The Interesting and Aligned Path of a World Class Strategist and Fundraiser

I have heard Bill speak on a number of occasions, and have gotten to know him well. I’ve tried in a small way to touch on his keys to success based on what I’ve heard in presentations and read. How Bill arrived in this notable and highly visible position is a study of twists, turns, and aligning to one’s passion.

Bill Lively currently serves as President and CEO of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee. In this position, he reports to the Host Committee and its chair, Roger Staubach, and oversees the day-to-day operations of the Host Committee’s professional staff. Under his guidance, this Super Bowl Host Committee has secured more $1 million sponsors that any in history!

Not surprising. Bill came to the Host Committee after nearly eight and a half years as President and CEO of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts. During his tenure, more than $334 million was raised to build and endow the Center, including 130 separate gifts of $1 million or more. This was a record-breaking achievement.

Prior to his work at the Center, he spent 23 years in service to the Dallas Cowboys and the National Football League. From 1975-98, he served as Director of the Dallas Cowboys Band and game day Executive Entertainment Producer (Bill does have a background in music – band music. He plays the trumpet and earned a bachelor’s in music from SMU.). He actually produced entertainment for Super Bowls XII and XIII.

At the start of his career, Bill spent 25 years on the faculty and in the administration of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. During his tenure at SMU, Bill founded the Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series, the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, the Doak Walker National Running Back Award and SMU’s Athletic Forum. All prestigious in their own right.

Most recently, it has been announced, that post Super Bowl, Bill will join the Dallas Symphony Orchestra team. “Bill Lively is the best at what he does,” said DSO Music Director Jaap van Zweden. “Having Bill join the staff is a major win for the DSO. Since Bill is a musician himself and is also a proven leader with an extraordinary gift for fundraising, he understands deeply what we need to be able to perform at the highest level.” What an asset for the DSO – and what a wonderful capping achievement for Bill!

Common threads to his success

When it comes to raising money for worthy causes, and building and leading critical teams, few people have been more successful than Dallas’ William “Bill” Lively. A few observations:

When he is asked about attracting the initial 10-$1 million ‘founding sponsors’ for the 2011 Super Bowl, he gives credit to a team effort.

He has stated that they divided the host committee into standing action teams, and one of those teams was a sponsorship action team chaired by Ross Perot Jr. That team included people like host committee chairman Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Elaine Agather, Mike Berry, and the CEOs of corporations that had already made sponsorships: for example Alan Boeckmann of Fluor and Matt Rose of Burlington Northern Santa Fe. He humbly stated that the steps they took to get the sponsorships were straight forward and simple: “We make an appointment with the CEO of a corporation and then, if the company’s in Fort Worth, Mayor Mike Moncrief, Roger Staubach, and I may go visit with the CEO; if it’s in Dallas, Mayor Tom Leppert and Troy and I may go. Every time we do this it’s a group effort.”

Given the recession and being asked to raise funds, when everyone is pinched, how does he do it? (I paraphrase)

“We put together our business plan for the Super Bowl last fall. From the beginning, the plan was very frugal, so we haven’t had to change that appreciatively. We’re very cost-conscious with our plan, because we can’t afford to be otherwise. We’re spending very little money on our staff; we’re getting most of what we do underwritten with in-kind gifts of various kinds, ranging from paper and printing to soft drinks and furniture. Our task is to make sure that we convey to the marketing people at these corporations all the unique benefits they can derive from this. Then they can explain to all parties that this is a good investment to market the company to the region in a way that they couldn’t do more effectively otherwise.”

He has stated: “I think the goal, though, is to have a sound business plan and good volunteers involved and have the courage to persevere and move on. We had every reason to stop the performing arts center campaign at least twice, and we didn’t do it. We didn’t slow it down, we didn’t stop it. We had ups and downs in terms of new commitments, but we never stopped. We persevered and, because they persevered-the volunteers, that is-there was never an interruption. And that was psychologically essential, because an interruption can suggest failure to some people. I mean, you can’t have failure. You just can’t go there. ”

When asked how he got to where he is today, coming full circle as an accomplished musician to chairman of the Super Bowl Host committed, his answer is a study of passion and continued alignment to that passion.

