Gina Hedberg discovered her career in fundraising through an unconventional route.

After several years practicing optometry in Oregon, she came to a place where she just knew it was time for a change.

“I didn’t want to do it anymore,” she says. “My heart wasn’t in it. I had just had my son and I was just kind of burnt out, so I took a few months off to spend with him.”

When it came time to reenter the workforce, Gina says she knew she wanted something with more work-life balance than her old profession.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I literally searched ‘non-profits in Eugene,’” says Gina. One search result that caught her eye was for Holt International Children Services, a philanthropic organization that focuses on family strengthening and child advocacy.

“When Holt came up, I felt really tied to the mission. It felt like something I could really do,” she says.

She started out as an entry-level sponsorship rep, answering calls at the front desk. When a mid-level fundraising position opened, she applied and got the job.

“Even though I’d never worked in fundraising before, in optometry there was a lot of relationship building,” she says. “I’m a people person, and I just like to make those connections, so I didn’t study fundraising, but I feel it was a natural fit for me, and I really like it.”

But because she was breaking into a new field, Gina enrolled in the Veritus Group Academy Certification Course in Mid-Level Fundraising

“Just getting some of that basic education in fundraising and the permission-based asking was very helpful,” she says. “All that stuff was new to me. Getting those concepts from the beginning was very helpful. And just to know that the failure part is okay. It’s part of the process.”

After a few years, she moved up to take on a major gift portfolio. Today Gina has a caseload of about 150 donors, which she has tiered with the help of Veritus Group.

“Veritus really helps with that structure,” she says.  “I like making connections and stewarding these donors, but Veritus helps with the monthly touch points and making sure that I’m on track and actually have a plan for the year.

“A lot of my donors are good friends. So, it makes the work fun,” says Gina. “Some I’ve had since I was in mid-level, and they’ve grown with me. And some of them are new donors where I’m looking to build that relationship.”

Gina and the other Holt gift officers meet weekly with their Veritus coach, Lisa Robertson.

“She helps set the tone for our whole group,” says Gina. “Each week we talk about the quality connections we’ve made, and what the steps should be for the next month.”

Gina is a big fan of the Donor Engagement Plan or DEP, Veritus Group’s tool for creating and managing personal plans for each individual donor. (Get your own copy of the Donor Engagement Plan here!)

“Having the DEP has been wonderful because our database is ancient,” she says. “So having it all there helps to have that organization, knowing what I’ve done and what I haven’t done. I just need it all in one snapshot.”

One of Gina’s favorite donor stories involves a gentleman who first began donating to Holt when his church shut down during the pandemic. He started sending his tithe to Holt.

“He really liked our story,” says Gina. “I sent him a few blog posts, and he was moved by the stories, and the children, and he has continued supporting our work. He went from giving nothing to giving $8,000. Last year he gave $30,000. This year he has already given $15,000.”

The amazing progress of this donor’s generosity illustrates the importance of understanding individual passions and interests.

“I know that he appreciates those stories of impact,” says Gina. “You know, he doesn’t need the stats. It’s just hearing those stories of kids and what he’s doing to help. And he’s a paper person, so I send those by mail.

“He always asks me to send him a stack of return envelopes so he can mail in his donations. So, every now and then I’ll mail him a stack of return envelopes and print out one of the stories that I think would be meaningful for him.

“That’s been a really cool relationship. He had no connection to Holt prior, so that one is kind of a unique one.”

Another favorite donor for Gina is a woman who owns a farm in Montana. She adopted two children from Korea through Holt, and each year, when she sells her crop, she has been donating to Holt based on the sales. 

“I stewarded her along and had gotten to know her, her grandkids, she loves coffee, we talk about all the little things,” says Gina. “She’s one of the donors I’ll text with often. It’s a special relationship.”

All along, Gina has been sending impact reports and touch points.

When the woman recently re-married, her second husband wasn’t involved with Holt at first. But through reading the materials Gina sent, he has actually begun to make some personal donations to Holt himself.

Her husband has also taken an interest in Holt’s special-needs care center in Korea and has committed to make a sizeable donation.

“That just melts her heart,” says Gina of the wife. “Because it’s her husband and Holt is so important to her so seeing him show interest and support has been extra meaningful for her.”

Gina says that she loves her work even though she sometimes has a bit of timidness around asking for a gift.

“In mid-level, it was more stewarding and reporting back, so I still have some nerves around asking. I think for some people maybe that never goes away. It’s been a good natural transition except maybe for those fears.”

She says it has helped her to understand how the donors are giving out of their passions and how they are benefiting from their giving.

“To these donors, it’s an investment in the children,” she says. “It’s a passion of theirs and so it’s mutually beneficial and everybody wins.”

As she reflects on her unorthodox career change, Gina has no regrets.

“When I first got connected with Holt, I was drawn by the mission and wanted to have a better work-life balance. The fundraising thing wasn’t even in my sights. It just fell into place, and it’s been really wonderful.”

To Grow Your Donor Relationships, Start With Empathy

Have you spent much time stepping into your donors’ shoes and thinking about what their experiences with fundraisers have been? We often think that when a donor doesn’t want to talk to us, it must be because they’re busy or uninterested. But the reality may be very different.


Managing Through Meaningful Connections

If you’re focused on the wrong metrics, you’re creating an environment where your fundraisers are scrambling just to hit a number – instead of trying to build deeper relationships with donors. To foster more meaningful connections with donors, you have to let go of metrics that are designed to “manage” without actually managing your fundraiser. 


Data-Driven Decision Making

At Veritus, we’ll never ask you to just rely on “expert opinion” without any data to back it up. Data should always be your guide. Here are five key areas where you can leverage data to inform your fundraising decisions.