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Nominations are open for our 2023 Awards!

Follow the links on the right to learn all about the Awards and to access the 2023 nomination forms.

Nominations are open for our 2023 Awards!

Follow the links on the right to learn all about the Awards and to access the 2023 nomination forms.

Congratulations to our 2022 Honorees!

  • Thomas C. Burke (pictured below at left), Nina Abady Winner, and

  • Leigh Busby (pictured below at right), Rising Star Winner!


This year’s Nina Abady Award winner, Tom Burke's career at VCU spans 34 years in leadership roles at the School of Dentistry, the VCU Foundation, and now leading the university's gift planning efforts. In total, Tom has been a professional fundraiser for 42 years, having worked in every aspect of philanthropy, most notably in board management and organizational leadership. Born and raised near Byrd Park, Tom has enjoyed an active role in the community. While seldom seeking the spotlight, he has been involved in a variety of organizations. A 1972 graduate of Benedictine, he maintained a lifelong connection to his alma mater, assisting with a feasibility campaign and donating his fee back to the organization. In addition, Tom completed pro bono feasibility study work for St. Bridget’s School. In typical Tom fashion, he sought no recognition other than to provide service to causes he believed in and knew he could help.

Serving in the army from 1972 to 1976, Tom was a strong voice for veteran’s services and education. Following his service he enrolled at VCU with the goal of becoming a teacher. Finding teaching opportunities limited, he landed his first job as the Executive Director of the American Cancer Society, Richmond chapter, making $9,000 a year. His earliest fundraising efforts included coin collecting, the Cancer Crusade, and many special events, including innumerable golf tournaments. After 5 years, in 1984 he became Executive Director of the National Kidney Foundation of Virginia. When fundraising often consisted of special events and mailers, Tom increasingly started to promote major gifts and planned giving concepts.

In 1986, the late Dean Lindsay Hunt recruited Tom to the VCU School of Dentistry to become its first development officer. From his arrival, his impact on the university community was significant. While several schools at VCU had fundraisers, Tom brought new energy and methodology learned in the nonprofit field. He established alumni programs that evolved from annual funds into major gifts. Today the School of Dentistry raises over $1M annually, a foundation set by Tom's initiative and strategies. His passion for the mission of the only dental school in the Commonwealth directly contributed to oral health research and clinical care, benefitting countless citizens from all walks of life for generations.

In 1999, VCU VP Peter Wyeth (a Nina Abady honoree) and President Eugene Trani recruited Tom to lead the VCU Foundation. Mickey Dowdy (another Nina Abady honoree) led the MCV Foundation, and now Tom was positioned as his cross-campus partner in leading the academic campus development. Under Tom's outstanding 20-year leadership, the VCU Foundation nearly doubled its assets to $120M. Additionally, annual cash increased from $4M to $14M. The Foundation had 123K donors during his tenure, with a retention of 49%

Tom was a critical leader in the planning and implementation of three significant university campaigns, totaling $1.4B. As only one example of many, Tom led the campaign committee for the Institute of Contemporary Art, envisioned as a catalyst for the Richmond community. Tom chaired monthly volunteer meetings, structured fundraising goals and donor acquisition strategies, and helped hire the fundraising and marketing team. The vision of the ICA was realized in 2018, with the completion of a $40M campaign. Notably, the original campaign plan was to raise $10M. It was a significant and challenging campaign, with rapidly rising building costs, complex financing, and fluctuating building timelines, and Tom's steady and experienced leadership ensured the ultimate and award-winning successful museum opening.

Since retiring from the foundation, Tom stepped into a new role that he is uniquely qualified to fulfill - Executive Director of Gift Planning for the Monroe Park Campus. In just the past year, during a pandemic and another recession, Tom has achieved record-breaking results.

Additionally, Tom embraced leadership roles in a variety of professional, athletic, and nonprofit organizations. For decades he offered his expertise as a speaker, including at VAFRE where he's been a member for many years. Most recently, he served as board member and chair of the Virginia Gift Planning Council. This community offered him a way to give back to the development profession and share his expertise with young and up-and-coming professionals. He's been a longtime mentor in the VCU community, and he has organized numerous retreats, role-playing exercises and training programs for fundraisers. He is an invaluable counselor on wide-ranging topics from ethics to career advice, and complex donor relationships.

Tom is not only about his work in philanthropy but also his own commitment and example as a philanthropist with his wife, Cathleen. The couple has established two endowed scholarships at the university. The first supports education majors interested in teaching in urban or high needs schools, and the second supports students in the Master of Public Administration program.

This year's Rising Star honoree, Leigh Busby, is the Development Director at Greater Richmond Fit4Kids where she oversees individual giving and donor relations, special events, and board engagement. She sought out Fit4Kids, where she was the first ever development professional on staff, because of her belief that physical activity and nutrition are transformative for children. Prior to COVID, Leigh regularly visited all Fit4Kids programs and connects closely with program staff so that she can best share the tremendous work they are doing. Not only was Leigh faced with developing an overall fundraising strategy that brings together grants, events, sponsorships, and individual philanthropy, she also had to work in the weeds. She was integral to professionalizing the record keeping, solicitations, acknowledgment and particularly the cultivation.

Prior to working at Fit4Kids, Leigh worked for YWCA Richmond as the Director of Community Relations and in HR roles for several for profit companies.  At the YWCA, she cultivated corporate and individual relationships to secure more than $100,000 in in-kind donations annually. She also had significant leadership responsibilities for the YW’s special event that raises 10% of their annual budget. Leigh also led several special projects including securing more than $10,000 worth of gifts for the annual Adopt a Family holiday program.

At both the YWCA and Fit4Kids, Leigh has shown incredible innovation by creating extremely successful Young Professionals Boards. At the YWCA, she created the group from scratch and it aligned with the YW mission to empower women. The all-female YP Board started a new fundraiser that raised more than $15,000. At Fit4Kids, Leigh manages the YP Board and grew it from 10 to 20 members. This group, under Leigh’s direction, hosts the organization's signature fundraiser each year.

Leigh has a very strong education and work history, including a degree from UNC Chapel Hill. She served in Human Resources positions at major corporations including Samsung and When she and her family moved to Richmond, she intentionally made a career change to pursue her interest in non-profit development and fundraising. Leigh is an active VAFRE member, having joined the Program Committee and is currently serving on the Board of Directors.

Congratulations to both of our honorees!

Click here to view the video (1:02:24) of our May 3, 2022 Awards Program and Presentation

Nina Abady Award

The Nina Abady Award is the most prestigious award given by the Virginia Association of Fundraising Executives (VAFRE). It is presented to a fundraising professional who has demonstrated utmost excellence in the field of development. The award signifies to individuals, organizations, and the greater community that the recipient has garnered the respect and admiration of colleagues throughout the Commonwealth for professional and ethical service.  

Learn more about the Nina Abady Award

Rising Star Award

The Rising Star Award is made annually to a VAFRE member who exhibits excellent potential and who has demonstrated remarkable talents at an early stage in their fund-raising career.

Learn more about the Rising Star Award

2020 Virtual Awards Lunch-In Video Available

Click here to watch the video of our Annual Awards Lunch-In on September 22nd as we celebrated the achievements of our 2020 honorees, Virginia McAndrew and David Thomason.  (58:30)

Click here to view the video (1:01) of our May 4th, 2021, Awards Lunch-In

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