“I played trumpet through high school and college, and had a great ambition to be a composer. I didn’t have enough talent to be a composer, but I enjoyed being a conductor and teaching young people. The joy of teaching was children, and teaching was going to be my life’s work. Then I got sidetracked in 1978, when I was asked to become one of the deans of the school of the arts at SMU, and I never looked back.”

In an interview on KERA TV’s CEO in 2008, host Lee Cullum asked if music had been a constant thread through his life and career. Bill replied, “I hadn’t thought of it that way but music’s been a part of my life since the early years. And music has been a great influence on me. Music is more than people sometimes define it to be. Music is the way you think; sometimes, the way you reason; sometimes, how you do certain things. So maybe it is part of my fiber.

“I don’t know what talents I had, to be honest with you. I don’t know how I ended up doing what I’m doing; it certainly was no pre-determined career path. When I was asked to become director of the SMU development program, I didn’t even know what that meant exactly. The university wanted to change its fundraising culture, though, and I was a change agent. The university invited me to reinvent the institution’s fundraising culture-the way it raised money. We computerized our fundraising, for example, because PCs hadn’t been in existence for long at that time. More importantly, we started looking at fundraising in a different way: we had to focus on the university as a whole, as opposed to its different parts. We also had to understand how to market the university for philanthropic purposes, how to take our story to the community. Then we had to overhaul our stewardship program-how we said thank you, for instance-and we had to develop more of a business-like approach. We needed accountability and transparency.”

Bill has been quoted as saying: The single most important thing in any high-dollar fundraising initiative is the volunteer unit.

“There’s nothing more important. The project itself can be incredibly noble and worthy, but if you don’t have volunteers who are people of integrity, who commit their time and resources in a very structured way, you very likely will not achieve your objectives. I’ve given many seminars around the country in the last several years to the CEOs of nonprofit corporations.

“Invariably, you encounter two elements in these discussions. The first is the spirit of entitlement: ‘We are noble, we deserve, and they should give.’ Well, the spirit of entitlement in my judgment is inappropriate. Secondly, you find many times that these organizations have boards that are filled with wonderful, calm, gracious, good people who care deeply about the mission of the organization, but they don’t have the financial capacity to elevate the institution to a new level. So, you’ve got the wrong people involved in the life of the institution at a time that it needs to grow and develop. So what you have to do in that case is not alienate those people, but appoint other people to roles of responsibility so that you can take that institution to the next level. That’s complicated. There’s no shortcut.

“I think that in this era of accountability, people give money to people. The project must be noble, there must be accountability and transparency, and there must be some way to quantify the impact of the project. But people will give to people they respect, almost no matter what the project is-whether it’s humanitarian or religious or cultural. Then you involve distinguished people with integrity in the enterprise, and those kinds of people can command the attention of like kinds of people. And so invariably at SMU and with the performing arts center and even with the Super Bowl, you’re taking very noble people to ask other noble people to make a gift or commit a sponsorship. The integrity of the people you’re with carries the day, and people respond to that.

“When I speak to nonprofits lately, my theme is this: you’d better have four things in place:

  • No. 1, you need to have a strategic plan that defines how you’re going to run this organization thoughtfully and practically and in a business sense for the next couple of years.
  • No. 2, you need to have extraordinary volunteers that command the attention of other leaders supporting the initiative.
  • No. 3, you need to have a staff in place that is cost-effective and efficient-not bureaucratic with levels and filters and people you don’t need that you can’t defend.
  • And No. 4, you need to have a communication strategy that conveys all these things in a timely and consistent way to these people.

If you do that, you’ll be fine. You’ll do fine because competition is good, and the organization that makes the most compelling message will carry the day. The ones that depend on the spirit of entitlement will fail, and probably should fail. It’s a new world, and if you don’t have accountability and efficiency, you can’t defend your position. And that’s going to be critical as we go forward.”

These are incredibly wise words from a remarkable and astoundingly successful strategist and fundraiser. The principles of this success story can be applied in every single business or endeavor we pursue; make a plan, get the right people on the bus, be smart and efficient, and communicate what we are doing! And, Bill’s success? The common denominator is his unwavering passion for Dallas, music, and making a contribution to his community.

These aligned components result in a fulfilling experience for Bill, a powerful career, and a (very) successful track record.

Contributing Sources: Dallas Morning News, D CEO, and other numerous speaking engagements.