Charity Champions: David Meador on What He’s Learned Working with Nonprofits

Nominated by the Autisim Alliance of Michigan, the DTE Energy vice chairman and chief administrative officer is the recipient of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ greater Detroit chapter’s Edmund T. Ahee Jewel Award for Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser
David Meador
David Meador

Each year, the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ greater Detroit chapter
honors southeastern Michigan’s most dedicated volunteers, philanthropists, and fundraising professionals with its annual awards.
Hour Detroit is pleased to partner with AFP to introduce 2021’s slate of charity champions ahead of National Philanthropy Day on Nov. 21.

Years ago, in the wake of his daughter’s autism diagnosis, David Meador and his family found themselves struggling to navigate a challenging system to get her the help she needed. They discovered they weren’t alone: There were many Michigan families touched by autism who were struggling, too. 

“It was an eye-opener for me,” Meador says. So, in 2009, he co-founded the Autism Alliance of Michigan, which has since lobbied for changes to state healthcare laws, provides family assistance programs, and promotes employment opportunities for individuals on the spectrum. 

Meador, the vice chairman and chief administrative officer for DTE Energy, who oversees the company’s philanthropic giving, has also served as a board member for a number of local nonprofits, including the Michigan Humane Society and the Detroit Institute of Arts, and has raised tens of millions of dollars. Hour Detroit spoke with Meador about his experiences. 

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in all your work with nonprofits? 

David Meador: Don’t be afraid to ask for an audience. Sometimes the initial step is not to ask for money, it’s just to start building relationships and getting people to understand what you’re trying to accomplish — and what the benefits would be if they ever did give money. There is an element to fundraising called “friendraising,” building that network of people that understand what you’re trying to accomplish. 

What are some of your secrets to success when it comes to fundraising?

When you go to do these large projects, you need an anchor fundraiser, someone who has the courage and the vision to say, “I’m willing to put a check on the line.” Once you have your anchor, you can ask someone to match that, and so on.  

How has the pandemic changed the way you fundraise? 

It used to be a lot of face-to-face meetings, and in the past people always used snail mail to send out annual reports and packages. With people not in the office, they’re not getting their landline voicemail or snail mail. I came to realize in the past year — as we would send out material and not hear back — that it’s OK to follow up with people. Even if it’s just a text. … I still think personal, face-to-face meetings — especially if you’re making a large ask — are still important.

This story is part of our Give Detroit package and is featured in the November 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.