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Helping clients navigate rough seas and reach their destination for 25 years

Helping clients navigate rough seas and reach their destination for 25 years

January 18, 2024
Jeff Jowdy

Tempus fugit. 

It seems like yesterday when, at the recommendation of a mentor, I started Lighthouse Counsel. That mentor – the development director at a school – has been a close friend ever since and a client on multiple occasions.

I was blessed with parents who modeled philanthropy. They gave their time, treasures and talents to their community and my father gave the same to his work as a pharmacy professor and later as a development director. While I had no plan for a career in the nonprofit sector, upon reflection, it does not come as a surprise. 

The first capital campaign I worked on was when I was in college.  To learn about fundraising I became a volunteer in the university’s advancement office. While working for a large national philanthropic consulting firm, I became hooked on consulting and on the opportunity to make an impact in a variety of settings.

The desire to deliver quality work led me to follow the recommendation to start a firm.  While I was confident of my abilities, I realized that I did not know everything and could not do everything. I knew that I would need to build a team of experts and leverage their talents to perform at the highest level.

In the early days, I gave much thought to a name. Spending many of my summers on the coast of Connecticut and North Carolina, the decision was easy. Directly in front of my grandmother’s home in Bell Island, Connecticut, was the Sheffield Island Lighthouse. It was deactivated and deserted but it enthralled me and spurred my imagination nonetheless. 

Bingo – Lighthouse Counsel! As consultants we would guide and direct organizations – higher education institutions, independent schools, associations, health care organizations and a wide variety of nonprofits – which are beacons of light to communities and to those they serve. And our mission is to guide these incredible organizations to better fulfill their missions. The name was a perfect fit.

Growth and challenges

Over the years, our team has expanded to include many incredible professionals.  Today, I confidently say our team is second to none – in their collective experience, the quality of their work, their insight, ethics and the commitment they bring to serve our clients. All our consultants who lead projects have led organizations and significant fundraising programs. Their skill and dedication shine not only in their resumes and backgrounds but also through their contributions to The Beacon Podcast and Lighthouse Counsel Blog. I am immensely proud of and thankful for this team, individually and as a collective.

Reaching this milestone has not been without its challenges. Economic downturns have always been tough, especially for someone with a servant’s heart who wants to keep serving despite any and every hardship.

We continually develop and refine systems based on experience and feedback, providing an incredible benefit to our clients.

Guiding Principles 

Our guiding principles were developed 15 years ago and speak to who we are – and first among them is integrity. We deliver on our promises. On the rare occasion we fall short, we make it up. We tell our clients what they need to know not what they want to hear. We do not sell additional unnecessary services. Our focus is on our clients, not our egos. Our other guiding principles are  

  • Service
  • Excellence
  • Innovation
  • Teamwork  

While technology and communications have evolved dramatically over 25 years, our core best practices, undergirded by research, have held true in fundraising. 

As consultants our job is to develop relevant strategies tailored to each client. We work diligently to thoroughly understand where they are coming from and where they hope to go, their strengths and challenges, their wants, needs and goals – long-term, short-term and aspirational. Our unbiased research conducted through in-depth studies helps us gauge the feasibility of major campaigns and pinpoint precise steps our clients need to take to succeed.

Then, following the advice of so many successful coaches – we plan our work and work our plan!

We have been fortunate to partner closely with each of our clients and have worked on campaigns from $1 million to hundreds of millions of dollars. We provide expertise in strategic planning, capital campaigns, nonprofit board development and leadership development, along with a full range of fundraising. Our team has worked on campaigns totaling billions of dollars raised. 

Client Success

It is important to understand the role of the client in all of this. Our process and recommendations do not work if the client’s leadership is not forthcoming or is reluctant to follow the advised strategy. Once we establish a close understanding based on research and mutual trust, the path becomes clear. Clients who have followed our counsel always have over-achieved their goals.

