Don Griffith smiles as he works—because he knows why he’s working.

That smile, along with his knowledge and experience, is coming to Fresno Pacific University fulltime July 1, 2018, as Griffith changes roles from chair of the FPU Board of Trustees to vice president for university advancement and executive director of the FPU Foundation. Among Griffith’s first acts will be to get his staff off the main campus and into a place where they can ask the questions that will guide their work. “What I want to focus on first is the why,” he said.

Make that one “why” and two “whats”:

  • Why does FPU exist?

  • What do we want to accomplish that can’t be accomplished by others?

  • What has God called us to do as a combination of educators and learners?

The goal is to keep the atmosphere inspirational so activities don’t become mechanical. Once people know why they come to work, then it’s time to talk strategy, initiatives and programs. “I suspect the Advancement Office has been very good at the details, but we need to remind ourselves of the why,” Griffith said.

One sales and marketing theory teaches that every purchase is an emotional decision based on what people think they will feel like afterward, Griffith said, and buyers support their emotional decisions with facts, logic and reasoning. For financial supporters, a “purchase” is an investment in the future. “Donors are investors in this process,” Griffith said.

Griffith knows why he’s at FPU: Christian higher education is part of the answer to the systemic problems of the region—crime, gangs, poverty, lack of educational achievement. “That’s what motivated me,” he said.

As for becoming vice president, Griffith can smile at the irony—or something larger—that caused Joseph Jones, Ph.D., the president Griffith helped hire, to challenge his boss to join his management team.  

With the oldest of his three children, alumnus Bryan Griffith, taking over Cornerstone Advisory Group, formerly Griffith Financial, the Fresno financial planning firm he founded and led, Don Griffith was looking for a new short-term challenge, not necessarily full-time employment. Jones, however, was persuasive. “When Joe kind of framed for me what he had in mind, this made a lot of sense,” Griffith said.

Also worth a chuckle for Griffith is the change in relationship between himself and Jones. “From now until June 30, I’m the president’s boss. After that, he is my boss,” he said, quickly adding that the board is the president’s boss, not the chair as an individual.

A licensed independent financial advisor since 1994, Griffith also has extensive experience in church work and development. Growing up in Sanger, his first connection with FPU came during his college years at Fresno State, when he sang in his church choirs. “It seemed our choir directors always came from FPU or Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary.”

Fundraising, helping people with estate planning and planned gifts, leading financial freedom seminars and giving Sunday messages in churches large and small—first in Minnesota and later from Porterville, CA, up the coast to Canada—were regular days at the office during Griffith’s years as regional representative for the Evangelical Free Church of America’s Department of Financial Ministries. During their 41-year marriage, he and Nancy also led Sunday School groups at Kingsburg Evangelical Free Church, Campus Church in Fresno, First Evangelical Free Church (now Maplewood Evangelical Free Church) in St. Paul, MN, and at North Fresno Church-Mennonite Brethren, Fresno, where he has chaired the boards of spiritual ministries and stewardship. “It was always fun, it never felt like work,” he said.

As Griffith “breathes new life” into FPU’s Advancement Office, he needs to find some new people. In addition to Mark Isaac, who Griffith replaces as vice president, Joan Minasian retired in January as director of annual giving and Karin Chao-Bushoven, director of major gifts, will step down in May. Minasian’s position is being re-imagined as annual fund and grant development, and a new spot has been created for a director of planned gifts as Fresno Pacific University Foundation is incorporated into advancement while maintaining its separate corporate structure and board. Other areas under advancement include alumni, athletics and seminary development.

Front and center for advancement is the Cultural and Arts Center. The vision for the center must be built on what FPU and the community needs, not what people think they can afford. “That’s the issue—what do we need to pursue the vision of engaging the cultures and serving the cities,” Griffith said. “What would it look like to have the greater community of Southeast Fresno and greater community of Fresno beating a path to our door?”

In all he and advancement do, Griffith wants to trust God, be bold and take some risks. “I’m not afraid to fail regularly,” he said. “If we don’t fail we’re not trying new things regularly enough.”

And through it all, he’ll smile.