By Angela Reed, Former Development Manager, Friends of the THC
This summer, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) welcomed Anjali Zutshi as the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission’s new executive director and the agency’s Chief Development Officer. She agreed to answer a few questions about her professional background and excitement for her future plans.
What is your title and when did you start with the THC?
I joined the Texas Historical Commission (THC) on July 1 2016. My dual titles are not typical in the field of development and fundraising, but in this case they clearly reflect the mission of the Friends organization, which is to supports the Texas Historical Commission’s efforts to identify, research, document, educate, and promote the cultural heritage of Texas.
I am thrilled to bring years of deep experience and a strong network in the Texas nonprofit sector, an educational background in architecture and regional planning, and a strong commitment to the state of Texas. I have spent the last 20-plus years in the Texas nonprofit world, on fundraising and program development for land conservation and children and youth-focused organizations. While I am a relative “freshman” in the field of historic preservation in Texas, I believe my experience—starting and building development programs, running capital campaigns, helping nonprofits build sustainability through good governance, planning and resource development—and my understanding of strategy and nonprofit finance, will help with my roles as the agency’s Chief Development Officer and the ED of the Friends of the THC.
Tell us about your experiences and education that got you to this point.
I have a bachelor’s degree in architecture, and I practiced as an architect in India for several years before coming to Austin for graduate studies in community and regional planning in 1994. Upon graduation, I joined the Texas team at the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land conservation nonprofit, where I established the development program from scratch and led the expansion of the state program into Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. As the Associate State Director, I was able to lead the TPL Texas program through a period of financial crisis and leadership transition.
From 2007 until earlier this summer, I worked as a nonprofit consultant, providing my development and fundraising, planning, and organizational development skills to help conservation and youth-focused nonprofit organizations move toward sustainability and strength. I have served on several boards, where I have raised several hundred thousand dollars in funding and community support. This experience has also given me invaluable insight into how nonprofit boards should operate, and I bring that experience to the Friends and to my role as the main staff liaison with our Board of Trustees.
If you were at a party meeting new acquaintances, how would you describe your job?
My job as the ED of the Friends of the THC is to build strong and sustainable funding support for the critical work that the Texas Historical Commission does—to preserve the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Texas for current and future generations.
What are your initial plans as executive director of the organization? What are your priorities right now?
Since our primary goal at the Friends is to increase funding support for the programs and projects of the THC, I am focused on continuing to build our Texas Heroes program. This program offers an opportunity for people to support the THC’s mission through a gift to the Friends, and in doing so, they can also honor their own Texas Hero. I am also exploring a planned giving program which will be an opportunity for Texans—longtime and relatively new—to support the work of THC through a legacy gift to the Friends.
As an ED, the not-so-exciting but very important part of my job is also to ensure that the organization’s administrative and organizational infrastructure and systems are strong. This is something that I will continue to focus on.
What past or current Friends projects are you especially excited about?
Of the many preservation projects that the THC is working on, the proposed museum at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site is one of the most exciting to me right now. The site offers incredible archeological resources that share the rich history of the time, and provide a critical missing link in the story of the creation of the Texas Republic. This is something that I am particularly interested in as a “relatively new” Texan, as are my native Texan twin sons.
The Friends organization is coordinating a capital campaign for the museum, which will include a visitors center, outdoor interpretation, exhibits, and educational programs. The State of Texas has committed $5.2 million to the project, with another $2 million under consideration, and we have $5.3 million to raise from private philanthropic sources. This is a challenge I am ready to dive into!
In addition to the capital campaign, The Friends’ Diversity Internship Program is something I am excited about as well. The program acknowledges the variety of cultures that enrich Texas' heritage, and offers opportunities for college students from diverse backgrounds to work with preservation professionals at THC, all toward the goal of increasing the diversity of professionals working in historic preservation in Texas. Our goal is to build our Diversity Internship Endowment to support multiple internships at THC each year.
How will your past experiences help with your new role at the Friends of the THC?
As an architect, planner, and a member of the Texas nonprofit community, I clearly understand and very much appreciate the role that the Texas Historical Commission plays in preserving Texas’ history for current and future generations. The THC’s mission and work also provide a context for immigrants like myself—I am constantly reminded of a story I heard during my time at the Trust for Public Land, about a Laotian woman, an immigrant who used to spend time working in an urban lot bought by TPL in Providence, Rhode Island. The woman spent her days planting flowers in this lot as she waited for her husband to come to the United States and join her and their daughters.
This story has always been very close to my heart, not only because I am an immigrant myself, but also because, like her, working to serve my adopted home has made me feel very connected to it. My work over the last 20-plus years has built within me a very strong ethic of service, and my professional and volunteer experiences allow me to bring this ethic—one that I know resonates with the values of the Texas Historical Commission—to the positions of Executive Director of the Friends of the THC and Chief Development Officer of the THC.
What is the most frequently asked question you hear about fundraising? How do you answer it?
The question I get asked most often is, “Isn’t fundraising hard?” I answer the question by sharing something a board chair from my land conservation days said many years ago: “Nonprofits, and especially fundraisers, have the ability to offer potential donors an opportunity to support something they are passionate about, but may not be able to work on themselves.” His simple, but profound observation has stayed with me all these years—as long as you believe in the mission that you are raising money for, and as long as you are clear about how you will use the funds raised to achieve the mission, you can be a successful fundraiser.
What’s the most common misconception about fundraising?
Most people are afraid of fundraising because they have to ask other people for money. That makes people very uncomfortable. I believe it is important to understand that when we ask for funding support, we are asking a prospective donor to support a mission that they are passionate about. Our role as fundraisers is to help donors make the clear and direct connection between their passion, and the mission or programs we are raising money for, and then to work with them to support these programs with a financial contribution.
What’s the key to success in fundraising?
As with anything else, fundraising success requires many layers of planning and executional details. However, from a big-picture perspective, a successful and sustainable fundraising program should have the following components: clarity of mission and a clear set of goals that address the mission; a “road-map” action plan that details how the goals will be implemented and measured for success; effective organizational infrastructure and systems; strong administration; and most importantly, an active and engaged board.
With these components in place, the next step is to identify and cultivate prospective donors, and to ask. The most critical step, one that should be an ongoing priority for any organization, is the stewardship of the donor once they have made a gift. Because, as we know, while getting a first-time gift is hard, keeping a donor as a long-term partner for your organization is the true test of a successful fundraising program.
Are there one or two Texas historic towns or sites you’re excited to visit for the first time (or to return to) and why?
My family and I love our road trips, and we love traveling through the small historic towns across Texas each year. I especially love traveling to Fredericksburg—I truly enjoy the mix of historic and new that the town has so wonderfully balanced. A favorite of my family is the National Museum of the Pacific War, and we are looking forward to visiting the Pacific Combat Zone once it is completed in 2017. Of course, I look forward to multiple visits to the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site, and have visits planned to the Varner-Hogg Plantation and Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Sites this fall.
How can Texans help you with your new position?
Texans, both generational residents as well as newcomers and immigrants like me who call this state home and embrace its spirit, are proud of their Texas heritage and history. They want to preserve and gift this history to future generations of Texans so that Texas spirit carries on into the future. With each Texan pitching in with a gift to the Friends, we can together leave a priceless legacy for the coming generations.
How can people get in touch with you?
The Friends of the Texas Historic Commission organization is housed, appropriately, in the historic Gethsemane Church at 16th Street and Congress Avenue in downtown Austin. Please email me at Anjali.firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can call me at 512-936-2241.
This is an extended version of an article that originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of The Medallion.