Last week we lost a fundraising industry champion. Jennifer Bielat succumbed to complications following a planned surgery at the end of June that no one ever imagined would have beaten her. I have known Jennifer as a colleague and friend for more than twenty years, and I never saw her give up without a fight. I have no doubt she went down swinging.
There are two kinds of fighters. There are the ones who thrive on the noise and glory. They win big and take long, deep bows afterward.
And there are the fighters who do it because someone needs to do something, even when there’s little promise of recognition. They aren’t afraid of a spotlight, but neither do they concern themselves with who gets to stand in it.
Jennifer was the latter. We see that in her long list of industry volunteer roles with organizations like DMA (now ANA) Nonprofit Federation, Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, DMEF/Marketing EDGE, and most recently, her seat on The Nonprofit Alliance’s board of directors. She committed much of her career to promoting and protecting the mechanics of connecting everyday givers with world-changing organizations and strengthening the expertise of her fellow direct response fundraisers.
The headline of The NonProfit Times article about Jennifer on August 6 called her an “Influencer.” She led by example, and many of us, knowingly or not, tweaked our behavior to emulate her. Her unflappable grace under pressure. Her gift for thoughtful listening and dialogue. Her sensible approach to operationalizing fundraising strategies that organizations could rely on year in and year out. The authenticity she brought to her roles, leading teams and uplifting colleagues. The value she placed on creating solid stepping stones for younger professionals coming behind her.
She was known for her ability to see through the sparkle and sizzle and boil down a problem, or an opportunity, to something actionable. That’s what made her successful in her long tenure at Easterseals and so valued in her agency role with Pursuant.
Jennifer’s first term on our board of directors would have ended in December, and she affirmed her interest in serving a second term in June. She was co-chair of our stewardship committee, which focuses on creating a stronger TNPA community. After conversations with members, she’d call me and layout ideas for continual improvement. At a TNPA event in Chicago in June, she was in full Jennifer Bielat mode: “This was good. Here’s what we do to make the next one better.” Always the enthusiasm and willingness to lead from within. She had more on her mind and promised we’d talk again after she returned from a few days off for a minor medical procedure.
I was fortunate to know Jennifer as our careers traveled parallel and intersecting tracks. A select few worked with her much more closely over the years. Many knew her by reputation. No one working in direct response fundraising today is more than two degrees of separation from Jennifer. Her fingerprints — her influence — are everywhere because she chose to stay in roles long enough to make deep and lasting differences. She generously gave her time and expertise to make the industry and the work that nonprofit fundraisers do better, more effective, and more accountable.
Jennifer was a wife and a mom. She was a colleague and a friend, an influencer and a fighter. She leaves a legacy that those who love her can be proud of, and those who had the exceptional good fortune of working with her must now pick up and carry forward.
2 responses to “Remembering Jennifer Bielat”
I first met Jennifer in 2007 when she was with Easter Seals. Everything written about her now was also true then. She was a force for good if there ever was one. The world is a bit off-kilter now. I will miss her and the poise, grace, generosity, wisdom, and laughter she gifted me, always, when I had the good fortune to be in her presence.
I worked with Jennifer for a number of years at Easter Seals and so enjoyed her as a person and as a colleague. She was as sharp as a tack but had so much grace and the beautiful laughter of a friend. The nonprofit space has lost a true gift and will be missed. Sending much love to her family.