Joe Dulin | Crain's Phoenix

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Joe Dulin


Founded in 1971, A New Leaf is a nonprofit, community organization based in Mesa, Arizona, that provides a broad spectrum of support services to individuals and families across the Valley.

The Mistake:

I got notice that we were turned down. The donor said it wasn’t the right fit.

Early in my career, I was the managing director of a theater company in Michigan. Part of my job was working with donors. I had an opportunity to get a meeting with one of the top philanthropists in the community because his wife was a new board member of the theater. So, I had lunch with him and pitched a request to support a production that we were very excited about and thought would benefit the community.

We had a wonderful meeting. I walked away feeling really good about the pitch and felt that we had a great opportunity to get the funding that we were asking for. A week later, I got notice that we were turned down. The donor said it wasn’t the right fit. 

I was really disappointed and wasn’t sure what went wrong. I was young enough at development to make a mistake, but smart enough to know that I had to find out what happened. So, I called the donor and asked if he could give me some feedback on why, specifically, he turned us down.  

I learned not to focus just on myself. It’s not just about you.

The Lesson:

I learned that it just didn’t fit into the criteria of what this donor usually funded. He was a very sophisticated philanthropist, who had a set of criteria and objectives behind his giving and it wasn’t just giving money to people because they knew him and his wife. That wasn’t something that made him interested in a project.

I learned that I had to focus not just on what I wanted to accomplish and what my organization was hoping to do. I really had to look at each funder and find out what they are interested in. Is there a fit? 

It was a good lesson for me. A couple of years later, I ended up being able to go back and make a different pitch to this same donor and I made sure that what I was proposing fit the criteria that might have been of interest to him. It certainly was; he funded the project. Not only did he fund it, but it led to many other opportunities of funding. 

I learned not to focus just on myself. It’s not just about you. You’ve got to focus on what the mutual benefit might be for that person.

Follow A New Leaf on Twitter at @ANewLeafAZ.

Photo courtesy of Joe Dulin

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Phoenix.