Will You Help Honor Bill Levis’ Legacy?
Our field of professional fundraisers has lost a legend. Bill Levis, who quietly shaped our profession over the past five decades and laid the foundation for the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, passed away in May.
This summer, the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy will be honoring Bill’s legacy with a $350,000 fundraising campaign for the Wilson C. Levis Research Grant Fund to endow the future of fundraising effectiveness research.
I’m asking you to carry Bill’s torch forward. A gift from you will fund the research that tells fundraisers what’s working, what’s not working, and why.
Bill invented fundraising metrics, plain and simple. Will you make a gift today in honor of this trailblazer?
GivingTuesday is kicking off this campaign with a $10,000 gift. Please join them right now with this online form, or mail a check to 4200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 480, Arlington, VA 22203.
Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA
President & CEO
AFP Foundation for Philanthropy
P.S. I hope you’ll take the time to read more about Bill Levis’ contributions below. We are all indebted to him.
The Legacy of Bill Levis
On May 9, 2023, fundraising legend Bill Levis passed away at the age of 92. Bill spent decades in the fundraising profession. He did more than just raise money for important causes, he gave a lifetime of service and dedication to improving fundraising effectiveness and performance for the benefit of all nonprofits. He was more than just notorious in our field; to a great extent, he created it.
Contemporary fundraisers measure success per solicitation, debate return on investment, and understand the cost to raise a dollar as a standard metric. When we reference the art and science of fundraising and the relationships we have with donors, we may not realize that all these concepts were developed by Wilson C. “Bill” Levis, Sr. – a man who quietly shaped our profession since 1974.
His contributions to our field are tremendous. Bill’s first study, the NSFRE Fundraising Cost Study in 1974, was a simple survey designed to help identify how much it cost to raise a dollar. The results changed the fundraising field forever. He found that nonprofits couldn’t answer his survey – they had no standard accounting guidelines and weren’t tracking important metrics. He set out to remedy this unfortunate situation and found his lifelong passion.
Bill revised the IRS Form 990 required of all nonprofits and negotiated its acceptance as the single, unified annual report for both state and national annual reporting. This improved data and saved the sector an estimated $125,000,000 annually, according to the National Charities Information Bureau (NCIB). Levis was also the founder of the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), the repository of data for research on nonprofits which is now a program of the Urban Institute. Levis directed numerous projects for NCIB, Independent Sector, and NCCS. With Russy Sumariwalla, he wrote a guide for nonprofit accounting. According to Elizabeth Boris, Bill saw problems and developed collaborative solutions. His enthusiasm and can-do attitude were infectious and powerful because he engaged all and did not seek credit.
The Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) came into being because of Bill. As a user of the FEP, you understand the impact the FEP can have on nonprofits. Organizations like yours have benefitted from the insights the project produced and at no cost to your organization. Providing access to such a powerful tool for free to any nonprofit was important to Bill and is important to the sector today.
Cathlene Williams, Ph.D., a longtime collaborator, described Bill as being “like a conductor who convened a group of brilliant players (competing software firm representatives, scholars, nonprofit staffers) to create beautiful results. He was like the coach who designed brilliant plays and encouraged his team to run with the ball.” Williams noted, “Bill was the ultimate servant leader” who “would be very pleased that so many talented individuals have become involved in leading the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) and that the FEP tools he created are making a real difference in improving nonprofits’ fundraising performance.”
Bill was a one-of-a-kind visionary, an exceptionally inspiring intellectual, a volunteer extraordinaire and a master of bringing carefully selected people together who were inspired to volunteer and work on complicated challenges.
Memorials can be made to the Wilson C. Levis Research Grant Fund of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy. Together, we will continue Bill’s legacy and improve our profession for future generations.