Editors’ note: This article, first published during print on April-1999, has been republished for Nonprofit Quarterly with minor updates.
This article is our first memorial tribute. We hope we won’t have many occasions to write more of them. It is fitting, though, that our first memorial is for Hank Rosso, who was my mentor and teacher when I became involved in fundraising more than 20 years ago, and remained someone I relied on for fundraising advice.
Hank was first in many things with regard to fundraising. He was the founder, with Joe Mixer, of The Fund Raising School, where I took my first fundraising training in 1978. He was one of the first to codify fundraising knowledge and to develop ways to share that knowledge with others. He remained the best fundraising teacher, even as more people took up teaching this craft. He was adamant and effective in promoting the idea that fundraising is an honorable profession, and that it should be integral to all the work of an organization. Much of what he taught and stood for has become common, but he was the pioneer.
Hank’s 50-year career as a fundraiser transformed the field, particularly in the training of development directors, executives, board members, and volunteers. He defined fundraising as “the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving” and expressed that art in humane and compassionate terms that inspired others.
Hank taught tens of thousands of people through The Fund Raising School. Courses he pioneered have since been offered on every continent except Antarctica, and hundreds of thousands of nonprofits have benefited from the principles and techniques he first articulated. In addition to hundreds of articles and curricula, he compiled a comprehensive book, Achieving Excellence in Fund Raising, and wrote another useful text, Rosso on Fundraising.
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There are some things about Hank I never knew until I read the notice of his death sent by the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. It was characteristic of his humility that he never told me that, as a budding high-school journalist in Princeton, NJ, he was the first person in the United States to be granted an interview by Dr. Albert Einstein. After military service, he graduated magna cum laude from Syracuse University, and was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Over the course of his career in fundraising, Hank was given almost every award available to fundraising professionals, including Outstanding Fund Raising Executive of the Year in 1985 from the National Society for Fundraising Executives. Indiana University created an award called the Henry A. Rosso Award for Lifetime Achievement in Fund Raising and then made him its first recipient. He received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from both Indiana University and Pacific Union College.
Hank will be best remembered by those of us in grassroots fundraising for his unending patience with the groups he taught, and for his tremendous generosity with his time. He gave hours of advice at no charge and was never irritated at having to answer the same questions over and over. When I went to work for the Coalition for the Medical Rights of Women in San Francisco in 1978 (my first fundraising job), the Coalition’s steering committee gave me a tape of a conversation they had had with Hank. They had called him and explained that they couldn’t afford to attend his Fund Raising School, but wondered if he could recommend any resources. As very little had yet been written about grassroots fundraising, Hank invited a group of them to his home and spent the evening giving them advice—in reality a short course on how to do fundraising—which they taped. That advice formed the basis of the fundraising plan the Coalition developed, and served as the foundation for our very successful fundraising efforts.
I traveled with Hank and his wife, Dottie, who was also his steadfast and tireless business associate, to more states than I can remember, as well as to Jamaica (twice) and Dominica. He absorbed information like a sponge, and rarely forgot anything. I loved working with him not only because I learned so much, but also because he and Dottie were a lot of fun. He had a tremendous sense of humor, and he was a connoisseur of food. I always knew that when I traveled with Hank I would eat well and laugh a lot.
Hank’s greatest gift was his ability to inspire in people the confidence that they could raise money, and people often remarked after his workshops that he had made the impossible possible. It is to Hank that nervous solicitors owe the reminder, “Kick yourself out of the way and let your cause do the talking.”
A few years ago Hank developed Alzheimer’s Disease, so we have been missing him for some time. His family asks that contributions be made to the Hank Rosso Memorial Fund, Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, 550 West North St, Suite 301, Indianapolis, IN 46202, or to National Alzheimer’s Research, 919 North Michigan Ave, Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60611-1678.