Committed Leadership — Successful resource development programs can almost always be attributed to committed leaders. By virtue of their generosity, position, and/or enthusiasm, these leaders ensure fundraising success. This leadership can be broadly defined in two categories — volunteer and administrative.

For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing William H. Miller.

Bill is the CEO of Kean University Foundation. His experience leading national and international organizations is rooted in his passion for working with nonprofits. During his career he has been involved with fund development projects that have raised more than $1 billion and he has received multiple awards for his contributions to philanthropy, including the Robert J. Smythe Award for Outstanding Professional Fundraiser and Top CEO of the Year in 2021 from the International Association of Top Professionals. Mr. Miller lives with his daughter in Rahway, NJ and is a leading contributor to nonprofit and professional publications.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

I went to college at a small school in Virginia. When I graduated, I had an English degree but was not quite sure what I wanted to do. As fate would have it, I met the late CEO of CCS Fund Raising. His name was Bill Hanrahan, and he took me under his wing. I will always be grateful to the many mentors and friends I met at CCS. It was a privilege and great experience working with some of the best minds in the industry. I worked with a number of clients across almost every nonprofit sector as a resident consultant including hospitals, institutions of higher education, independent schools, faith-based, and cultural organizations.

Things really started to move for me when I served as the Executive Director for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh’s $125 million capital and endowment campaign, which has received more than $233 million in philanthropic commitments and was, at the time, the most successful Catholic fundraising initiative on record.

As a consultant, I also managed an international campaign for a nonprofit organization based in Paris, France. Living in Paris was an amazing experience both professionally and personally. This campaign, which was conducted in both the United States and Europe, solicited gifts in various currencies and involved the management and training of volunteers on two continents.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

To be successful in this space, leaders need to have both an internal and external focus. They need to be able to balance the demands of fundraising with those of management. I take my role as a manager very seriously and I like to see people grow and succeed. People that report to me work hard and have fun. I often tell the teams I manage that, to be successful in fund development, professionals need these assets:

The Ability to Develop and Maintain Relationships: My experiences have taught me that there are two common denominators essential to achieving success in fundraising, whether foundation, corporate, or individual. First, the prospective donor needs to have a relationship with — and like — the individuals who represent the organization seeking funds. Second, stakeholders and prospective donors need to know that the organization is a good investment. Whether seeking annual gifts for Kean’s operations and programs, or leadership support for a major fundraising campaign, financial prospects and donors must feel connected and trust that their investments will be put to good use. Cultivating this dynamic requires us as leaders to be good listeners who can match the donor’s interest and passion to the right investment.

The Ability to Analyze Data, Develop Metrics, Manage, and Strategize: Success in this area requires the ability to set priorities, establish and achieve measurable goals, and use the professionals on our teams to their fullest potential.

The Power of Passion and Perseverance: A nonprofit leader should be a person who can play with ease all the different roles required of a senior executive — steward, fundraiser, ambassador, and friend. He or she should be as comfortable and engaging speaking to a group of 500 people as he or she is speaking privately with a prospective donor. This person must be kind, and possess the compassion required and expected in the nonprofit space. Most importantly, he or she must be passionate and able to instill that passion in others.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

Having worked in and with a number of institutions of higher education, I understand that the value of faculty, staff, and administrators across all dimensions, lies in their productivity and creativity. Every great school also has a great alumni association. At Kean University, it is easy to put these words into action. It guides my planning and execution.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

According to a number of our scholarship recipients, no other organization does more to help in emergencies and provide comprehensive support in the long run to uplift our students. We employ an effective team of staff members with more than 100 years of combined fund development experience, and our mission focuses on projects and programs that produce positive outcomes.

