Robert Lewis knows how to ask people for money - sometimes a lot of money - and that talent has built an unusual Lexington company. Global Advancement pools the skills of 19 professionals, who range in age from 28 to 78, to raise money for colleges, museums, charities and other not-for-profit organizations. Only four work full time for Global, but any of the other 15 can be called in as their skills are needed.
"We have experience in every possible area of fund raising," Lewis said. "We take a team approach, because no one person is going to have experience in all areas."
Global's recent Kentucky clients include the Lexington Children's Theatre, Kentucky History Center and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. About 30 percent of the firm's business now comes from outside Kentucky for clients such as Citizens' Scholarship Foundation of America. Global recently added an associate in Cincinnati and is considering opening an office in Florida.
Most new clients now come through referrals, a far cry from the early days of the company when "I had to go out and beat the bushes. I worked hard for every client."
Lewis, 65, a native of Danville is a graduate of Centre College and George Washington University. His first career spanned 20 years as a Navy public affairs officer. Later, he worked for Centre College and Virginia Tech University in public affairs and fund raising before becoming a senior vice president of Host Communications in Lexington and, for one year, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
He launched Global, Lewis said, because "I saw an opportunity to use my experience. I originally started as a public affairs, marketing, development and fundraising firm. After the first three years, I realized the real opportunity was in fund raising. There were lots of people doing those other things."
Lewis said he quickly learned that many Lexington charities and non-profit groups didn't have effective fund-raising programs and didn't understand how an outside consultant might help. Gradually he built up a client base and began adding part-time associates that he could call on when he needed their specialties, such as strategic planning, market analysis, feasibility studies or advertising.
Global's big break came after the firm began working for the Lexington Children's Theatre in 1996. Over the next two years, the theatre's fund drive would raise $2.8 million. It was Global's biggest success, but not in terms of dollars, Lewis said. Global had established an ongoing fund-raising program that is expected to sustain the theatre for years to come.
Corporations donated about a half-million dollars, which is "unbelievable when you don't have a background in corporate fund raising," Lewis said. "It really was a turning point" for Global, he continued. "Until the fall of 1997, we would get the small clients and the national firms would come in and get the big ones."
"Since 1997, we have had more than our share of the major clients," Lewis said. "We doubled revenue in 1998 over 1997 and just continued to grow." On a personal level, Lewis recently reached the normal retirement age of 65, but he said there's no rocking chair in his immediate future.
I believe you should remain active. People are the happiest when they are busy. I think it also helps your health."