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Richard Heist retirement leaves big shoes to fill at OLV

Thu, Feb 8th 2018 04:00 pm

Fundraising for a new building or to sustain operations that help kids is never an easy ask. Now try adding in fundraising for a national religious shrine, and efforts to gain sainthood for your agency’s namesake.

That’s the much-abbreviated job description for Richard Heist, who will retire in late June as executive director of Our Lady of Victory Homes of Charity, the fundraising arm for Baker Victory Services, OLV Institutions and Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica, organizations founded by Father Nelson Baker.

The organization has hired a national firm to find Heist’s replacement, who will serve in the new title of CEO and take over responsibility for an $8 million operation. In addition to bringing in nearly $5 million through fundraising, direct mail and events, this new executive will also manage revenue-generating operations that include public relations, IT, payroll as well as maintenance and HVAC for its own affiliates as well as other area Catholic organizations.

That’s long been the task for Heist, who first came to Baker Hall in 1973 as a child care worker, working with troubled kids sent to the site widely known as Father Baker’s either by their parents, social services or the courts system. Heist, who initially studied for the priesthood and completed a degree in philosophy and theology, went on to earn a master’s degree in social work.

He dedicated the next four decades to helping children deemed juvenile delinquents, many of whom came back over the years to share their later successes in life, family and career. His focus shifted in 1990 to development and fundraising, where he was able to bring his direct care experience to help donors understand the impact of their support.

“It allowed me to use my experiences working with youngsters and their parents and families, along with the staff who served with me, to help kind of spread the good news about what was happening here with our therapeutic programs and especially the success we saw,” Heist said.

To that end, Heist said his successor will need not only a fundraising background, but also must be willing to support Father Baker’s legacy, and commit to the ministry of service to others.

“It’s really about working on behalf of those who are very much in need,” he said. “It’s not just an occupation. I view this as more than a job: It’s an opportunity to come in and be a servant leader.”

Both the client base and fundraising methods have changed. In 1973, Heist said Baker Hall provided residence services for 41 troubled youth, plus about half a dozen children in foster care. Today, the agency’s programs serve more than 4,000 annually, including residential, educational, health and dental services for youth and individuals with developmental disabilities.

Father Baker pioneered direct mail for fundraising, getting addresses by asking postmasters across the country to send names of Polish, Irish and Italian descent. That initial mailing asked for 25 cents per donor, and generated about $60,000.

Today, millions of dollars, or 80 percent of funds raised, come through direct mail, including bequests. Support services like IT and HVAC for hire help make up the balance.

Though Our Lady of Victory and Baker Victory programs still have supporters across the nation, the new CEO will also face an increasing level of competition for fundraising dollars than Heist saw in earlier years.

“The competition for fundraising dollars has increased exponentially,” he said. “That’s definitely a challenge. The other thing is meeting the needs of the other organizations under the OLV umbrella, who have seen the demand for increased funding continue every year.”

Tracey Drury
Buffalo Business First