Eau Claire, WI – Heidi Fisher has what may seem like an unusual way of helping people’s dreams come true. But sometimes graciously accepting their gifts helps them move toward where they want to be in their lives, how they want to stay connected, or be remembered.
Fisher learned how bestowing a gift is a meaningful, sometimes healing, act for people during more than a decade as one of the top fundraising professionals in the Chippewa Valley. She demonstrated the importance of being a good listener and facilitator of dreams while playing leading roles in fundraising for Literacy Volunteers – Chippewa Valley, UW-Eau Claire Foundation, the Eau Claire Community Foundation, and, most recently, as executive director of Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) Foundation.
But Fisher is moving on from the community where she was born and raised and has made a difference. She will be heading to the Twin Cities, to work on her doctorate degree and to take over as the director of development for Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota.
“It’s not about asking for money,” Fisher says about her profession. “It’s asking people about their dreams and how they want to stay connected to an organization.”
Fisher’s career has been focused on educational organizations. It was her first love, growing up in Eau Claire. “I was in fourth grade when I told my mom and dad I wanted to be a teacher and help people with disabilities. It’s been a thread throughout my career,” Fisher says. “It’s about connecting people with education, and how education can empower people.”
After graduating from Eau Claire Memorial, where she met her husband, Andy, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Learning and Cognitive Disabilities from UW-Eau Claire in 1990. She worked as a learning disabilities instructor at Menomonie High School, and also became involved with the Literacy Volunteers as a volunteer. Her volunteering worked into a job as a tutor trainer, and as Chippewa County coordinator for the organization.
“Any time you are working in the nonprofit field, fundraising is incorporated,” she says. “It’s always been part of what I do. I did it back in Girl Scouts selling cookies.”
Fisher earned her master’s degree in nonprofit management from Hamline University in St. Paul in 2004. Her thesis was Creating a State Association for Wisconsin.
There are 40,000 nonprofits of varying sizes in Wisconsin, together making up one of the state’s largest employers. Having a state organization would allow them to cooperate on such matters as legislative advocacy, purchasing, human resources assistance and professional development.
Fisher and JoAnn Stormer, then-executive director of Leadership Wisconsin, worked as project co-leaders to get the organization started. The final feasibility report was completed in December 2005, and the Wisconsin Nonprofits Association is operating today.
Fisher became director of annual giving and major gifts officer for the UW-Eau Claire Foundation in 2002, and in 2006, she went back to the Literacy Volunteers as executive director.
“One of my dreams was to run a small nonprofit organization,” she says. “That was a very exciting couple of years.” She created a long-term development plan for the organization.
Fisher became the executive director of the Eau Claire Community Foundation in 2008, but in less than a year, the CVTC Foundation position opened.
“There are a few positions in the community that would be my dream job, and CVTC Foundation was one of them,” she says. “It has been absolutely rewarding. I drove past CVTC again and again over the years and saw it grow. When I was a high school teacher, CVTC was my destination of choice for my students.”
Fisher says she came to CVTC because she feels strongly about its mission, as she has the missions of all of the organizations she’s worked with. Carrying out the mission is essential in fundraising, she says.
“The way a mission is defined draws people to an organization,” Fisher says. And that’s where making dreams come true becomes the goal of the fundraising professional. People want to help their communities in many ways, and people with means want to leave a legacy. “They want to help in a way that’s meaningful to them,” Fisher says.
“People ask me how I handle the strong competition for funds. I don’t see it as a competition. All I am in fundraising is a conduit to make people’s dreams come true.”
Sometimes the organization is not the right fit for the potential donor. Fisher says that’s all right. She has worked to build relationships, and when or if the time is right for the donor, they can work together.
Sometimes the work can be touching, such as when a person who has lost a loved one is seeking to establish a scholarship or leave a legacy in their memory. That was the case with Karen Overhulser. Her son, Matthew, was accepted into CVTC’s Nursing program, but died in a tragic boating accident before he could begin his studies.
“Karen was seeking a meaningful way to carry on his name,” Fisher says.
“The day of the funeral, when I came home, I thought about how I wanted to remember Matthew,” Overhulser says. “I decided to memorialize him going back to school.”
Overhulser found the help she needed from Heidi Fisher. “She gave me a lot of suggestions and talked me through the ways to accomplish setting up a scholarship,” Overhulser continues. “This so much helped me through the grieving process. It really makes me feel good about doing good for another person.”
The scholarship Overhulser created in Matthew’s name has been presented twice to a non-traditional nursing student.
“To see how much it meant to the recipient really opened my eyes,” Overhulser said. “Heidi has been a mentor through all this. She was meant for this work.”
“The CVTC Foundation and Alumni Association have benefitted greatly from Heidi’s contributions and leadership,” said CVTC President Bruce Barker. “She has helped us be a better college which in turn helps our students who in turn help our community. CVTC and the entire Eau Claire community will miss Heidi.”