When Jeffrey C. Mendola traded his 15-year position with a manufacturing company as a top salesman for a nonprofit position, he took those skills into his new role as a fundraising professional.

For his work as development director at Mercy Flight WNY, Mendola was recently named by FundRaising Success as one of the magazine’s “rising stars” as part of its 2013 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards.

“I’m just excited about the award – it’s an honor to be recognized by your peers,” he said. “It’s like receiving the ultimate ‘thank-you.’ But I wasn’t a one-man fundraising team, we were a group working on those campaigns.” Mendola led a group that raised more than $4 million in 4½ years through efforts that included increasing the company’s social media presence.

The award to Mendola and three others is given annually by FundRaising Success, a national trade publication, to newcomers with less than five years in the field but who have quickly made an impact, said Margaret Battistelli Gardner, editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia-based magazine. “The Rising Star Award recognizes individuals, who even though it’s early in their careers, go above and beyond, and they get it,” she said. “They just seem to possess an overall understanding of the donor relationship, the types of things that go into a holistic approach to fundraising.”

Mendola, a Cheektowaga resident, attributes his success to dogged persistence and dedication, and building enduring relationships with donors while identifying and organizing low-cost efforts that can bring in money.

For example, throwing an event is not a very lucrative fundraiser because it’s time-consuming, and labor costs are expensive, Mendola said. But annual appeals, direct mailings and presentations to groups have proved to bring in more donor contributions, he said.

Mendola left his position with Mercy Flight last fall but is continuing his fundraising work as the director of mission advancement at New Directions Foundation, which supports the nonprofit social service agency New Directions Youth and Family Services. “I’m now hooked on fundraising,” he said, adding that it’s very similar to his sales and marketing work but more rewarding. “I’d go anywhere to talk to anyone about New Directions.”

When he worked for Flexovit, an Angola manufacturer of abrasive products, Mendola said, his daughter would say, “My dad travels,” when asked what he did for a living, but now she responds, “My dad raises money to help people.”

New Directions Youth and Family Services offers 22 preventive and educational programs and services for families and children, including foster care and adoption, residential campuses, group homes and educational services.

New Directions operates two schools – the Henrietta G. Lewis Campus in Lockport and the Randolph Academy in Randolph – and the Wyndham Lawn Home.

While he had a team at Mercy Flight, Mendola’s is New Directions sole fundraising professional.