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Welcome to The Accidental Fundraiser

It was a beautiful day in Pittsburgh, and I was happy in my role as Research Coordinator for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Then a phone call from the CEO of the hospital came in, asking me to meet him in his office in 15 minutes. He had two people who wanted to see me.

Little did I know that this call would change my life in so many ways.

The meeting was with two prominent hospital board members, Benjamin R. Fisher and Henry L. Hillman. My stress levels were so high that I couldn’t hear everything that they were saying, but I did understand that they wanted me to work with them on a fundraising campaign for a new patient bed tower for Children’s. Fundraising? I had never considered it. Especially for a building. But I knew that I wanted to secure funding for research, and I told them so.

Benjamin R. Fisher
Benjamin R. Fisher

When Mr. Hillman heard that he drew back in his chair, laughing, and declared: ‘Ms. Tissue, if you come with us on this project, we’ll teach you everything you ever wanted to know about fundraising and, when you are ready, we will support all of the hospital’s research initiatives.’ How could anyone resist that?

Mr. and Mrs. Henry L. Hillman
Mr. and Mrs. Henry L. Hillman

I was the accidental fundraiser that year in 1979, but now, 40 years later, I am a passionate, motivated, fundraising professional who relishes what I get to do every day.

With wonderful staff and volunteers, I created special events with people like Jamie Lee Curtis (was that fun!) and with groups like the Pittsburgh Wine Festival team. With board members, I organized multiple capital campaigns to generate funds for research and clinical care.

With great physician partners, my staff and I secured almost 40 endowed chairs and innumerable endowed funds while happily working with individuals and foundations in the Pittsburgh community and beyond. Principal gifts came from many sources for impactful projects like the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration and the Live Like Lou Center for ALS Research. And I have volunteered with many organizations, provided formal and informal advice to employees and organizational leaders—whatever was asked of me, I have been willing to do.

Have I made mistakes? Yes, plenty of them! Have I had successes? Fortunately, yes, I remain very proud of the impact that my efforts have made on our community. And the successes were not always achieved using standard rules of fundraising. And that’s the basis for this blog.

How can I help your organization reach higher in a smarter way? How can I help development officers become stars in their fields? How can organizations work more effectively to harness the energy and talent they have available?

In the upcoming posts I will focus on many topics that are key to development: I want to ensure that readers are able to take something out of my experience and make their work more effective…to get some smart tips on how to move forward with vigor and courage (and significant fundraising takes a great deal of courage)…and to decipher the art and science of fundraising.

I hope to see you back on this blog and hear from you as well—I plan to post weekly. Have a wonderfully productive day!

1 Comment

James Olsen
James Olsen
Mar 06, 2019

Dear Gayle,

Your consulting website is beautiful and inspiring and most importantly it feels 100% authentic. I wish you all the best as you embark on this new phase of your remarkable career.



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