Gayle L. Tissue,
Founder and CEO
Gayle is Founder and CEO of Gayle Tissue Strategies. After spending her entire career within the Western Pennsylvania region, Gayle was convinced that many nonprofits could use the services of a proven senior executive who could help to increase revenues, train major gift officers, and advise on streamlining fundraising programs. In other words, someone who will help organizations grow boldly, particularly in an environment where many nonprofits are competing for limited resources.
When work is underway, Gayle Tissue Strategies is all-in. Using many different strategies, Gayle has helped directly and indirectly to raise approximately $500 million for the organizations with which she was involved, primarily for medical research and clinical programs, and for many other community initiatives.
Hands-on partnerships with local organizations, laced with a commitment to excellence, is the goal in helping nonprofits excel in ways that are important to them.
With her experience as a senior executive in hospital administration and as a successful development leader, Gayle is a valued advisor in the community and partner to many people and organizations. She has worked with key health-related organizations and community groups regionally and has consulted with academic institutions in other parts of the country.
Q & A with Gayle
What have been some of the most important lessons you have learned in fundraising?
There have been so many lessons and so many teachers.
Henry Hillman counseled me early in my career that one is never asking for a gift for themselves, but for the mission of the organization—he gave me the courage to say the words “$1 million” for the first time, and I have never forgotten that. The memory of that day’s conversation encourages me each time I talk about a gift at any level.
Charles Bluestone, M.D., former Director of Pediatric Otolaryngology at Children’s Hospital, was a very important influence for me and a very willing fundraiser and volunteer. Full of energy and strong beliefs, he taught me to have faith in myself and my dreams—and he taught me that when it comes to the mission of an organization, everything is urgent.
My own mother and father taught me the importance of persistence and hard work and they did it with a great deal of care for their five children. My mother kindly shared her humor and my father taught me the value of long-term relationships with clients—he assured me that short term was important, too, but never to trade the long term for short term gains. That’s actually the essence of development. Put the donors and their wishes first.
You have been in this business for a long time—you surely must have some interesting stories to tell—can you share some?
Sure, I always like to share stories about special donors.
I remember one man who I met through Children’s. I didn't know him, but he called me one day to find out if we accepted major gifts…it was during the December holidays, snowing very hard. I invited him to tour Children’s, and we focused that day on the oncology area, a key priority. He came back again around the first of the year with a companion and signed a wonderful agreement to provide $1 million for a pediatric oncology research endowment. The money was intended to be sent at the end of January and when the gift arrived, he had actually changed his mind and made a $2 million gift. Later that Spring he gave another gift of $1 million…several years later he gave another gift of $3 million, all for a pediatric oncology research endowment. All the while he was supporting free care and community initiatives for underserved populations. These were gifts of genuine love for children. The first contact occurred in 1999 and the interest from those funds continues every year to provide a financial backdrop for a growing, productive cancer research program. What an impact these gifts have made and the endowment itself will grow and provide stable funding for the hospital into perpetuity. Can you imagine the impact this gentleman has made and will make on the lives of patients and families with these gifts?
You’ve raised a great deal of money. What were some of the most important contributions that people made?
Actually, each and every gift is important in the overall framework of a fundraising program. Gifts of all sizes make an impact on any program. Large gifts and smaller gifts work in a rhythm together…I do believe that every gift leverages another and another…philanthropy can be so powerful and rewarding at every level. Everyone should experience that.
From the perspective of larger gifts, certainly a gift from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation created a wonderful trauma program at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in the early 90s: the goal was the four Rs—get the right child, to the right place, at the right time to ensure that the right trauma team could treat him/her. Children’s has an outstanding trauma team as a result of that first step.
Gifts of $10,000 or more every year to the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center combined to give strength to any number of programs in melanoma, surgical oncology, osteosarcoma, blood diseases, etc.—it is the power of many people working together. The funds are the backbone of some of the most important research initiatives at the Hillman.
Of all the people with whom you worked, who were some of your greatest influences?
I have had the privilege of working with people from all over the region…those who impressed me the most were the volunteers—board members or individual donors or physicians and staff members who gave of their time, money and energy—who ensured that events or initiatives or campaigns moved forward and did so with genuine enthusiasm. Those who committed with their hearts and minds—what an impact they can have on an organization as well as on the development team. That’s genuine partnership—volunteers are the lifeblood of any organization.
What would you tell people who were moving into the fundraising field? What are some of the most important lessons you could share?
I would tell them that development can be a wonderful career, but as with everything, it depends on how they, themselves, structure it. Fundraising became my passion. I think about donors, strategies and priorities frequently during the day. I enjoy my work every day and after many years in the field, I still find the impact of philanthropy reinforcing. Through my years at the health center I have seen cancer go to a chronic illness for many patients. There are new ways of diagnosing patients with amyloidosis much earlier than previously available. There is hope on the horizon for a potential cure for diabetes. If philanthropy can help organizations to have these types of successes, I can’t wait to be involved in many other organizations in the future.
When it comes to philanthropy, my advice is not to sit back and wait to be invited to participate. Decide what you stand for, identify organizations with which you would like to be involved, and explore how you can make an impact with your time and resources—jump in, but jump in with a goal and passion to back it.
Are you going to volunteer?
I sure am. I plan to volunteer with people who have been good partners over the years, in organizations where I enjoy board members and staff, and where I feel that I can help extend programs and solve challenges. I would like to help organizations maximize their reach by growing resources and perhaps changing some of their standard strategies. I think this is an important commitment to the health of