Fundraising with Joy Interview – Maeve Strathy

Maeve Strathy, Alumni Development Officer, Trinity College School and Founder, What Gives Philanthropy

Maeve headshotIn May of this year, I attended the first “Midtown Toronto Fundraisers Social” – now #maevesmeetup. Maeve created this event to connect the many fundraisers in midtown Toronto. Luckily for me (a downtowner), she made the event open to all and #maevesmeetup has quickly become a “must attend” event for those who are passionate about fundraising and the social profit sector. And a really fun night out.

Since 2010 Maeve has been the Alumni Development Officer at Trinity College School, where she engages the grads of the last decade (GOLD) and manages their Annual Giving (including the 5 & 10-year reunion classes), among other things. She is inspiring a new generation of donors.

She is also part of a new generation of fundraisers making their mark in the sector. She is the founder of What Gives??? A blog dedicated to philanthropy & fundraising. Through What Gives Philanthropy, Maeve volunteers as a consultant for emerging companies and organizations requiring help with fundraising efforts. She has stated that “on a grander, long-term (15-20 years) scale” What Gives Philanthropy will evolve into “an arena for consulting, idea-sharing, and discussion.” Somehow I doubt that we will have to wait that long to see Maeve bring this dream into reality. In just a few years she has already become an inspiration to so many.

To connect with Maeve visit her blog at

Janice: What made you choose a career in the social profit sector?

It all started with a need for extra cash as a university undergrad… a situation I imagine we’ve all been in. I took a friend’s advice and applied to work at the Annual Giving call centre at the university, calling alumni of the school and parents of current students to share campus updates and – of course – ask for their financial support of the school. It was a great job, a fun environment to work in, and it turned out I was pretty good at it, too. I ended up working there for 3 ½ years, first as a caller, and then as a student supervisor. As corny as it may sound, I fell in love with fundraising. I was very passionate about my (now) alma mater, but it was the psychology, the language, the process, and everything else that went along with it that made me love the work. So, like many others, I fell into fundraising, but it was clear to me pretty quickly that this is the field for me.

Janice: What does philanthropy mean to you? Has your definition changed over time?

I use this phrase a lot in my blog because it resonates so intensely with me. I once heard James Fleck – the well-known Canadian philanthropist – say that philanthropy is the alignment of a person’s resources with their passion. That’s what philanthropy means to me. At the heart of it, it’s about passion; passion for people, passion for an organization’s mission, passion for a cause, an issue, etc. When someone’s so passionate about something that they’re willing to part with their hard-earned money? That’s a beautiful thing. And my definition has changed over time and I’m sure it will continue to, because as I continue on in my career it becomes loaded with experiences and examples of philanthropy. It begins to mean a lot more than just the Greek word for the love of humankind.

Janice: How does your organization’s mission connect to your personal values?

I work at an independent school, grades 5-12, that is nearing its 150th anniversary. My father went to the school, as well as my sister, cousin, and other more distant relatives, and the school is in the town that my grandfather lived in for the later years of his life. It’s rich in personal history for me, which makes it very appealing. But beyond that, I really believe in education. Some people may question the needs of a primarily tuition-funded school compared to other charities. But at the end of the day, the world’s biggest problems will be solved by educated people, and so I think on that level, that it’s a great organization to be a part of. Beyond that, the actual mission of the school I work at is Developing habits of the heart and mind for a life of purpose and service. So as a fundraiser, I’m helping to support an institution that wants to mould young minds so that they can live purposeful lives in service to others. I think purpose is what we all really need for ourselves and service is what we can share with others, and so I definitely support that mission.

Janice: What brings you the most joy in your work?

Connecting with people. That’s the #1 thing. I’m an introverted person, in that I gain energy from time spent alone or with just a few people, and I love that my work involves a lot of quiet time at my desk, writing solicitation letters or customizing major gift proposals for prospects. However, variety is the spice of life, and that’s why I love my job. For all my time spent quietly working, there’s just as much time spent meeting alumni of the school, or parents of current or past students; people who continue to stay connected with the institution because it has made a positive impact on their lives, directly or indirectly. Speaking with these people and hearing their stories not only makes me proud to work for the school, but it also enhances my ability to seek support for the school. These people are what make the work worth doing.

Janice: Your job focuses on cultivating relationships and supporting others, what do you do to recharge your batteries?

As I said before, I’m an introvert, and as much as I love connecting with people, it definitely takes a lot of energy from me. I recharge through my quiet work when I have the opportunities to do it; I recharge from time spent at home with my partner and our cat, reading, relaxing, and cooking; I recharge at the gym; I recharge by maintaining close and wonderful relationships with family and friends; and I recharge connecting with new people outside of work. In May I held my first “Midtown Toronto Fundraisers Social”, now called “#maevesmeetup”. This idea came out of a conversation I had with Paul Nazareth where he encouraged me to connect together the many fundraisers who live and/or work in midtown Toronto. These meet-ups (the third was on October 10th) have been great opportunities for inspiration, connection, networking, and more! Meeting people who are as passionate about fundraising and the social profit sector as I am has been totally rejuvenating.

Janice: Research shows that philanthropy and volunteerism are proven ways to increase happiness. How have you experienced this in your work and life?

In so many ways! I make an effort to volunteer when I can with different organizations including professional organizations like AFP and CCAE, and I find that involvement and volunteerism makes me that much more excited to do my own work. You meet people who work for the good of society and the people in it, and it’s totally inspiring! Furthermore, I’ve developed so many skills for my career through my volunteerism that I otherwise wouldn’t have at this stage, and so it’s really wonderful in that way, too.

In regards to philanthropy, I certainly support causes on my own – mostly art organizations or educational institutions – and I get a lot out of that, too. No one knows better than a fundraiser how far those dollars can go, and so it’s a great thing to know that I’m making an impact.

Finally, outside of my own philanthropy, I am witness to so many philanthropists; people who put their money behind the causes they’re passionate about. I’ve never met a philanthropist who wasn’t a positive person, or who didn’t seem to have a lot of love and happiness in their life. I think there’s a good reason for that.

Janice: Our work in the social profit sector allows us to make a contribution. What is the lasting impact you want to make during your career?

That is a great question! At this stage in my career, I think an impact I want to make is on young potential donors. Too many people I know have an idea of philanthropy as only being an option for Warren Buffet and Bill Gates; grey or white-haired, extremely wealthy men. I want to change that perception, and show people that we can all make a difference simply because we’re giving. It doesn’t matter how much, it just matters that we participate. It matters that we plant the seed for a culture of philanthropy, and inspire a new generation of donors to give. I want to be part of that.

© 2013, Janice Cunning. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this posting if you include my contact information. Please contact me if you wish to reprint any portion of it in any periodical or on a website

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About Janice Cunning

As a certified coach and fundraiser, I am passionate about partnering with people and teams to increase their personal and professional Joy Quota.

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