David Whalen is Perkins' first Chief Development Officer.
By Karen Shih
For 25 years, David Whalen has helped nonprofit organizations raise the funds they need to accomplish their missions, whether that’s bringing health care to impoverished countries or working to protect the environment. Now, he’s Perkins School for the Blind’s first Chief Development Officer, raising funds to support Perkins’ programs and initiatives. He sat down to talk to Perspectives about the transformative power of generosity.
How did you get into fundraising?
I have been in nonprofit work my entire professional career. What I realized early on is if you want to make a change, one of the important preconditions to bring about change or to make an exciting idea real was funding. Funding isn’t the only thing you need to make it happen, but without it, most things will just stay good ideas.
What do you enjoy most about fundraising?
Many people can’t imagine asking somebody for money, but I’ve always felt that if you believed deeply in the work an organization does, why wouldn’t you want to ask someone to join in that work?
The best part of what I do is I get to invite people to be a part of something they might not otherwise get to be a part of. By asking someone to learn more about an organization and understand the difference an organization makes in the world, and inviting them to be a partner in that work, they get to be part of something bigger than themselves. I consider that a privilege and a joy.
Why did you decide to come to Perkins?
What was particularly compelling about Perkins was the constancy of its mission over decades and decades and decades. Some organizations come and go, but Perkins’ adaptability and innovation was really attractive. Perkins is an organization that cares deeply about individuals. That core part of our mission that respects the dignity of individuals and encourages them to realize their fullest possible potential has been amazingly constant over time.
What has surprised you most since you arrived at Perkins?
It’s amazing how so many staff are always thinking about what’s next. They’re not just using interventions or strategies that have worked for the last decade – they’re thinking about things that will work for our students next year or in the next decade.
When donors ask why they should give to Perkins, what do you say?
An investment a donor makes in Perkins today is one that will return benefits into the future. It’s not just about services for today. We focus on preparing children and young adults to achieve their maximum amount of independence for the rest of their lives. It’s about empowering individuals with blindness or vision disabilities to contribute in all the ways they can.
Perkins is dedicated to finding new solutions to old problems. There’s so much exciting work that is being tried and tested on Perkins’ campus. It really is a laboratory for new strategies, ways to use technology and learning to empower people with visual impairment. For those who have supported Perkins over the years, thank you – and stay tuned! There’s more to come, and it’s all exciting.