David Dierks gives latest ‘Life with Phil’ talk

Former UI student and faculty David Dierks gave the most recent “Life with Phil” talk, discussing how philanthropy has shaped culture over the years, in Iowa City and nationwide.


Jenna Galligan

Iowa alum Dave Dierks delivers a talk entitled “Life with Phil” in the second floor ballroom of the Iowa Memorial Union on April 2, 2019.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Reporter

As the featured speaker for this semester’s “Life with Phil” talk, University of Iowa graduate David Dierks spoke with faculty, staff, and students about the state of philanthropy when he first entered the trade in the 1970s, where it stands today, and where it might be going.

Dierks, a Daily Iowan alum, joined the UI Foundation in 1973 as initiator of the Planned and Major Gifts Program. Several years and millions of dollars’ worth of fundraising later, he took on the role of vice president in 2005. Today, he continues to aid what is now called the Center for Advancement.

“If you’re counting, that’s a 46-year career with the university,” UI Center for Advancement President and CEO Lynette Marshall said. “We’re really honored and delighted to be able to hear from [him].”

In the last year, Dierks said, the Center for Advancement raised nearly $213 million, a major increase over the original foundation endowment, which totaled $5.5 million in the early 1970s. He said he’s most proud of the increase in student financial aid.

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He talked about the Center for Advancement’s responsibility in building or partially supporting campus locations such as the former Museum of Art, the Abboud Cardiovascular Center, the Stead Family Children’s Hospital, Kinnick Stadium, Pomerantz Center, Schaeffer Hall, among others.

All of the above and more were tagged by Phil tape this week to designate certain buildings as the result of philanthropic efforts.

“When we do this every year, I hope you’ll take part of the day to kind of wander through campus and see the impact [philanthropy] has had on this campus,” Dierks said.

The growth of philanthropy locally over the last 45 years is only a factor in its greater development worldwide. Giving to all charities in 2016 totaled $390 billion, 2 percent of the nation’s GDP.

Although many charities rely on the contributions of private foundations, Dierks said, his evaluation of modern philanthropy suggests that the latter will fizzle out as the next generation grows up, and individual donations should become the focus of philanthropic organizations.

“Ten percent of the U.S. workforce is now involved in the nonprofit sector, and that doesn’t even include volunteers,” he said. “Your best prospects when you’re trying to raise money are those that volunteer with you.”

The number of 501(c)(3), or charitable organizations, in the nation has doubled over the last 20 years to more than 1 million, 15,000 in the state and 1,276 in Johnson County. In contrast, there were only three in the county when Dierks arrived.

The Center for Advancement ranks as the fifth largest in the state, Dierks said. Charitable giving is growing, and his primary requirements for taking advantage of that as a good fundraiser include prioritizing donors, practicing patience, and empathic listening.

“No matter what is going on in your life … when you meet with that donor, nothing is more important than him or her,” Dierks said. “Place all your attention on them, and you will never go wrong.”

Center for Advancement Alumni Engagement Director Jessica Mattes said the “Life with Phil” talk usually features a philanthropist or someone who gives to the UI, but the staff asked Dierks this spring to spin the event a little differently.

“Dave has been with the … Center for Advancement so long,” Mattes said. “We thought that having that historical context, tuned to an amazing, current present-day fundraiser, would provide a really interesting perspective to those in attendance.”