Austin Chappell brings his fundraising experience to the Sharpe consulting team to enhance the fundraising capabilities of various nonprofit organizations. He has seen first-hand the impact transformational gifts can have on an organization’s work and mission and on the donors who support them.
Austin is a north Texas native. He and his wife, Kacea, live in the Dallas Fort Worth area with their two children, Caroline and Liam.
Sharpe Insights: Some people pursue a career in nonprofit fundraising, sometimes nonprofit fundraising pursues people. How did you find this career path?
Austin Chappell: Fundraising wasn’t my original path. I was a history major, and I thought I would teach. Instead I earned a Master’s in Higher Education so I could still have a role on university campuses. I eventually moved into a position at the advancement office. I enjoyed planning special events, working football games and cocktail parties. Mostly I loved talking with the donors, getting to know and build relationships with them. As I became more involved in direct fundraising, I realized I’d found the career path I didn’t know I was looking for.
Sharpe Insights: What attracted you to Sharpe Group?
Austin Chappell: Early on, I attended a Sharpe seminar on the basics of planned giving taught by Barlow Mann. Later, due to the uncertainty of the pandemic and its effect on universities, I decided to pursue some different career options. Learning about Sharpe’s plans for the future, joining the Sharpe team was the obvious next step for my career.
Sharpe Insights: You’ve had a successful career in nonprofit fundraising. What experience do you think will benefit you most in your new role?
Austin Chappell: It’s important to know how to talk to people, to meet people where they are, to establish a relationship immediately so they’ll keep wanting to talk with you. When talking to potential donors about really big ideas such as their legacy and estate plans, you have to build that relationship genuinely.
Sharpe Insights: Based on your depth of experience in the nonprofit fundraising world, what would you change about anything from day-to-day operations to larger philosophical issues if you could?
Austin Chappell: I’ve experienced a lot of resistance to change and innovation. I’ve seen it stonewall progress. If something isn’t working, it’s up to us to change it, even if that’s the way we’ve done it a long time. This is another reason why I’m proud to be on the Sharpe team: Sharpe maintains its core philosophies, values and fundamentals while also forging new paths with forward-thinking ideas and the available technologies to implement them.
Sharpe Insights: What is a significant experience in your career that has deeply affected you?
Austin Chappell: One of the very first couples I worked with seemed intent on giving a large gift. As a new hire I had metrics to meet, something to prove and was excited about how this would help my career. But after we finished all the meetings and consultations with attorneys and signed the paperwork, I could see these donors were so relieved and so overjoyed that their legacy was taken care of, that their estate was in good hands and that they were doing something worthwhile for the future. That was the moment I realized what I was doing was much more significant than I’d imagined.
Sharpe Insights: Do you have a philosophy around why you do this work instead of for-profit work?
Austin Chappell: I want to do something that makes a difference. If I discover a donor and bring in a large gift or an endowment or scholarship, I know that I’m helping both the organization and the people and communities the organization supports. Whether its rescuing animals, helping a student afford college or whatever missions and causes are important to the communities I work with, I’m proud to do work that results in something positive.
Sharpe Insights: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
Austin Chappell: Instead of playing football, I was on my school’s water polo team. It’s a unique skill to have in Texas. We did a lot of traveling because, as you can imagine, there weren’t many schools in Texas who had water polo teams. But to this day, I can tread water incredibly efficiently.
Erica Reiter is a senior consultant with Sharpe Group. Erica brings over 30 years’ experience working in consulting, marketing, development and nonprofit fundraising. She has served as a senior executive fundraiser and has held leadership positions with numerous organizations, including City of Hope National Medical Center and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Erica also produces videos and marketing materials concerning relevant social issues including houselessness, at-risk families in underserved communities and healthcare.
She recently moved from Southern California to Tucson, Arizona and is a member of AFP’s Desert Chapter. Erica enjoys hiking, yoga and spin classes and spending time with her two rescue dogs Toby and Piper.
Sharpe Insights: Why did you pursue a career in nonprofit fundraising?
Erica Reiter: I was a social worker in Gardenia, California, and the agencies I was working for were struggling. We needed financial assistance and other resources to better serve our community. I hadn’t planned on being a fundraiser. There was a need there, so I stepped in.
Sharpe Insights: What drew you to Sharpe Group?
Erica Reiter: I’ve worked with Sharpe before in my executive director roles. Anyone who is running a nonprofit organization should prioritize planned giving—it’s the future of fundraising. I’m drawn to Sharpe’s philosophy and their innovative approach to use for-profit technology for the benefit of nonprofit organizations.
Sharpe Insights: You have significant experience in nonprofit fundraising. What will most benefit you in your new role at Sharpe?
Erica Reiter: When I owned my own consulting firm, I would always say, “I sell air.” We’re not selling a tangible product. We’re selling a mission, a cause, a purpose. What we’re doing is helping nonprofits succeed. This “selling air” concept will transition well to the nonprofit world.
It’s also important to connect with the people who have the resources to make a significant impact in philanthropy. I’ve enjoyed working with the Hollywood community and am proud of the work I did producing Mission Possible. I’ve also worked with and raised funds for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, working directly with holocaust survivors, and that was so inspiring and a big turning point in my career.
Sharpe Insights: Based on the depth of your experience, what would you change about the nonprofit world?
Erica Reiter: Nonprofits need to invest in their future and the future of their mission and understand the importance of operating using a business model. Nonprofits ought to recruit board members who understand the business world and understand how that translates into nonprofit operations.
Sharpe Insights: What causes do you or would you support and why?
Erica Reiter: I support human and animal rights organizations. There are human rights issues throughout the world. Animals are suffering and need our help. The world needs our help. The need for philanthropy is colossal, greater than ever, and it’s our job to find the people out there who have the resources and are willing to help.
Sharpe Insights: Tell us something people don’t know about you.
Erica Reiter: I was a shoe model when I was in college. I modeled high-end designer shoes for print media. It helped me put myself through college. It was in interesting time, to say the least.
Sharpe Insights: Tell me about one of your favorite possessions.
Erica Reiter: My mother gave me a Gibson acoustic guitar for my high school graduation. I’m by no means an accomplished guitar player, but I love to play around. If I ever need a pick-me-up, I go straight to the guitar. It works every time.
Sharpe Insights: What are some of your goals in helping shape the future of Sharpe Group?
Erica Reiter: I look forward to getting out and about and bringing Sharpe’s philosophy and insight to the Arizona and surrounding Southwestern region. When people talk about nonprofit fundraising, Sharpe Group should be central to the conversation about how best to continue to ensure nonprofits can serve their causes as we all strive for a better world. ■
Grant Miller is an editor, working with clients to create custom printed and digital communications. He has authored Sharpe Group blogs and is a contributor to Sharpe Insights.