This November, at the National Philanthropy Day event organized by the Association of Fundraising Professionals-Greater Philadelphia Chapter, I had the honor of announcing the recipient of this year’s M. Jane Williams Professional Development Award, Liz Marafino Fiola.
The award was established two years ago to honor the life’s work of Jane Williams, my partner at Schultz & Williams and a legendary figure in fundraising who left an indelible mark on the profession. The award recognizes a mid-career professional and provides support for that person to access advanced training and other professional development activities.
Jane Williams dedicated her career to helping others, and the award is meant to advance the career of someone sharing that commitment, as Liz most clearly does. We are pleased to have this chance to spend a few moments getting to know Liz and hearing her thoughts on our profession.
-L. Scott Schultz , President, Schultz & Williams
S&W: Tell us about the work you are doing.
LMF: I just started in a new role as advancement officer at Williamson College of the Trades in Media, PA. Williamson educates around 265 young men each year in six different trades and is the only college in the country that offers free tuition, room, and board. They prioritize those with the most financial need. The school is also unique in that it operates similar to a military academy with the goal of preparing these men professionally, socially, and spiritually.
S&W: It sounds like quite a special organization.
What’s truly powerful is its impact. 95% of graduates leave with a job and go on to great success in their field. Many start their own businesses. I’ve only been there a few weeks, and I’ve already heard many stories from alumni about how Williamson changed their lives. They don’t know where they’d be without having gone to the school.
S&W: What first drew you to fundraising?
LMF: Back in 2012, I was getting my master’s in theater at Villanova, and I decided to try a course in fundraising just to broaden my skill set. Suddenly, I thought wow. This is a way I can support the kind of artistic enterprises I care about. This is a way I can get others involved and get their support too. And it’s a more sustainable path to making a living than a career in acting or directing.
S&W: Some theater people would not have been as excited by the prospect of switching from the stage to development.
LMF: Well it was very exciting to me—a chance to connect people to things I really care about and to have a bigger impact. And, I think there are actually quite a few theater people who have made their way into fundraising. It helps that actors are not shy!
S&W: Aside from “not shy,” how would you describe the people you think our profession tends to attract?
LMF: We’re an excitable bunch. Everyone lights up when they talk about the places they work, because they really believe in the mission.
You find a lot of people from the arts because so much of what we do in fundraising is about sharing stories. And you find people who care a lot about changing things.
It’s funny. This is the kind of chance to change the world you would have dreamed of when you were 18, except that nobody knows about fundraising when they’re 18.
S&W: What do you see as your long-term career goals?
LMF: I just started at Williamson this week, so my big goal for the foreseeable future is to do a great job in building support there. I’ve moved into a major gifts role now, and maybe someday I’d like to oversee a department. The wonderful thing about moving up the ladder is that it means the chance to have a more meaningful impact.
S&W: Tell us about what it means to receive the M. Jane Williams Award.
LMF: I have a master’s in nonprofit leadership from the University of Pennsylvania and I see my next key step as getting my CFRE credential. The support from this award is going to help with the costs related to that certification. I’m so honored and so grateful to be chosen.