‘Building it the right way from the ground up’: An interview with Gvido Burgis

The Indiana State Library Foundation is excited to announce its new Executive Director Gvido Burgis. Gvido is no stranger to the world of philanthropy and has a number of successes with nonprofits and government organizations. His enthusiasm for Gvido_2_prefered_webphilanthropy is contagious along with his warm smile and engaging personality. I had the opportunity to interview Gvido about his vision for the Indiana State Library. The following is an excerpt from our conversation.

RB: Tell me a bit about your background and how you advanced in the world of philanthropy?

GB: I guess I would have to step back into another galaxy far, far away in another lifetime. [Chuckling] Actually, I worked for state government for a number of years. I worked under Lieutenant Governor John Mutz in the 1980s. After the election in 1988 I believe, a lot of people who worked in the republican administrations were out looking for jobs. Somebody approached me about doing philanthropy because it’s a real people business. I started on the road of fundraising working for a consulting firm doing feasibility studies and capital campaigns for several years. There was a lot of travel involved with that over two and a half years. I traveled all over the country.

I returned to Indianapolis and worked as the Director of Development for the Humane Society for a number of years. I worked as an executive for this national organization for economic education for clergy. After that I came to Visiting Nurse Service as the Vice President of Development and worked there for nearly 18 years. We built this tiny foundation they had with total assets of maybe three million and through a series of campaigns and events; we built it to an organization of around 18 million.

RB: What is Visiting Nurse Service?

GB: They are in homecare. Visiting Nurse Service is one of the original United Way agencies. They have been around since about 1913. A lot of them have disappeared around the county as they became for profits because of health care changes. Health care changes about every four or five years dramatically. But, we were still pretty fortunate to get a lot of people to support us. We did a lot of events and capital campaigns. We raised money to build a site for the terminally ill homeless – about a five million dollar campaign for that. We built a low-income senior housing center. There was a lot of interesting stuff there.

Then a couple years ago they were acquired by Franciscan Alliance. The whole dynamic changed, so I left. But my wife and I still have our own private duty business with homecare aides that work with us to serve the elderly. I still oversee that business with my wife and I’ve had some good people over the years to help me do that.

So, that is sort of the history and then this opportunity came up. My interest was it is really fun to build something from the ground up. You really have…you know, here is your pallet of paint to create something brand new. I think that is what interested me the most. And it is, I mean, this is a part-time position here. But, it is fun and the building blocks are there that could potentially make the Indiana State Library be the best state library in the country. We have a lot of assets from donors who have given in the past. I think the potential is here to become the premier state library in the United States. People will look at our model eventually down the road and try to emulate it. We just want to get there first. The board has been moving in deliberate incremental steps, not jumping or leaping two or three steps ahead, but establishing the fundamentals of what they want to do. And we are still seeking some identity here. Are we going to focus initially on Central Indiana? We are a statewide organization here. How are we going to reach and affect communities in Lake County, Vanderburgh County, and Floyd County? How are we going to have an impact on those kinds of libraries? We are working our way through that. We will probably have a strategic planning meeting session this summer to reevaluate our mission. Our mission is a good mission, but what are we doing with our vision? What do we want to do in the next five years…ten years maybe? Then we will talk about that vision to our donors, the people that want to invest in this kind of vision here. There is a good story to tell and a lot of people don’t know about the state library; the resources it has, the assets it has. This is going to be an opportunity for everybody to make an impact in a very unique kind of organization.

RB: That is how I see it. It is an opportunity, because you are basically starting from scratch and get the opportunity to make it what you want.

GB: To build it the right way from the ground up. Essentially, that is what you are looking at here.

RB: What would you say is the most exciting part about philanthropy? What motivates you?

