Over the last 30 years, Bob Hartsook, Emporia State ’70, has established one of the country’s most successful fundraising consulting firms and helped more than 6,000 clients raise $231 billion. Though it was clear from the start that his career would be defined by leadership, it was only after successful stints in higher education and nonprofit management that he discovered the unique way he’d help organizations realize their potential.
After completing a bachelor’s and master’s program at Emporia State, Hartsook was hired to serve as dean of students at Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas. He was just 23 at the time. Less than two years later, he was named vice president of the college. The appointment made him the youngest person in the country to hold an executive position at an institution of higher education.
After a few years at Colby, Hartsook was ready to pursue a new challenge and enrolled in law school at Washburn. He was named executive editor of the law journal and refined his skills as a writer, a natural strength that would later serve him well as a fundraiser.
Following law school, Hartsook was called back to a full-time leadership role. The Kansas Engineering Society offered him a job as its executive vice president, and he helped the cash-strapped organization conduct a small, $100,000 capital campaign. The experience was a tipping point for Hartsook, who found his life’s calling through the project. After the campaign, he returned to Washburn, this time as a vice president. There, he spearheaded a $21 million fundraising campaign that the dean of the law school credited with saving the institution.
As remarkable as Hartsook’s Washburn campaign was, he was just beginning. While serving as vice president of development, alumni and university relations at Wichita State in the mid-1980s, he led an even larger campaign, raising $100 million. At the time, it was just one of a handful of fundraising campaigns to hit the $100 million mark.
Building on the momentum of these early fundraising campaigns, Hartsook launched his own consulting firm, Hartsook Companies, in 1987. In the beginning, it was just him and two employees. The company now has 100 employees and is one of the top fundraising firms in the country. Their clients include organizations like Iowa State University, the Kansas City Zoo and the National World War I Museum.
After receiving SigEp’s 2017 Citation award, Hartsook emphasized the similarities between his company’s focus and SigEp’s mission of Building Balanced Men. “Our ultimate goal, which I believe is also Sigma Phi Epsilon’s ultimate goal, is to create good citizens,” he said, adding, “I’m frankly dedicating this phase of my life to studying that and creating accountability in the nonprofit world.”
In 2005, Hartsook sold his company to his employees while continuing to serve as president and CEO of the firm. Today, he retains the role of company chairman and is more focused than ever on advancing the science and art of fundraising. Hartsook has authored seven books on the subject, and he frequently attends industry events to share strategies with other professionals in his field.
The year after he sold his company, Hartsook created the nation’s first endowed chair in fundraising. The post, established at Indiana University, furthers academic research on donor psychology and the ethics of fundraising. Hartsook also partnered with Avila University, a private, liberal arts institution in Kansas City, Missouri, to create a master’s program in management with an emphasis in fundraising.
Hartsook’s commitment to research ultimately led to a third partnership with England’s Plymouth University in 2014. Through the Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, Plymouth students can now pursue a Ph.D. in fundraising, donor behavior or philanthropic psychology under the guidance of leading researchers in their field.
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