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Donor Participation Project

How Two Fundraising Leaders Built a Winning Culture That Lasts 

Matthew Lambert and Dan Frezza are fundraising leaders who built an enduring culture of success at William & Mary University.

Over the past decade, they doubled William & Mary’s donor base through a focus on broad-based engagement, education, and taking strategic risks. 

According to Lambert, the secret to their success was “having Dan Frezza as a friend.” Frezza served as Lambert’s direct report for annual giving, positioning annual giving not as subordinate to major gifts but as an equal partner.

Their goal was to foster lifelong philanthropic engagement, not just raise more money.

They started by building a student philanthropy education program. Beginning with freshmen, they taught students about the impact of philanthropy and the value of long-term donor relationships. The program aimed not just to raise current dollars but to shape future alumni donors. 

Senior leadership support was also key.

Two university presidents backed their vision, giving Lambert and Frezza the freedom to experiment. “Take risks, try new things,” Lambert advises. “If we fail, we learn quickly and move on.”

Their approach was strategic and relationship-focused, not transactional.

The goal was donor engagement and stewardship, not just asking for money. They saw that engaged students became engaged alumni donors. Engaged donors, in turn, gave more and stayed loyal longer.  

Building an enduring culture took time but paid off in double-digit donor and dollar growth. Over a decade, William & Mary went from outside the top 10 in alumni giving participation within their university system to inside the top 4. Their budget barely changed. intentionality and focus made the difference.

For fundraisers seeking to emulate their success, Lambert and Frezza recommend:

  • Securing leadership support,
  • Focusing on education and engagement over the long run,
  • Taking strategic risks, and
  • Maintaining an attitude of gratitude and stewardship.

Building a “winning culture” is challenging, but with time and the right principles, fundraising leaders can achieve sustainable success.

View the full recording of this Donor Participation Project session in our Resource Library.

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