Fundraising Academy News

Payson Senior Center Wins Sanford Institute of Philanthropy Fundraising Academy Pitch Contest

Debbie Stephens with Pitch Contest Judges
Debbie Stephens, director of marketing and development for the Payson Senior Center, won the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at Maricopa Community Colleges’ second Fundraising Academy Pitch Contest on Wednesday, March 20.

Stephens’ pitch presentation focused on the organization’s new building, which will allow them to extend their programs and services beyond what they can provide in their current space. The organization is currently in escrow with a 2-acre parcel of land and hopes to fund their new center with a naming donation as well as additional donations from individuals and businesses.

As the winner of the pitch contest, Stephens and the Payson Senior Center will receive a free, full-page ad in AZ Big Media’s AzBusiness Angels magazine. 

The contest was part of the Institute’s Fundraising Academy, an 80-hour fundraising training program designed to provide nonprofit professionals with the skills they need to make a larger impact in their communities. Pitch participants included board members, development professionals, and executive directors from 9 local nonprofit organizations.

Using the skills learned throughout the Fundraising Academy, each participant created a 1-minute pitch video about their nonprofit. The top three organizations that received the most views, likes, and shares on Facebook moved on to the live pitch on Wednesday. 

The final contestants were: April Dickerson and Erin Soto of Recovery Empowerment Network (REN), Martin Muganzi of Youth Rising International, and Debbie Stephens of the Payson Senior Center. At the live pitch, each of these nonprofit professionals made a 3-minute pitch to a distinguished panel of judges including: Michael Gossie, editor-in-chief of AZ Big Media, Alfredo Molina, chairman and CEO of Molina Fine Jewelers and Black, Starr & Frost, Wendy Owens, development manager of Catholic Charities and last year’s pitch contest winner, and Nicole Stanton, former managing partner of Quarles & Brady LLP.   

To view all of the pitch videos and the Facebook Live video from the event, visit For more information about the Fundraising Academy, please visit

About the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at Maricopa Community Colleges 

The Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at Maricopa Community Colleges offers a range of high-quality educational opportunities to further strengthen nonprofit organizations throughout Arizona. Founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist, T. Denny Sanford, the Institute focuses on preparing exemplary nonprofit leaders and providing the support they need to be successful in making a difference in the world. The Institute offers more than 30 workshops, webinars, and a Fundraising Academy built around four key themes: cause selling, marketing, fundraising strategies and relationship building. All coursework is delivered by experienced nonprofit professionals, and many of these webinars and workshops meet the standards of excellence outlined by Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE). The Institute is part of the Maricopa Community Colleges and is operated by Maricopa Corporate College. Learn more at:

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