Robert Bull ’93 is receiving the 2023 Marguerite Barland ’60 Merit Award, celebrating the achievements of Goucher’s Black alumnae/i.
By Molly Englund
In 2007, Robert Bull ’93 became president of the Alumnae & Alumni of Goucher College, known as the AAGC. He was the first African American and the first man to lead the alumnae/i board. “It was a way to engage younger, diverse alums,” says Bull, “and Goucher’s way of stepping out and saying, ‘We are inclusive.’”
Being the face for Goucher alumnae/i meant Bull traveled the country to meet graduates, parents, and students. It reminded him of what he loved most about philanthropy—the partnerships formed, the joy in sharing successes. He saw how people cared about the college and cared about its future.
Bull is an expert at raising money for good causes. He has been a fundraising professional for 30 years, and since 2019, he has been president of The Compass Group, which offers fundraising consultation to nonprofits. “We coach nonprofits through campaigns,” he explains. “And what that translates to is helping communities realize their visions.”
Bull has helped make visions a reality in several fields: conservation, education, health care, and the arts. No vision is too grand or too small.
In 2020, when George Floyd’s murder sparked widespread protests across the country, The Compass Group received requests from predominately white nonprofits looking to give money more equitably. Bull, as one of the few Black presidents of fundraising firms nationwide, was in high demand. His work and insights helped The Compass Group take on clients with half-a-billion-dollar budgets.
But equally important to Bull were the smaller-scale projects. “There’s a subset of small to mid-size nonprofits that also sought our help because they wanted someone that looked like them to help with their fundraising efforts,” he says. “So in our strategic approach and planning, we revamped how we looked at the world and said, ‘How can we provide an opportunity for small or emerging nonprofits to be sustaining organizations?’”
Bull works with nonprofits like the global African Wildlife Foundation, the local Port Discovery, and, for the last two decades, the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2010, he was asked to help create a curriculum for emerging African American museums. “A lot of folks would be surprised that there are hundreds of African American museums and cultural sites around the country,” says Bull. The Compass Group, with Bull’s direction, worked hard over the last few years to create models for their fundraising. Bull’s company is now the go-to fundraising consulting firm for African American historic sites, and he hopes to inspire more Black fundraising professionals to take his lead.
Bull brings this comprehensive approach to his work at Goucher. He still travels the country on its behalf, now as a trustee and the chair for the [UNDAUNTED] campaign, which has raised more than $80 million of its $100 million goal so far. He also helped transform Goucher’s Jewell Robinson Dinner, which grew from purely a recognition event celebrating the achievements of Goucher’s Black alumnae/i to an ongoing fundraising event for the Imani Fund, providing financial support for study abroad experiences. In 2021, the event exceeded its goal of $20,000; in 2022, it exceeded its new goal of 100 donors. “That was thanks to Robert’s vision,” says Jen Pawlo-Johnstone, executive director of alumnae/i engagement, “and his willingness to communicate the reasons we need to give. It was very compelling.”
As the 2023 winner of the Marguerite Barland ’60 Merit Award, Bull will be celebrated at this year’s Jewell Robinson Dinner. It’s his third award from Goucher; he received the Jennifer Mitchell Reed ’86 Young Alumnae/i Award in 1998 and the John Franklin Goucher Metal in 2019. While he prefers to remain behind the scenes, he recognizes it’s a chance for Black students to see themselves in him. “It feels good to share my story,” says Bull, “because I want to inspire everyone to want to be their best selves. If I can exemplify leadership, and it sparks others to become leaders, I’d be most humbled and honored.”