The Great Collaborator
Fred Sears has charted new directions for the Delaware Community Foundation at a time when nonprofits need them most.
By Reid Champagne Published April 12, 2010 at 09:59 AM
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red Sears’ career started with a wrong turn.
“My dad had set me up with a job interview at the Bank of Delaware in downtown Wilmington,” says Sears. “The Bank of Delaware was across the street from Delaware Trust. Not realizing the difference, I walked into Delaware Trust instead.”
As it happened, Delaware Trust was looking to hire a management trainee. “They hired only one trainee per year. I turned out to be that one.”
That wrong turn in 1964 started a journey that would place Sears in the right place at the right time for philanthropy in Delaware. Sears is president and CEO of the Delaware Community Foundation, the largest philanthropical administration fund in the state. As its leader, Sears has developed innovative programs for the benefit of all and charted new directions for the future.
Of course, there were a few stops along the way. At Delaware Trust Sears befriended Thomas Maloney, who would become mayor of Wilmington. Sears served as Maloney’s finance director for two years, then switched to economic development for a year. Frustrated in his dealings with City Council, Sears ran for an at-large seat. He won. When Sears later ran for president of council, he was defeated by current mayor James Baker.
Sears returned to the business world. Banks were starting to establish business development divisions, and Sears was known from his work in economic development for the city. “A friend of mine at Beneficial Bank, Jim Gilliam, offered me a job as vice president of sales,” Sears says. “Jim was very community oriented, and that rubbed off on me.”
Sears made additional moves through the banking community when Gilliam called one day to say, “I have a job for you. Come over and head up the Delaware Community Foundation.”
Under Sears, changes in DCF’s structure and strategy were almost immediate. “The DCF was originally established as an investment tool for developing small, private gifts such as those deriving from individual wills,” Sears says. “But today, for instance, we’re additionally focused on funding student scholarships provided by families who may have suffered a tragic loss and have established a scholarship in that loved one’s name.”
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