Meet Ernie Gamino: The best fundraising pro who isn't a fundraising pro

ernie gaminoIt happens every year. My partner and I get a phone call from Cindy, who is Ernie Gamino’s assistant, and she asks us to please schedule a year-end sit down meeting. Ernie is our Edward Jones financial advisor, and getting time in both of our calendars is a challenge. However, we found some time this past Saturday. I’m glad we did because I discovered that Ernie is a really good fundraising professional, who has never been trained as one or worked at a non-profit organization. We can all learn a lot from Ernie and his colleagues.
Let me set the stage for you. It was Saturday morning. I was cranky after spending too much money on a Friday night. I really just wanted to hang around the house. The last thing I wanted to be doing was talking to my investment advisor about retirement, which seems like a far away fantasy world to this 43-year-old.
The meeting
ernie2I started the meeting off by growling at poor Ernie. I wanted to know why this annual meeting is necessary? Can’t he just go about doing his job and call me when he needs to get permission to do something with my investment portfolio.
Since the customer is always right, Ernie responded perfectly and with a smile. He simply said that he can do anything I ask of him, but he didn’t stop there. He continued quickly to share the following:

  • He has it set in his calendar to call me every two months.
  • His bi-monthly calls prompt him to review my portfolio and look critically at whether or not anything really needs to be done.
  • His annual year-end sit down meeting is a best practice. It allows him to educate me on where the market has been and where it is going. It also allows him to tell me what I should be doing differently.

Sigh! He made his point. He is right. I am wrong. So, I shut up and let him continue with the meeting. Here is what we talked about over the course of approximately 60 minutes:

  • ernie3We talked about his Northern Illinois University (NIU) football team and the state of the BCS football system.
  • We re-visited the reasons my partner and I chose Edward Jones over the countless other financial management firms out there. We like the old fashion Edward Jones approach to business development and asset management. It was nice to talk for a few minutes about that decision. It was re-affirming and rewarding.
  • We talked about our personal information. We reviewed email addresses, phone numbers, accounts, etc. While I  thought this was mundane, it turns out that we did have some information change in the last 12 months. It was a good thing he asked so our records could be updated.
  • We talked about a recent seminar Ernie facilitated for his clients about the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). While we didn’t attend, it was a subtle reminder that he offers those free services and we should be participating. Hmmm? Maybe some day. Besides, what a nice value added service.
  • We looked at our investments as well as the market. It was a good thing we did because my partner’s portfolio was unbalanced because of how the market has evolved recently.
  • Ernie showed us projections of how our assets might grow or shrink based upon decisions we are making today. He made a few suggestions about increasing our savings, reducing our expenses, and doing some estate planning. He even got us talking about whether it was smarter for me to close my consulting practice and go back to work for a non-profit agency who could match my retirement account contributions. I dunno . . . but these were good things to be thinking and talking about.

The truth of the matter is that I like to see how my money is invested. I like to feel involved in the decision-making process even though at the end of the day I always tell Ernie to do whatever he thinks makes the most sense. He is after all the expert.
Regardless, it is nice to feel informed and involved.
At the end of our meeting, Ernie walked us next door in the strip mall and introduced him to a fellow merchant, who just so happens to be a client. He made a connection.
Lessons learned
As I walked away from this encounter with Ernie Gamino, I realized how wise this young man is and how much fundraising professionals could learn from him.
Here are just a few of the takeaways:

  • Communicate regularly with your donors. They want to feel involved.
  • When a donor pushes back, listen to them. Offer to adjust your communications plan with them, but educate them about why you’re doing what you’re doing. You may be surprised at how they respond.
  • Personal information changes regularly. You need to review it and change it or your donor database will become garbage. Routine phone calls and sit down meetings are the perfect opportunity to do this kind of work.
  • Talk about things (e.g. football, tattoos, etc) with donors. While it might not have anything to do with your mission, you’re deepening a relationship, which is the most valuable thing you can ever do when it comes to donor communications.
  • Share information with the donor about what their contribution is helping support and the results coming from those programs. People like to feel involved. When this happens, then you get a deeper sense of engagement and donors don’t walk away from your mission.
  • Share other opportunities with donors about how they can do more. You never know where that conversation goes, and it can be done in a donor-centered way that doesn’t feel like you’re pushing.

Ernie doesn’t sit down and call all of his clients. He said that some people are really passive with their investments. So, he just periodically checks in on them to see if their circumstances have changed and to update their records. In other words, you should segment your donor database and decide who needs to hear from you and how often.
Does your agency have a formal donor communications plan and strategy. If so, what is it? What does it look like? If not, then why not and what are you planning to do about it? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. As usual, excellent and thought provoking comments Erik. To tell you the truth I have considered the idea of “cross pollenization” or talking about the ideas you shared from the “financial world” to the “fundraising world” for some itme. A good (and I emphasize ‘good’) investment person does practice many skills and techniques that have fantastic crossover value for us fundraiser types that we should look at, consider and possibly emulate! You beat me to it, but thanks.

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