Jerry Cianciolo, ground-breaking Co-Founder and Chief Editor of the publisher Emerson & Church is dead
The news reached us via an email from Jim Hilborn, head of Civil Sector Press, the global nonprofit publisher that in 2022 acquired the Emerson & Church backlist and continues to publish and update their books. (See Keeping the Soul of Fundraising Alive.)
Jerry and his wife Kathleen Brennan launched Emerson & Church 38 years ago into what back then was pretty much a fundraising information desert with few and oft expensive “how to” books aimed at the practitioner.
“Their arrival was like an asteroid striking our world”, recalls Tom Ahern, the most prolific of authors in Jerry’s stable. “Pretty soon you’d see more and more of his books at conference bookstores and, most importantly dog-eared and in use on the corner of fundraiser’s desks. Jerry and Kathleen built the essential publishing bridge for an exploding NGO industry trying to get from here to there.”
Within a few years there were dozens of practical and helpful “how to” books thanks to Jerry’s sometimes cantankerous but always clear-head approach and Kathleen’s patience and management skill. All with practical advice and insights of use to both beginning and veteran fundraisers and nonprofit boards. All reasonably priced with their content sharply focused.
Jerry, like any great editor, cared a hell of a lot less about authors’ needs than the reader’s. He believed in short chapters, understandable prose and where possible a book that delivered not only helpful advice but could be read in 1 hour.
In fact, one of Emerson & Church’s classics is Fundraising Realities Every Board Member Must Face: A 1 Hour Crash Course on Raising Major Gifts for Nonprofit Organizations now in its 3rd edition by the author David Lansdowne—the nom de plume of none other than one Jerry Cianciolo.
As the devastating news of Jerry’s death made its way via email threads it was clear that Jerry was someone quite special –and also quite mysterious –to most of the authors whose work he shepherded.
Here’s a small sampling:
- Ken Burnett, recalls, “Jerry first contacted me at the turn of the 1990s to ask me to write for his magazine Contributions, and over the next six or seven years I contributed 38 articles. As a Brit, personally singled out by him, I was deeply honoured to be asked. I remember in his first email to me he told me he’d read every book ever published on any aspect of fundraising, which of course impressed me deeply, indeed I found the very idea terrifying. We only ever corresponded by email – I never spoke to him directly. But we did have some lively electronic exchanges.
- Kay Sprinkel Grace, commenting to fellow authors on an email thread last week also noted, “Isn’t it interesting that he had such a strong impact on most of us but many of us never met him?
- Tom Ahern, who also confessed that had never met Jerry told me of how Jerry influenced him. “When I was struggling with my first book trying to say everything about everything, most of which I knew nothing about … Jerry picked out the strongest chapter and told me, ‘Turn this into a book. ‘Then he had a second piece of good advice: ‘Make the chapters short, readable in a few minutes. One thought per chapter.’
“Changed my writing and my life.”
I too never met Jerry, but we did have lots of wonderful exchanges beyond “work.” I learned more about aspects of the Red Sox and baseball than I ever wanted to know, and my gardening was helped along in growing marvelous crops of spring peas thanks to his horticultural acumen and advice.
In fact, while the niche of “book editor” is narrow, Jerry niche was far broader and deeper. He was a renaissance guy in both his interests and contributions –contributions beyond the narrow confines of editing.
From a community course he gave in art appreciation (“You Don’t Have to be a Connoisseur to Enjoy the Arts” workshop, which explored different topics over the course of four weeks, to “Lifelong Learning “sessions he held for seniors in his community, to helping high school kids with their college admissions essays, to coaching his daughter’s soccer team, his interests and enthusiasm seemed boundless.
My last update from Jerry was a year ago. On January 17th, 2023, after he and Kathy had left the publishing business, he emailed me noting that he was working on a self-improvement book.
“I’m in the throes of the second chapter, and I suspect the manuscript will take me until this fall to finish.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a “platform” to interest publishers. That is, I don’t have 500,000 followers on Instagram or the Ph.D. in psychology to “validate” what I’m saying.
“Still, my hope is that good writing will win the day and find an audience.
“Even if it doesn’t, already this project is making me a better human being. And who can ask for more than that.”