GB: It’s sort of cliché to say, but especially here in the United States, people can really make a difference. We sort of use that as a cliché line, everybody talks about that, but the philanthropy here in the United States and here in Indianapolis you really have the power to influence things and make a difference in your community by contributing, by volunteering. There is a number of ways people can do it. Indianapolis is a very generous community. It has one of the top foundations in the country with the Lilly Endowment that has invested lots of dollars here to make this city a jewel in the United States. But individually, it is always great to see that individuals can make a difference. There are obviously wealthier people that can make a big impact, but there is a lot of people that participate from employees, to small donors, to large donors. All of them have the opportunity to make a big impact and what they see is a great mission and a great organization. They have that opportunity. That has always been a nice feeling, because you tell them by doing this it will make a really big difference in lives of people in the community not just today or tomorrow, but you are leaving a legacy in this community too. I think that is what motivates me the most.

RB: What are some of the goals and objectives that you have for the Indiana State Library Foundation?

GB: We are putting the building blocks together. We are going to establish the base of the foundation. We are building a new website and social media outlets; you have to provide the ability for people to donate online. We are creating materials to assist with talking to donors and working with board members and staff to find out in greater detail what the needs are. Just like in a lot of nonprofits, the needs of the organization are kind of irrelevant. We want to know what the needs of the community are and how this organization can serve those needs in the most effective way. So, I’m working with staff to find out what are the areas we can really focus on and attract investors and donors to participate in that end goal and vision. In this first year, we are going to get the fundamentals set up and get a regular stream of potential annual gift donors to continue to support us. We will also look for larger projects which we can have greater investment and participation from the outside community, and really to get more people to know about what the state library is; that is the ultimate goal.

RB: Do you plan on having any events in the library? This is such a beautiful venue and seems like it would be an attractive place for people to come.

GB: I think we would like to have events here. It all depends on who is already supporting it, whether they are vendors or donors to participate in some small events. We can actually do events outside this venue. At this point, I am still evaluating who the donor base is and what that looks like or whether or not there is enough support to do an event. Some supporters send us contributions from out of state or far enough from Indiana where they are not likely to come to an event here. But, we will seriously look at that and we will have to look for volunteers to help us put events together here. We want to expand our members close to the organization, potentially looking down the road and expanding the board or adding committees that are subsets of the board. To work on a special event, you need a number of volunteers. There’s a lot of logistics that go into it and a lot of people to recruit to make an event feasible. There’s looking for underwriting too from vendors or donors or business entities that do business with the state library. We will look at that closely as we start to get our feet a little bit wet on these sorts of things. If we do it, we will do it right.

RB: You talked about larger donors and donors that have been giving to the library for a while. What if I am just the average Joe and I am looking for a place that I can volunteer my time or give a small donation?

GB: The more people volunteer for you the more the word gets out. Really, board members or volunteers carry that torch. They carry the vision of the mission with them and introduce it to other people and it grows. It’s kind of funny, when I was working for another organization, for years and years I had this kindly old lady that sent me fifty dollars and I would always write her back a nice note and say thank you very much and tell her what we have been doing. She happened to pass away and I found out that she left us a million dollars.

RB: Wow!

GB: You never know. Some people that is how they operate and some people want to be acknowledged as a major donor. I want to involve as many people in a campaign effort as possible, from the smallest donor to the largest. It would be untruthful though to say that you win by having everyone give you ten dollars in a large campaign. The larger the campaign; the more likely that you will have the top donors give you 80 percent of your project. Sometimes 90 percent, it just depends. But it still takes that smaller donor to get involved and be a part of the whole process. They are just as important as the large donors because they get the word out about what the library does and what the foundation is doing to help the library achieve its mission.

RB: It lets people know that it is a positive experience to be a part of the library foundation.

GB: Right!

RB: We have covered a lot in our conversation. Do you have anything you would like to add?

GB: I’m looking forward to working with the board members and diving into it more. Doing the things that are going to create the foundation for what we are trying to accomplish here is what keeps me going. That’s what motivates me.

This blog post was written by Ryan Brown, Director of Communications at the Indiana State Library. For more information about the library, go to www.library.in.gov.