I first heard of Jimmy LaRose after serving eight years on the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Columbia, SC). I was privileged to hold the office of President, win AFP’s Fundraising Executive of the Year Award and organize National Philanthropy Day. I attended every board meeting and event. I was all in for AFP and Jimmy LaRose was an anathema to me.
I heard the stories of his bombastic nature. I witnessed his New York City attitude among the genteel citizens of South Carolina. I read his articles that seemed exaggerated and was offended by the way he picked fights with the establishment. I experienced his shameless self promotion. I had disdain for his gold watch and big rings. I saw him at book signings taking pictures with everyone he met. I concluded that Jimmy LaRose had no place in the world of professional fundraising, no place in our town, and no place in my life.
In 2016, Jimmy LaRose and his co-founders launched National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives (NANOE) and announced that the first NANOE convention would be hosted in Columbia, SC. After much conversation with the AFP Board, I decided to call Jimmy to explain the many and various ways he was wrong. I intended to talk him out of this NANOE thing in general but particularly his crazy idea to host it in South Carolina. After all, we had TogetherSC, the established network for nonprofits across our State. We didn’t need NANOE and we certainly didn’t need it in here.
I spoke with Jimmy for 30 minutes. He was, of course, in Las Vegas speaking at a conference. At best, the conversation was tense. At worst, it was a shouting argument. I’ve never been one to shy from confronting people when I believe they are wrong and this conversation was no different. Yet, here is what impressed me:
At the end of a difficult and unpleasant conversation, Jimmy invited me to his house for dinner. Most people, had they been on the receiving end of my scathing criticism, would never have spoken with me again. Most people would have hated me for life. Most people would have worked behind the scenes from then on to undermine my efforts. But Jimmy didn’t do any of these things. Instead, he said, “let’s share a meal together.”
As a person of faith, this was a powerful moment for me. There are stories upon stories in the Bible about people sharing meals and the connections that result. The Bible encourages us to love our enemies and break bread with them. Trust me, I had no intention of loving Jimmy or breaking bread with him. And yet, he invited me to his home for a meal.
On a beautiful fall evening, I experienced grace, hospitality, generosity and the beginnings of a heartfelt friendship. Jimmy and his wife Kristi hosted me and Bishop and Luella Redfern for a night of feasting, laughter, wisdom and prayer. This was not a sales job. This was not the New York City hustle. This was the true Jimmy LaRose.
Since that night, I have talked to Jimmy almost every day. Mostly, we discuss professional matters relating to the state of the nonprofit sector. We talk about fundraising, leadership, organizational development, events, dysfunctional boards, the hubris of the elites and the reality that for every major gift not received by nonprofits, children die and families suffer.
Sometimes we talk about our gardens or travel but, for the most part, we are passionately focused on our professional endeavors. I have never met someone so devoted to his vocation. I have never met a harder working individual. I have never met someone with the range and depth of understanding of the nonprofit sector than Jimmy LaRose.
Why am I writing this article? Because the only thing that matters to me in this life is changing and saving lives and these initiatives are accomplished largely by the nonprofit sector. Changing and saving lives can only be accomplished with money. No one understands better how to raise money for nonprofits than Jimmy LaRose. Therefore, no one understands better how to change and save lives than Jimmy LaRose.
Is he bombastic and self aggrandizing? Yes. Is he a marketing genius who emails you incessantly? Yes. Is he passionate about the nonprofit sector beyond anything I have seen? Yes.
Jimmy is part Howard Stern and part Martin Luther. He is Darth Vader…part man and part machine. He is a villain to the nonprofit establishment and a hero to small and medium nonprofits.
There are many for whom this mix of good and bad is unacceptable. For the pious puritans of the nonprofit sector, only humble service will suffice. Here’s the problem: the establishment’s version of humble service has achieved little or no growth for the nonprofit sector. The establishment is still trying to make us believe that what worked 50 years ago still works today.
We need a rebel. We need a leader. We need someone who is not afraid of the dark places. We need someone who gets his hands dirty. This person is Jimmy LaRose.
Here is my request of you: don’t form your judgement of Jimmy from what you have heard from others. Rather, experience him firsthand. Read his industry best-seller REIMAGINING PHILANTHROPY. Visit his YoutTube Channel. Attend a Major Gifts Ramp-Up Conference. Join us for a NANOE event.
If you decide, after experiencing Jimmy firsthand, he is to much hustle and not enough substance, I understand and respect your decision. On the other hand, you may find you have encountered the real deal in the nonprofit sector and you will be forever changed. Either way, I promise it won’t be boring.
Is Jimmy LaRose a Hero or a Villain? He is both…and that’s what makes him great.
Jimmy LaRose – Hero or Villain was written by Reverend Louis Fawcett, who holds a BA from Randolph-Macon College and two Master Degrees from Wake Forest University and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. He was privileged to Pastor three Lutheran congregations in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina. His service to the charitable sector began with his work at Christian World Foundation where he raised support for orphans in China, Russia and Ethiopia. During the 2008 recession, Louis led a successful campaign to build a children’s home in Ethiopia. Following the 2010 earthquake, Louis transitioned to Haiti Children, a charity serving destitute families and children in that island nation. In 2013, Louis accepted the position of Senior Vice President of Principal Gifts at EdVenture Children’s Museum where he forged collaborations with under-resourced communities by raising major gifts throughout South Carolina. He has served Central South Carolina Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) for seven years as both board member and president. He was honored in 2016 as AFP’s Outstanding Fundraising Professional.