Cathie Wright • Vice President of Donor Relations • Lollypop Farm, Humane Society of Greater Rochester • December 2021

“We need to love these donors.

When Cathie Wright came to the Humane Society of Greater Rochester’s Lollypop Farm, she realized that her organization needed to pay more attention to major donors.

"We didn’t even have a major gift program,” she says. “I was very distraught when I started here to find we didn’t even have any donor notes in any of the records. We did have a donor database, but it was absolutely empty.

“There was a gift here, a gift there. And I was like, ‘Wait! You had fundraisers here, where are all the notes?’ So, it was basically like starting from scratch.”

And, as she dug a little deeper, she discovered that some donors who had given gifts had never even been thanked.

So, when Cathie launched a new capital campaign, she vowed to do a better job of stewardship with the donors.

Cathie drew up a formal proposal and told her CEO, “We need a major gift program. We need a major gift officer, and I want it to be me, and we need to love these donors.”

Her pitch proved persuasive.

“I have a great organization and a great boss who understood what I was doing and gave me the liberty to create the department like I wanted to create it.”

She was allowed to hire a Director of Development, freeing herself up to focus on major gifts. However, the new hire had no other fundraising experience except for what Cathie was teaching her.

It was during this transition that Cathie turned to Veritus.

“We needed structure, we needed to have her trained up.” Cathie says. “And in the meantime, we learned a lot – I learned a lot about how to create a successful program.”

When Senior Client Experience Leader Diana Frazier introduced the Veritus Group’s Donor Engagement Plan, or DEP, Cathie says that she and her team quickly embraced it.

“The DEP we just really latched onto and have been using that faithfully ever since – and I freakin’ love it!” says Cathie.

Before implementing the DEP, Cathie says she kept diligent notes and actions on each individual, “but I never had it mapped out in my head.

“So, when an action popped up, in a couple of months or whenever it would be, then I would sit there and I would go, ‘Hmm what did I do then? OK, I have to read that, OK what should I do now?’ I spent a lot of time sitting there strategizing. So now I strategize all at one time focused, and it’s way better.

Working with Veritus not only helped provide structure, but it also reinforced all the things Cathie was already doing right.

Like so many others involved with major gifts, Cathie had come to fundraising through a circuitous route. A communications major in college, Cathie first worked in sales. Because many of her customers were charities, she was exposed to the nonprofit world and decided that she wanted to join it herself.

“I took a drop in pay to get started at a little non-profit as Director of Development there,” she says. “I was there for two years and then I landed this job. And it’s like nirvana.”

Lollypop Farm is a large, innovative animal shelter near Rochester, N.Y., that cares for about 10,000 animals a year.

“I love animals, it’s just a great place to work, and it’s a great place to be.

“I always felt like I had missed an opportunity not working at a major higher ed institution or hospital system where there were systems and processes in place,” she says. “I was just flying by the seat of my pants, so it was great to have Diana come in and work with me for a year and tell me, ‘You’re like a dream.’

“And it was great to have her to be able to teach me how to watch metrics, and oversee the other major gift fundraiser, and actually take the burden off of me having to train her. She trained her on major gift fundraising.”

The effort really seems to be paying off.

“Before we started working with Veritus, when we first started the program, I was raising about a half a million dollars a year in major gifts,” Cathie says. “The first year of working with Veritus, between the two fundraisers, we raised $1.9 million. And last year, I alone raised $2 million. Between the two of us we’re now raising $2.7 million.”

After she got the major gift program up and running effectively, Cathie turned her attention next to planned giving.

“When we realized that Veritus had started a planned giving component, I’m like, ‘I want to do that.’ So I talked the powers that be into hiring Veritus to coaching us in planned giving,” she says.

Veritus Planned Giving Services Director Bob Shafis helped Cathie make the case to the board of directors not only to hire Veritus, but to add a planned giving officer.

“The best thing was Bob’s ability to forecast what an investment into planned giving could equate to in revenue over the years,” says Cathie.

The team at Lollypop Farm are enthusiastic about all they’ve learned.

“Veritus has helped us come a very long way. Because now we have a full-blown mid-level giving program, and though we’re not currently in a formal relationship coaching or mentoring with Veritus, our mid-level officer is taking the online mid-level course that Veritus offers. And her words were, ‘It was wildly helpful and extremely eye-opening to take the mid-level class.’

“I’ve never worked with a vendor before where I have been as satisfied with what you say you’re going to do, you do, and then some,” says Cathie.

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