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A Tribute To A Fundraising Legend and Mentor, Jerry Panas

Jerry Panas
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Jerry Panas

Ever since my very first Professional Fundraising Conference in 1983, where I met Jerry Panas for the first time, until just last year, Jerry was a fixture at nearly every single one!

It was so easy to spot him.


He was always the person nearly everyone else went to see for advice, wisdom and the hands down the best major gift stories. There was a crowd from the opening bell until well after the exhibit hall or conference closed. It often continued into one reception or another that evening.

He provided counsel to brand new individuals to the sector, like myself in the early 80’s, as well as veterans of the fundraising profession he so dearly loved.

I have so many “favorite” memories, please allow me to share a few.

I was honored when Jerry actually asked me for advice, which happened three times.

The first one was after he and his partner Steve Mourning (pictured below) had created a “Moves Management” stand alone software tool. It was so effective and successful that a few years in they had hundreds of customers with no effective means of training or supporting them.

Jerry PanasWhen they approached me about how to solve the problem, I suggested they just hand the problem over to me and my team. They looked at each other and literally both of them blurted out yes in less than a few seconds. We helped all of the ones actively using it to move over to our web based solution.

Here is Steve, who was also respected by so many until his passing a few years back. We truly miss him too!

Secondly, after watching how happy his former “Moves Management” customers were, Jerry sent me a letter about 5 years later asking my advice on a few business related items.

(How many of you received one of his great letters so perfectly done with a personalized P.S. always at the bottom, mostly handwritten?)

We arranged for a call on a Saturday morning that lasted over two hours, but felt like 15 minutes to me at the most. It was such an engaging conversation. He invited me to visit his home on a Greek Island, but we were never able to make the dates work. (I wish so much that I would have tried harder!)

Third, Jerry asked me to speak at several of his “Fundraising Seminars.” My favorite is the last one I did in Chicago centered around Major Gift Asks. His introductions were always so eloquent and so kind that my mother might have even blushed.

Best of all, after my set-up talk on finding the best prospects, I was able to watch Jerry for the remainder of the day hold everyone spellbound with his stories and advice.

(Here is a picture from that exact day.)

Jerry Panas

Finally, if you have never read any of Jerry’s books and you are a professional fundraiser, shame on you! Many of his publications are considered classics. There are at least 6 of them on my bookshelves.

Here are many of them on Amazon.

It would be easy to write on and on about the hundreds of capital campaigns he and his firm led to success or the number of nonprofit missions he helped lead to new heights by making major gifts real, and most of all, fun for both the fundraiser and the donor.

My absolute favorite Jerry stories are ones coming from major gift donors on why they gave and what those mega gifts meant to them personally!

Please raise a glass wherever you are to one of the great pioneers of the fundraising world!

Jerry, we miss you already…

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  • Sue Gifford

    What a beautiful tribute Jay. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences. I am most fortunate to have participated in his Seize the Opportunity seminar in Costa Mesa, 2015. I have a picture of us somewhere. He was ever so gracious to answer every question and respond to my emails, also a letter on his lovely stationery with a handwritten note. I have 4 of his books. We lost a great man but are most fortunate that we had him to lead the way for all those years!
  • Mirv

    Thanks, Jay.
  • Claire Axelrad

    I always shared his wisdom when inspiring board members and volunteers to ask for major gifts. No one has ever said what he said better.
  • Kent Stroman

    Well said, Jay. Thank you.
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