We are transparent and accountable with our finances, which are independently audited, and our governance and management practices meet the highest stewardship standards. The team partners with Kean University to identify areas of greatest needs and goes above and beyond to provide value-added solutions. Our people are passionate about providing help to our campus community, and our commitment is total.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

It has been said that philanthropy is an act of optimism. The act is an investment in a student, a member of the faculty, a vision, an organization. Philanthropy can help fortify the American higher education system by continuing to provide opportunities to our students, who will ultimately do the same for the next generation or create a better world for all of us.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

Kean University is not unique in that we receive funding from private philanthropy. Over the last five years, more than 9,000 individual donors contributed over $22,200,000 in support of Kean University. What these donors may not know is that their charitable investments in higher education are not merely a gift to an institution — they are a game changer for future leaders who are pursuing a college degree to level the playing field, to pursue dreams, and to overcome challenges that life has placed in front of them.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

Over the past two decades, Kean University has become synonymous with world-class education. Our increasingly diverse and accomplished student body is challenged by a highly regarded faculty on campuses throughout New Jersey and beyond.

While we are excited about the progress, we also firmly believe that we must strive to keep a Kean University degree financially accessible. No qualified high school student should ever be barred entrance to a college or university based on his or her family’s bank account. Yet it happens continuously across the State of New Jersey and elsewhere in America.

Kean University believes in rewarding people based on their academic record, not the size of their bank account. Denying students entry based on their ability to pay undermines equal opportunity. It perpetuates intergenerational poverty. It strikes against the very heart of Kean.

We believe higher education is a great equalizer. Multiple studies have shown that students who pursue undergraduate and advanced degrees — no matter what their family’s background — have similar earnings after graduation. But they need our help to get started.

Today, Kean University is uniquely positioned to substantially enhance its standing as a leading public institution by improving access for qualified students from all socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things you need in your organization to leave a lasting legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.

I was taught that there are indeed critical success factors for fundraising. The following five that come to mind collectively serve as an effective way by which to measure any nonprofit’s fundraising efforts.

Compelling Case for Support — An organization must have needs that a significant number of potential donors will understand and embrace. Of particular importance is effective communication of these needs, or the case for support. An organization with a strong case, but one that is not properly and effectively communicated minimizes its fundraising potential.

An Identifiable Pool of Potential Donors — An identifiable constituency is vital to the success of any fund development program. Expansion of the prospect pool must be an ongoing process that includes identification, subsequent cultivation, solicitation, and ongoing stewardship.

Committed Leadership — Successful resource development programs can almost always be attributed to committed leaders. By virtue of their generosity, position, and/or enthusiasm, these leaders ensure fundraising success. This leadership can be broadly defined in two categories — volunteer and administrative.

Dedicated Volunteers and Staff — Once fundraising leadership is identified and recruited, those leaders must have others who are willing to “follow” and bring time, energy, and enthusiasm to the mission. All fundraising initiatives — from the annual gifts and major gifts campaigns to special events — require committed volunteers and staff. Proper identification, recruitment, training, and ongoing volunteer/staff management are required to ensure that volunteers/staff perceive themselves as valued and valuable to the overall effort. Of course, for the most favorable results, a nonprofit organization must be willing to provide the appropriate staffing structure with commensurate compensation for staff positions.

A Fundraising Plan and Timetable — A written blueprint for development and all fundraising activities is required. Without a specific strategic plan, other tasks often begin to take priority, causing the fundraising program to lose momentum. Adherence to the timetable provides much needed structure for the organization’s volunteer, staff, and leadership committees.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

Times of unprecedented challenges are also times to come together. I am proud to be part of this Kean Cougar community. We share a grit and courage that can’t be taught. These characteristics can help us through the hard times. It is these inner qualities that makes being a Kean Cougar so special.

There is also no better time to support a nonprofit than during times of uncertainty, stress, or challenge. I am pleased that our donor count has been increasing year over year despite the “dollars up donors down” trend we are seeing across the country.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

Stress at work can lead to physical, mental, and emotional strain. All of that increases the risk of burnout. Fostering resilience on our team helps keep the lights on, the morale high, and the engine chugging.

Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit?

Ray Chambers and MacKenzie Scott. They both are impactful philanthropists whose charitable objectives align closely with what we are doing at Kean University.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

We exist to support all Kean University students in need, as well as faculty, research and programmatic initiatives, and campus facilities. Please visit our website at Kean University Foundation — Foundation ( or follow us on our social media platforms.





Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.