Initially attracted to McIntire by what Samuel Muffly calls a passion for business, one that dates back to making stock investments as a teenager, the Special Gifts Officer for Cohen Children’s Medical Center continues to find plenty of direct applications of his master’s education in his current career.
“I work in fundraising for a children’s hospital,” Muffly says, explaining that, as a member hospital of Northwell Health, his institution is part of a major nonprofit healthcare enterprise comprising 21 hospitals and representing the largest private employer in New York State. “Having a business background from McIntire gave me the ability to have a better grasp of how such a large organization works and interacts with itself.”
A native of the New York City suburbs, Muffly returned to his home area after McIntire and a pair of brief early-career stints he had while living in Richmond, VA—first as an Analyst with a private equity advisory firm and then as an IT Recruiter. Though he says his education prepared him well for the analyst position, he knew he would prefer to spend his days building relationships.
“I wanted to have an interpersonal component in my day job. I enjoy talking to people, and so I wanted that to play a larger role.”
As for the latter position, he insists that making upwards of 100 cold calls each day as a recruiter taught him to be fearless when calling strangers. It also gave him a sense of empathy. “Whenever I get sales calls,” he says, “I at least let them finish before telling them I’m not interested.”
The Perfect Job
But before he realized that he would find his calling in philanthropy, Muffly’s desire to keep on top of the Spanish he had cultivated as a Cornell junior studying abroad led him to volunteer at the Adult Learning Center, a nonprofit providing language classes to the local immigrant population. Almost immediately, his Comm School experience came into play.
“I dove in,” he says. “It was almost like a startup—but not in the sense of young people with bean bag chairs and Ping-Pong tables. After two weeks, I was helping them to implement Salesforce and build a database for their incoming students. McIntire had taught me to see the nonprofit as a business, and because it was a smaller organization, I had a greater impact.”
While helping the center with its fundraising gala, Muffly remembers being awestruck by an epiphany: “It gave me my first taste of philanthropy, and I thought, ‘Whoa. This is basically the business side of nonprofits, where you get to talk to people like a professional schmoozer! That sounds perfect. How can I get into that?’”
As the director of the nonprofit made it clear that they were operating on a much smaller scale than he was seeking, Muffly went on the hunt for a position elsewhere, ultimately landing a spot with Cohen Children’s Medical Center as a Development Assistant.
All about Relationships
When asked about his current position as a Special Gift Officer, he will be the first to tell you that, at its center, philanthropy is all about relationship building—a commitment that remains both his greatest interest and the greatest challenge of the work.
“When many people start as gift officers, they inherit a portfolio of donors to steward,” he says, noting that he was attracted to his role by the challenge of building a pipeline from scratch. “This process can take a long time. It’s not only getting to know donors or potential prospects.”
That pipeline requires him to regularly collaborate with the hospital’s pediatric neurology, and neurosurgery divisions, as well as its emergency medicine division. For Muffly, building and maintaining a reliable donor base also necessitate creating strong relationships that go beyond connecting with the donors themselves. “I need to know our physicians and build trust with them because our donors are their patients,” he says. “And that is a sacred relationship that they hold. For a patient to be able to give back to a hospital that saved a life or cured a disease, giving can actually help them in the process of healing.”
McIntire Experience Dividends
Muffly says that his foundational business education is “core” to understanding how nonprofits work. “The main difference,” he says, “is that we’re not trying to enrich shareholder value. But otherwise, if you look at it from a conscious capitalism standpoint, in terms of the stakeholders your organization is trying to represent—from employees to the community—we still have to run like a business. Only we don’t have profits.”
Muffly adds that his business background prepared him for a career in philanthropy in another advantageous way. “The biggest donors tend to be businesspeople,” he says. “If you can speak their language, it’s easier to talk to them.”
As a gift officer, Muffly says, he directs people towards making the most impactful, philanthropic donations possible, and sees his ability to help make the most of gifts as another tie-in to his McIntire education: “Philanthropy is making an investment in an idea in an organization and making a difference, only without getting the tangible returns that you might otherwise see with an investment in a hedge fund, bond, or stock.”
Yet fundraising remains a crucial source of top-line revenue for his nonprofit hospital system as it strives to provide the best care possible to the patients in the many communities it serves.
“Northwell Health is an $8 billion organization with 1% margins,” he notes. “So how do we fund research for tomorrow and find cures for different pediatric cancers or get the latest equipment? I don’t think people always fully grasp the importance that philanthropy plays in healthcare and educational organizations. Having an evergreen source of funding is key. Philanthropy plays a role in being able to subsidize the revenues that are generated at nonprofits, which typically, are insufficient.”
Gifts of Any Size
Muffly acknowledges the significance of gifts to both his hospital and his alma mater, citing McIntire’s Annual Fund and Centennial Fund for Faculty Excellence campaigns as being crucial elements of the School’s continued success. But he notes that Giving Tuesday, a day to encourage and celebrate generosity, can also provide tremendous opportunity.
“Giving Tuesday is important to any organization for raising awareness of the value and impact that philanthropy plays and can have,” he says. “For McIntire, some alumni might not have a reason to give—or they might not be aware of the need for them to give—but it’s a way to channel the energy to galvanize a constituency. It’s a way to really energize your donor base and say, ‘Here’s one day. Every dollar counts.’”
Muffly gives back to both McIntire and the Cohen Children’s Medical Center, crediting each place with having a major positive impact on his life. Yet in noting he isn’t in a position to make the size of outsize gifts he often facilitates for his employer, he recognizes that metrics count in many ways. “Raising awareness for Giving Tuesday by directing gifts toward a specific cause or purpose can make anyone’s donation of any size impactful. To build a new building, to get that new computer lab, or even to fund a scholarship—as it may relate to McIntire—the day offers a great opportunity to educate alumni about how they can make a difference at any dollar amount,” he says.
For students interested in following in his footsteps and forging a career with a nonprofit or working in philanthropy, Muffly reminds them to think beyond the government sector, and to consider the myriad applications of the skills they’ve learned at the Comm School. As an example, he recounts his own choice to join the junior board of a financial literacy nonprofit in New York City as another way to give back with his experience and education, drawing on his fundraising expertise.
“There’s a nonprofit for almost anything, and you can really apply the business skills you’ve developed at McIntire to make a huge difference. Volunteer somewhere. Find something you have a genuine interest in. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll learn and the people you’ll meet.”