March is Women’s History Month, which basically is a double-double for us as black women, coming on the heels of Black History Month.
What better time to celebrate some of Memphis’ finest and fiercest over the course of the month? These are women who kick you know what and take names.
They are moving in spaces that are nontraditional or considered rare air. Or, just making bawse moves for the culture and the community. This is for the young girls who need to know that #becauseofthemwecan.
But it’s also for an inspiration for us “big girls” who are #rootingforeverybodyblack!
Linda McNeil, who I affectionately call Lovely Linda, is a dear friend. She has been a development professional for 25 years.
What does a development person do? First, it’s good to understand that development initiatives primarily are for nonprofit organizations, centered on their fundraising health, strategy and goal setting.
Development can be internal (working within the company) or external (working with an agency or consultant). Linda works externally, shepherding her clients through endowment-building efforts, capital campaigns to increase their footprint or shoring up operations, which includes programming and staffing recommendations.
“A lot of times it’s helping clients figure out the process of asking. We do a lot of grant writing, a lot of strategy. How much can you raise? How can you get there? Who you should ask? And most importantly we help in setting a fundraising goal.
“We really encourage people to get out into the community and get a true sense of the landscape,” McNeil said. She and her colleagues, help organizations build their leadership and messaging around the campaign and train them on how to make “the ask.”
Everything must be aligned – everyone doing and saying the same thing.
McNeil’s path wasn’t a straight one, however. She did not have it all mapped out from go and there were some diversions along the way to finding her fit.
She initially thought she wanted to be a nurse. She had started down the path of getting her CNA licensure until she had to intern at a nursing home. That was that on that!
She ended up getting married and moving to Michigan, landing a job in purchasing at Chrysler. She thought, “OK I’ll just move up in corporate America.”
But the fates would eventually show her otherwise. Upon returning to Memphis with her family, she landed at Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division (MLGW) for a year and half before becoming a secretary in the Alumni Affairs Office at LeMoyne-Owen College, her alma mater.
That was the real game changer. “I just loved it over there!”
Her natural inquisitiveness led her to want to understand how the giving mechanism worked. She moved up and around — working, learning and growing under five different people at LOC.
Linda is one of very few black development professionals in Memphis. Moreover, she most certainly is one of the most respected names in the development arena.
Currently, she is senior account manager at Gaskill Strategies, but has accumulated her fair share of bonafides with some of the city’s most cherished entities.
After some time at LeMoyne-Owen, she needed a change, which landed her at Bridges. “Started from the bottom now we here!” The “here” was vice president of development. From there she blazed trails at MIFA and Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
She initially felt challenged asking people for money but quickly realized that all she needed to know was that the organization was worthy and will follow through on their mission.
“I love it. It piques my interest. Every day is different. I’m not an extrovert or a people person but I like the research, the analysis…building a case for a worthy organization,” she said.
Let me leave you with a few of Linda’s words of wisdom, picked up from one of her Facebook Posts:
- I never refer to the work I do as begging.
- The answer is always no, if you don’t ask.
- The quality of your work and work ethic speak louder than words.
- There are really caring, genuine, generous people in this community.
- Every philanthropic gift doesn’t come from the heart. Sometimes it’s just good business for the philanthropist.
- If you can ask someone for $100 you can ask someone for $1 million.
- Building relationships is important. People give to people.
- Trust your gut.
- Never judge a book by its cover. You could miss out on a blessing.
- A plan is very important. You wouldn’t take a trip without knowing how you’re going to get there.
And remember #becauseofthemwecan!