“No one wakes up in the morning and asks, ‘How much money should I give the Y today?’ People don’t walk into the lobby with bags of money.”
Too bad. If they did, Paul Bernetsky’s job would be a lot easier.
The 51-year-old Watertown native is the Westport YMCA‘s new chief development officer. His job is to raise the $3.2 million still remaining to build a 54,000-square foot facility at Mahackeno.
When he’s done, he’ll start raising money for Phase 2 of the new building — the 50,000 or so square feet that were deferred when the Y’s initial campaign fell short.
All along, he’ll oversee the Strong Kids Campaign — the Y’s annual fundraising effort.
Fortunately, Paul is a big believer in the importance of non-profits.
He’s spent his career in that world. He began with the Boy Scouts, then served as executive director of Youth for the Third Millenium, a Catholic youth missionary organization. Most recently, he managed St. Joseph High School‘s development campaign and marketing program.
About the only thing the Y shares with those organizations is its non-profit status.
“It’s been a long process, I know,” Paul says, referring to the many years the Y has spent trying to build a new facility — and of donor fatigue.
“Some people wonder if it’s every going to happen. When we get shovels in the ground, people will really start to believe what we’re doing.”
Paul adds, “I’m a glass-is-half-full guy. If I can bring my passion for this great, exciting facility, we’ll bring more volunteers forward. The staff can’t do this alone.
So far, the Y has solicited funds from “folks with means,” Paul says. The next step is smaller donations, from families and individuals. Many, he said, have not yet been solicited.
“I’m not naive,” Paul notes. “I know it will take hard work.”
He took his new post with eyes wide open. CEO Rob Reeves and fundraising consultant Jon Simons sent him background material dating to 1995.
“I know folks are disappointed the Y is moving out of downtown,” Paul says.
“Change is difficult. I’m a traditionalist too. But this facility will serve the 21st century. We’re thinking ahead, to the next 50 years.
Was there any hesitation in accepting the position?
“A little,” Paul admits. “But as I dug deeper, I saw that most questions and concerns have been addressed, time and time again.
“I have faith in the goodwill of the people in Westport and Weston. It takes courage to tackle something new like this. I give lots of credit to the board. They’ve made some tough decisions, and stood by them.”
His job, he says, is to “educate, inspire and invite people to be part of this project. I’m not going to be walking around with a club, hitting them over the head.”
He looks forward to building confidence, opening doors, helping people feel comfortable donating money, and asking others to do the same.
“If there’s a cause you believe in, you’ll give year after year,” he notes. “That’s the great thing about our country.”
He calls it a “blessing” that Westporters and Westonites have the means to help the Y. Of course, they do not wake up every morning planning to donate. And they sure don’t walk through the door offering bags of money.
So Paul Bernetsky will ask.