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Nathan Hand '03 sits on a staircase

Nathan Hand ’03: Lending help to worthy causes

He grew up in a service-oriented family, undertook activities required to become an Eagle Scout, won Bonner and Holton scholarships at DePauw for service and coveted a life of helping others.

But Nathan Hand ’03 wasn’t convinced he could make a career in philanthropy, at least not one that would enable him to comfortably raise a family and have the earning potential that his peers pursuing more lucrative fields would enjoy.

He thought about becoming a patent attorney. Or going into biology. He spent time pursing education studies, then geology. He ultimately landed on a communication major and political science minor, and undertook enough internships, volunteer opportunities and extracurricular experiences to persuade himself that working in nonprofits would bring him joy and a comfortable life, if not necessarily riches.

“I just felt like there was an urgency there to get my career started, but also explore as many different causes as possible to find what I liked,” he said. “I needed to prove to myself that I could make a living doing this, the idea of volunteering and nonprofit service. It’s a big shift to go from a fun side hobby … to want to make a career out of this.”

During his four years at DePauw, Hand had eight or 10 internships at nonprofits, using “every window of time – summers, winter terms, etc. – to try to do as much of that as possible,” he said. Among others, he worked at the Points of Light Foundation in Washington D.C. and the Corella & Bertram F. Bonner Foundation in New Jersey. He spent a winter term in service in Ghana, performing medical triage and building a shelter. Instead of studying abroad, he spent a semester at American University in D.C., learning about community transformation.

He also coached track at Greencastle High School, was a teacher’s aide at Tzouanakis Intermediate School and visited with elderly residents of Asbury Towers. He organized Make a Difference Day and programs on leadership development, peer mentoring and more for DePauw’s Hartman Center for Civic Engagement.

For his activities at DePauw, Hand was awarded the Walker Cup and the Randal L. Wilson Union Board Award.

“It was not just okay and not just possible to do a career in this work, but worthy, something I could be proud of, something I can be good at.”

His service experiences at DePauw, he said, demonstrated that “it was not just okay and not just possible to do a career in this work, but worthy, something I could be proud of, something I can be good at.” In fact, his pursuit of a career in nonprofits has been so unremitting that “my only and last for-profit job was landscaping in high school.”

Indeed, Hand has held a series of fundraising jobs, culminating in his position as chief advancement officer at The Oaks Academy, a private, three-campus elementary school in Indianapolis for which he has raised money, primarily for scholarships, since 2013.

“I’ve been extremely impressed by Nathan’s ability to deliver, no matter the challenge in front of him. He always finds a way and remains humble in doing so,” said Brian Millen, chair of the academy’s board. “Nathan is a leader who rolls up his sleeves to do the very difficult work our school community needs. In a word, he’s awesome.”

Hand has dabbled in consulting, was a founding member of an international fundraising think tank and since 2014 has taught at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, from which he obtained a master’s degree. And he is a busy volunteer, though he said he has scaled back since his twin daughters were born four year ago.

He teaches because “there’s absolutely a need for more of the nonprofit sector to be professionally trained in this work.” He passes along the same approach he takes in his job: that fundraising involves “respectful relationship-building, trying to help people understand what their own philanthropic interests are. And then if it aligns with your cause, great; go do some wonderful work together for kids or puppies or trees or whales or whatever. …

“It does a disservice to pester and strong-arm people,” he said. “You might get a donation, but it’s probably the last one. And it’s probably not the size that it could have been if you treated somebody well and just built a relationship and introduced your cause and the challenges you might be facing and how they can make a difference.”

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