Today’s Client Corner article features an interview with Maureen Gregory, Director of Leadership Gifts for Freestore Foodbank.

As Maureen Gregory tells it, she “fell into fundraising.”

Just out of school, she was working as a waitress when a fellow restaurant worker told her that the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park was looking for a development associate.

“I said I don’t know what that is, but I’ll apply,” Maureen recalls.

She got the job, and because it involved fundraising, she quickly had to confront her fear of talking about money.

“My family’s very working-class, and I came up from very modest means,” she says. “I think that just naming it and how talking about money is just tough.

“I started out in theater, and especially when you go into the arts… it’s a different kind of donor. We had kick-off meetings in their mansions. I’m the daughter of an electrical worker from the utility company, and I had never quite seen that level of wealth. It’s a whole different world.”

She worked through that challenge, and since then, Maureen has held just about every position in fundraising.

“I’m a generalist,” she said. “I’ve done annual fund, I’ve done events, corporate sponsorships, direct mail, all of that. I had the pleasure of starting an email campaign, which really dates me, back when email was a new thing, back when we were all trying to figure out how to do it. It’s been a wonderful ride. I’ve been in non-profits all my career.”

For the last four and a half years, Maureen has focused on major gifts and planned gifts at Freestore Foodbank.

With all that fundraising experience, you might think there was very little left for her to learn. But Maureen says she had never really had any formal training in major gifts, and she was eager to keep growing. 

“The Freestore Foodbank does a great job of professional development. So, I decided I want to try this Veritus Group Academy,” says Maureen.

That’s how in the midst of the pandemic, Maureen found herself doing coursework and passing her Veritus Group Academy certification course.

Since then, she says “I have been such a big fan. The weekly e-news that comes out – I read it every week. I pass it along to colleagues. They know that I am just Veritus through and through. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t say, ‘Well, Veritus says that we should do this.’”

She says the biggest thing she learned has been the necessity of disqualifying donors. And then, how to determine which donors to focus her efforts on.

“I’ve had always worked at smaller non-profits, and there we hung on to every single donor we could. The idea of disqualifying a donor who doesn’t want to engage was very foreign to me,” says Maureen. “We kept them on, and we did whatever we could to try to engage with them. But it was frustrating!”

She says she had never heard of the Veritus system of qualifying (and disqualifying) donors. 

“Because my career before was both annual fund and major gifts, I never learned how to disqualify as a formal process.”

Fortified by what she learned in the Veritus Group Academy, Maureen was able to move on from donors who had proven they did not want a relationship.

“Now I have 150 folks on my portfolio, and I have probably 400 people I have disqualified. We have them in a medium-touch program to steward them, but they are not on portfolio because they had never responded to what we do.

“So now my portfolio value has really gone up because I’m talking to the right people, and they want to talk to me. And I’m not constantly trying to get ahold of people who just want to write a check.”

“That, to me, was a game-changer,” Maureen says.

She also appreciates the emphasis Veritus places on having a detailed plan for each donor in her portfolio.

“I’ve always kind of had a plan,” she says, “but to really formalize it and to make sure you’re working the plan for each donor has really just yielded wonderful results. It does really pay off.”

Another principle she adopted was how to enhance meaningful relationships with donors by sharing her own personal passions and interests through her regular touch points. 

She says she learned that “as a fundraiser, you need to have your own interests and bring your personal life to your donors. You need to be really interesting because it’s about the relationship and finding out about the donors.

“One of my favorite donors is an amazing expert in Japanese art,” she says. “Now, I don’t know much about Japanese art, but I do attend art museums and I have a passion for art in general, and so anytime I see anything about Japanese art or her passion, I am able to use that as a personal touch point. In all the years of my career, I had never really thought about it in that way.”

When it comes to the Veritus technique of permission-based asking, Maureen was such a fan that she has trained the rest of her team on that as well. 

“It was hard to shift, but it has been a wonderful change because I’ve had better donor conversations.”

What advice would she give any fundraiser who is looking for training?

“Veritus is my go-to source for major and mid-level gift information.” Maureen says. “Everything I’ve learned from them has been just spot-on, and it’s not stuff you see in other trainings. I’ve really not seen this information from any other company in this space and their approach is so unique.

“From my perspective, if you’re a fundraiser – even if you’re not in major gifts, even if you’re a generalist and you’re looking to refresh and reinvigorate your work – going through the Veritus major gift certification course will do that.

“A lot of fundraising professionals are hybrids – not just major gift officers, or not just planned gift officers. I think that everybody can benefit from Veritus training.”

Maureen Gregory is the Director of Leadership Gifts at Freestore Foodbank. This article originally appeared in the February 2022 Veritus Report.