forward going into the office and build that capacity,” he says.

And AFP is grateful for all of his efforts! “Mark’s capacity-building on behalf of AFP have been extraordinary, and our community is so much stronger for his commitment and generosity,” says Andrew Watt, FInstF, president and CEO of AFP. “We’re so fortunate to count him as a colleague and friend, and we’re honored to be able to present him with this year’s Barbara Marion Award.”

The Barbara Marion Award for Outstanding Leadership to AFP is presented to an AFP member who has served the association for at least 15 years in a variety of leadership positions on the international, national, regional and local levels. The award is named in honor of Barbara Marion, the first woman to chair AFP and one of just a few members to chair both the association and the foundation.