One successful campaign client that stands out is the US Poultry Foundation. The foundation did not have development staff. While we did not know about the poultry industry, we knew about fundraising and capital campaigns. We learned about the client’s circumstances and needs – and with the foundation’s help, we learned about the poultry and egg industry. 

With intense research including individual confidential interviews, focus groups and surveys, we learned about the organization, its needs, goals, strengths, weaknesses and opportunities through the eyes of its staff, board, donors and stakeholders. Guided by that research, we were able to build an informed plan. 

We invested a year in focused pre-campaign cultivation and communication, working alongside US Poultry & Egg Association CEO John Starkey, his excellent team of board members and an incredible staff. Consequently, the foundation developed deeper and more meaningful relationships with their donors and raised more than double their original goal. 

Our engagement with US Poultry is a pitch-perfect example of an ideal trusted advisor relationship. John and his team helped us understand their environment and the nuances of their industry. They trusted our expert advice and followed our recommendations. 

When I shared with John that US Poultry is one of our favorite clients because of the trust they placed in us and their willingness to fully commit to our guidance, he said, “Why would we not? We were paying you to direct us!”

A unique approach

We have a unique team approach. Each project benefits from the collaboration of several of our team members, leveraging their expertise, resulting in a superior outcome for the client.  Our team commitment to every client is steadfast and includes relationship building that goes beyond the day-to-day scope of our work. We believe that each successful engagement adds to the overall health of the nonprofit and fundraising sector, which is important to us.  Our slogan speaks to our approach: Chart your journey. Reach your destination!

The future is very bright. The need for institutions of higher education, independent schools, faith-based organizations, health care organizations and a wide variety of nonprofits that fulfill dynamic missions and are close to those they serve is greater than ever.

As we begin our 25th year, we have some exciting plans. We will:

  • Celebrate the 10th anniversary of our The Beacon Podcast, which has welcomed 150 guests over its more than 160 episodes.
  • Publish our long-anticipated book for nonprofit board chairs.
  • Continue to grow our team to ensure that it represents diverse talents and experiences.
  • Continually improve our systems, technology and practices to stay innovative and on the cutting-edge to serve our clients better.
  • Uphold our promise to work tirelessly and with transparency and the utmost integrity on behalf of our clients and their important missions.

Again, I am tremendously thankful for our team, clients and the opportunity to be a force for positive change in the world. As we celebrate our first 25 years as Lighthouse Counsel, we look ahead to the next 25 years and beyond with hope, determination and endless gratitude.


Jeff Jowdy

A veteran of nonprofit leadership and fundraising, Jeff has been the guiding force behind Lighthouse Counsel since founding it in 1999. As senior vice president of development for the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, Jeff led one of the nation’s most successful YMCA fundraising programs. He also was senior managing director at Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners. Prior to that, he served as advancement director at Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, Georgia. He began his fundraising career as executive director of the South Georgia Chapter of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. Jeff is past chair and board member of the Phi Kappa Theta National Foundation and past chair of the Board of Trust at The University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. He was also an executive committee member of UGA’s national alumni association for a decade. Jeff serves on the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Tennessee board and Troy University’s Sorrell College of Business Executive Advisory Council Additionally, he is a member of the Rotary Club of Nashville, the Sons of the American Revolution and the Southern Federation of Syrian-Lebanese Clubs. Jeff is a r member of NonProfit PRO’s) Editorial Advisory Board and writes the publication’s popular “Bedrocks & Beacons” blog. He is also past president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Nashville Chapter and was recognized as its Fundraising Professional of the Year. He has been named a Fellow by UGA’s Grady College and received the UGA College of Pharmacy’s Distinguished Service Award. He is a member of the AFP Atlanta and Nashville chapters, as well as a graduate of AFP’s Faculty Training Academy and Executive Management and Leadership programs, as well as a graduate of Leadership Nashville and Leadership Middle Tennessee. Jeff is a graduate of UGA’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and holds a master’s degree in human resource management from Troy University. Jeff’s favorite quote: “Give, expecting nothing thereof.” —St. Thomas Aquinas