In 2011 Andrea Proulx Buinicki built upon a 16-year career in fundraising by starting her own philanthropy consulting firm, Giving Focus. The Valparaiso resident came up with the name of her firm because in her business she wants to focus on the act of giving.
“It’s actually not about money,” Buinicki says of her chosen field. “And it sounds kind of radical to say philanthropy and fundraising is not about money. But it’s not. It’s about philanthropy at its root is your love of people. I think sometimes it gets washed over and it’s about checks and galas and transactions and it’s a whole lot more encompassing than that.”
Buinicki was born in Boston and attended graduate school at the University of Iowa, where her fundraising career began. She worked for the Big Ten school’s foundation and “kept track of the alumni.”
It’s also where she met her husband and what landed her in Northwest Indiana in 2004 when he secured a position as an English professor at Valparaiso University.
Prior to starting Giving Focus, Buinicki worked for nonprofits, charities and a residential medical care facility, where she did major gifts fundraising.
After encountering several different kinds of individuals in fundraising, from those who gave to any nonprofit that sent a solicitation letter to those who wanted to only give to a certain cause, Buinicki, a registered fundraising consultant in Indiana, decided she wanted to work in a space where she could help people find their own philanthropic voice and help them find causes and nonprofit organizations that align with their values.
“For me it was about connecting people with opportunities that are going to make them feel good,” she says.
With Giving Focus, Buinicki works with families and entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations and trusted advisers.
“My vision is I want to make the world a more compassionate place,” she says. “And the way I can do that is by encouraging joyful giving. For me that occur when you have nonprofits that are transparent and ready to receive and steward gifts and really take care of their donors. It happens when you have philanthropists, people who are giving money, who are intentional; they’re very clear can make an informed decision that’s going to reward you emotionally.”
Buinicki believes she excels in her field because she understands that philanthropy is more complicated than someone writing a check to an organization. That philanthropy is about understanding what drives someone emotionally.
“I’m successful when my clients are happy, when people feel like they have a plan for their giving and they feel confident about their giving,” she says. “It’s intrinsically rewarding for me. When nonprofits feel they have all of their ducks in a row and feel confident about engaging with their donors and asking them to support meaningful projects and thanking them in meaningful ways, that makes me happy.
“At the end of the day I’ve done a little part to end homelessness, or to help our parks, or help end domestic violence. This is my way of making a difference.”
Buinicki’s professional memberships include serving on the board for Lakeshore Public Television, which she calls “a great opportunity to learn.”
“Prior to joining that I was not really aware of all the different ways public television gets funded,” she says.
Buinicki is also on the board of directors of the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Northwest Indiana Chapter and PTA member for Parkview Elementary School where her two sons attend.
“I want to be involved in their education, and I want to make sure teachers have the resources they need,” she says.
Buinicki also is active in her community by serving as a member of the Porter County Community Foundation Women’s Impact Circle and the Valparaiso Rotary Club.
Caroline Shook, CEO of Housing Opportunities, says Buinicki is one of those people in the community who work very hard to make sure that Porter County is a better place for all citizens.
“Andrea took Housing Opportunities from having no plan on how to raise funds and cultivate donors to an agency that has a formal plan for staff and board to embrace,” Shook says. “She does not look for recognition for what she does. She does it due to the passion she feels for other human beings. We are fortunate to have Andrea in our area”
Lou Martinez, president and CEO of the Lake Area United Way, says Buinicki’s philosophy and mission is truly innovative and fills a much needed niche in Northwest Indiana.
“Andrea’s vision is to make the world a more compassionate place by encouraging joyful giving which happens at the convergence of intentional, proactive philanthropists, their trusted advisers and the transparent nonprofits that align with their values.”
Timothy Scannell, of the Scannell Wealth Management Group, says Buinicki is a social entrepreneur motivated by a desire to help, improve and transform social, environmental, educational and economic conditions.
“Andrea makes a difference,” he says. “She impressed me with her ability to lead fundraising programs and work professionally with donors.
“Northwest Indiana will be better off as will the many nonprofit organizations and their clients as a result of her work.”