The Gift of Fundraising Expertise Helps Columbia College Black Alumni Raise Money—And Leads to a Bequest
David F. A. Walker ’80CC worked in fundraising for 30 years and was still raising money for nonprofits after his retirement, but he did not have any charities in his will until he got a phone call from Columbia’s gift planning office.
“I knew why they were calling me,” David says with a laugh. “I was volunteering for Columbia, had made a few contributions, and even been to the (University) president’s house, but no one had ever asked me about putting Columbia in my will. That phone call got my attention.”
David quickly revised his will to add a percentage bequest to Columbia College. It is going to the general fund to be used for any purpose. “A bequest is the easiest thing to do, so that’s why I made my gift that way,” David says.
David said he previously had a very basic will that did not reflect all of his wishes, particularly regarding charity.
“I read all those stories about donors to Columbia and other charities, but I thought ‘What does that have to do with me? I’m not going anywhere,’ “ David says. “But when you think about it, whether you’re 50 or 80 you need to have a will. And no one’s going to learn by osmosis what your philanthropic intent is, so put those instructions in your will.”
Early skills lay the foundation for a career in giving
David grew up in Boston and attended the prestigious Roxbury Latin School, whose students typically go to Ivy League universities. David arrived in New York for a visit to Columbia on Columbus Day, one of the city’s largest celebrations at the time.
“The city was so alive, and I decided New York was the place for me,” David says. “I applied Early Decision and that’s how it all happened.”
He started out majoring in French and spent half of a semester in France but then decided psychology would be more practical. He had volunteered as a fundraiser and event planner in high school—organizing auctions of everything from cakes to house plants to help his school—so fittingly he worked in the Columbia Office of Alumni and Development for his last two years of college. After graduation he worked for a private prep school in New York.
“I met a teacher who said, ‘You belong on Wall Street with your organizational skills,’ “ David recalls. “He thought my skill set would be great for the Wall Street environment even though I didn’t believe it. He recommended me to a firm that needed someone to help organize an opening-night celebration for a Broadway play they had invested in. I went on to do marketing and investment activities.”
After several years with investment firms, David switched back to fundraising—working for MIT, Brooklyn College, Earth University in Costa Rica, Long Island Hospital, and the United Negro College Fund, from which he retired as national gift director. Or tried to retire, at least.
From retirement to full-time advisor and philanthropist
David’s storied career in the nonprofit space has meant organizations have been knocking on his door for years in the hopes that he might share a bit of his expertise.
One of those organizations is the Black Alumni Council of Columbia College, who had heard of David’s fundraising success while he was working at MIT.
“I started helping them raise money,” David says. “It was a wonderful exercise to take something small and grow it into something large.”
In addition to supporting the Black Alumni Council of Columbia College, David was asked to serve on the Columbia College Alumni Association board—on which he remained for several years.
“My volunteer work elevated my thinking about what I owed back and wanted to do for Columbia,” David says. “Columbia rose up the ladder of my philanthropic intent. I’m most passionate about ensuring underserved youth, whoever that happens to be, get a leg up on the educational ladder. Underserved Latinx, Native American, Asian, African American—let’s make sure that educational opportunities are possible for everyone.”
Now retired, David continues to receive inquiries for fundraising guidance.
“My newfound time was going to be spent traveling and going to cooking school,” David says. “I don’t advertise my expertise or have a Web site, but the phone never stops ringing. There is a tremendous need for guidance in the nonprofit space. Charities continue to call and ask for help—and I have the time, so I support where I can.”
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