June 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

What came first, the chicken or the egg? This is the age-old question that sages, and the not so sage, have grappled with over the ages. The question arises when neophytes, starting a career, face the challenge of being considered for a professional position for which they have no experience. The novice rightly asks himself or herself, “Well, how do I gain experience if no one hires me?” Good question.

When I pursued my master’s degree, a prerequisite to graduating was taking part in an administrative residency program. For one year, I served as an administrative resident at Fairfax Hospital, a 656-bed facility in Falls Church, Virginia, which exposed me to the field of acute care management and hospital administration. The residency was one way to overcome the chicken and egg question. Not everyone is so lucky.

In the space allotted me, let me share mini sketches of some senior executives with whom I worked and whose different and yet dynamic styles were part of my professional growth in the field of development. By sharing these vignettes, it may shed light on what it takes to be a mentor and a role model.

Purely as an aside I should mention that I was one of few Jewish employees in an organization primarily staffed by a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant population. I wore my kippah proudly (as I did throughout my career) and in return was greeted with respect and dignity. My preceptor, Mr. Rupp, was the executive vice president of the facility and I will never forget his coming by my office on Friday afternoons and telling me: ”It’s almost Shabbos. Time to leave.”

Mr. Rupp was my mentor at the hospital, and I credit some of my success to his regularly taking time to guide me. Even though this was not the sole purpose of my residency, he introduced me to the foundation office responsible for raising major funds for Fairfax Hospital. It opened my eyes to the essential nature of fundraising in a nonprofit environment. The funds they raised underwrote the CAT scanners, biomedical laboratory, nuclear medicine department and other vital services.

When I moved to The Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield, Connecticut, my mentor was Dennis J. Magid, then executive director. Starting as the director of volunteers and community relations, it was my responsibility to coordinate programs by the Women’s Auxiliary that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the facility and later millions for the 120-bed addition we built.

Dennis was an outstanding administrator and he lived and breathed fundraising. He involved me in the Auxiliary’s annual Spring Luncheon when more than 800 women attended at the most beautiful venues. We held mid-summer events such as a reception for 1,000 patrons at the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut, major raffle/dinner-dance programs and an October Ball at local country clubs. Mentoring meant supervising me but also giving me responsibilities ranging from event coordination to recruiting benefactors.

As the executive director/CDO at Metropolitan Jewish Geriatric Foundation, my responsibilities ranged from capital campaigns to annual giving activities to planned giving programs. The mentor who counseled and advised me on the best ways to approach our board was Eli S. Feldman, president/CEO. Eli delegated fundraising duties to me but also was instrumental in helping me initiate annual golf events, which became huge fundraisers. Meeting with Eli, who was a business entrepreneur by nature, was always valuable because his advice came from a profit-making perspective helpful in turning our fundraisers into profit-oriented enterprises.

At OHEL Children’s Home, my mentor was David Mandel, a CEO who understood the value of charitable giving. He realized that donations often made the difference in whether a program survived or expanded. Recognizing that lead gifts and ongoing contributions both added up was integral to our success. We held regular meetings to discuss the best way to go about securing major gifts, coordinating special events and organizing a panoply of giving opportunities. His confidence and trust were key ingredients to his mentoring approach. I appreciated that.

I am forever grateful to the senior executives who mentored me during my tenure with them. They were always forward looking, true role models, and they expanded my horizons in the field of philanthropy and leadership development.

So, my question to professionals today is this: “Do you have a mentor, or a tormentor, who encourages your path to success?”


Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. Formerly a Teaneck resident for 34 years, he is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds. He can be reached at [email protected].

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