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“Imagine the ribbon cutting,” Todd Lindsley says to volunteers and staff at their first campaign steering committee meeting. “I want everyone to burn this meeting in their brain because all we have are pieces of paper and a great idea—but when we’re done, we’re going to be doing something amazing for thousands of people for years and years to come.”
Lindsley is a gregarious and enthusiastic second-generation fundraiser—a balanced blend of his fundraising father, Ted, (logical, optimistic, dogged) and occupational therapist mother, Christine, (creative, artistic, free spirit). As Principal of his full-service fundraising consulting firm, created in 2000, he has provided counsel to more than one hundred organizations locally and nationwide, whose combined capital campaign goals exceed $1 billion. Locally, he’s worked with clients like Lancaster General Health (Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute), Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences, the North Museum, the Fulton Theatre and many more.
As a child, Lindsley says he thought Lucy, the Peanuts character with the psychiatric help stand, was brilliant. “So one day I put a sign on my bedroom door offering advice for five cents. I was maybe eight years old,” he recounts. He waited patiently for his first customer, which inevitably was his mother. Lindsley knew from an early age that he wanted to help people solve their problems.
Fast forward to his sophomore year in college. He’s undeclared and getting some pressure from his guidance counselor to choose a major. Enjoying a track and field scholarship at The College of William and Mary, Lindsley doesn’t know specifically what he wants to do or become. He calls his father that evening. “I remember I was sitting at one of those corded phones in the hallway,” he says. “Dad said, ‘Let’s talk it through.’” What did he like? What didn’t he like? What was he good at? “Forty-five minutes later, my dad started laughing,” Lindsley says with a smile on his face. “I was describing his job. I knew I could sell stuff. I didn’t want to sell Xerox machines; I wanted to sell ideas,” he concluded.
He was inspired! He put on a wrinkled shirt, the only tie he owned, and headed straight for the William & Mary Development Office. “I think I want to do what you do,” he told the Vice President of Development, Dwayne Dittman—who looked at him and said, “Son, in thirty-five years of fundraising, no student has ever walked into my office and said they wanted to be a fundraiser. You’re hired!” Mr. Dittman offered Lindsley a paid internship and eventually he was going on trips with the president of the college. He wrote letters, enjoyed hobnobbing, saw the inside of donor’s mansions in northern Virginia, met CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. “My job was to get to know these people as much as I could, share my experience at college, and thank them for their financial support. Basically it was fundraising. And I was gassed—I absolutely loved it!” he exclaims. To this day he still has the intensity and energy he first felt back in college. His boyish charm and eager ambition is evident in the projects he’s been privileged to work on for clients.
While fundraising is like sales, it’s also a very creative and collaborative effort—one that seeks to connect donors to projects they are passionate about. “My favorite saying in fundraising is this: If you want someone’s money, ask them for their opinion. If you want someone’s opinion, ask them for their money,” he says.
“Giving in Lancaster is part of this community’s DNA. Other communities aspire to have that culture of philanthropy that we are building. I’m happy professionally, but I’m happy because this is the community I live in.”
If not a career in fundraising, what?
Architecture, marketing, public relations, or advertising.
Something you enjoyed doing as a child?
Writing. I kept a notebook with little poems or I’d come up with the start of a book.
[blank] will save the world:
What are you obessed with?
My son Cooper’s swimming career at Seton Hall University and my daughter Greta’s XC/track and field career at Penn State University. My son Lou’s piano and running.
Favorite thing to do on a Friday night?:
If I’m in Cooperstown, go out on my ski boat, Lucinda. If I’m in Lancaster, it’s dancing anywhere with my wife, Heather—we’ve been married for 27 years.
I’m a huge John Irving fan. I’m currently reading Last Night in Twisted River.
What do you want your legacy to be?
The number and breadth of charitable projects that I’m involved in. That I got a lot done and I did it with a big smile on my face and it wasn’t limited to one place.
I have a little workshop where I build Adirondack chairs. Sometimes I paint stars on them and give them away or donate them.