Meet Geannine Darby, CFRE, Director of Major Gifts for LifeBridge Health, and AFP Maryland Program Committee Chair
Geannine began her fundraising career in 1988 at The Lacrosse Foundation, Inc. (now US Lacrosse), where she worked as Director of Development. After several years there, she took a position at the YMCA of Central Maryland as its chief development officer, before moving on to the American Lung Association of Maryland where she served as Vice President of Development.
From there, Geannine entered the world of health care fundraising, spending several years with MedStar Health, focusing on major gifts for MedStar Union Memorial Hospital before advancing within the system to Vice President of Philanthropy for MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital. She took a short sabbatical in 2012 to help family through a difficult time, then joined the University of Maryland Medical System through Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital. In that role, she served as a Senior Director focused on development operations. Missing direct donor work, she was thrilled to join LifeBridge Health as Director of Major Gifts.
Geannine has taught at Goucher College in Baltimore, at national YMCA trainings and at numerous local trainings for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) as well as other organizations. She gives back to the profession through her long-time involvement with AFP, having served in a variety of roles, including as President of the Board of Directors of the Maryland Chapter. She is currently the Program Committee Chair for AFP Maryland.
We asked Geannine:
What is the most rewarding thing about being a professional fundraiser?
I find it rewarding to “make a difference,” which sounds trite though it is true. When I can connect a donor to a need and know that I have made a difference for those benefitting and touched the life of the donor, I feel good about what I do.
How did you first become involved in development?
When I graduated from Johns Hopkins, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. Our AthleticCenter, where I did my college work-study job, rented space to the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. They came across the hall and asked me to help with a fundraising event. In the course of doing so, I was exposed to their plans to start an annual campaign as well as a capital drive, and proposed they hire me to coordinate them. That was 1988!
What keeps you in development?
I like what I do and feel good about it. I have progressed in my career and accumulated experience in a variety of areas of fundraising, which I enjoy sharing with colleagues through teaching and mentoring, while continuing to learn and develop my own skills.
How is fundraising different compared to when you started in the profession?
Much more is done by email and online today than in 1988. We spent a lot of time on the phone versus emailing when I started.
What advice would you give anyone starting out in the profession?
Learn as much as you can. Go to AFP educational programs. Soak up the information and, even more importantly, take advantage of the networking. Find a few folks you can look to for advice when you need it. AFP-MD has a formal mentoring program. Take advantage of that and the informal mentoring of colleagues you meet at various programs and events.
What was the best training you attended as a fundraiser and why?
The local AFP Maryland programs were great for me, again not just for the education but for the networking. Back in early 1990s, during the coffee and networking time before programs, I made connections that are still trusted colleagues today. If I had to pick one training, I still recall an amazing annual giving panel presentation as one of AFP Maryland's monthly educational programs back in the 1990s that really stuck with me, where seasoned professional fundraisers provided hands-on tactics I was able to implement immediately to do better for my own organization.
Why is professional development important to fundraisers?
This is a professional line of work and we can become real experts at it. Taking your career to a place where you want it to go will likely involve constant learning, staying current on trends and engaging with other professionals. The CFRE is highly respected. I recommend going after it.
What is the best piece of advice you received?
That it’s okay to hear no; of course, first you’ll want to figure out if the “no” is really a “not right now.” Knowing that not everyone you ask will give to support the cause you are trying to advance is very freeing. It’s our job to find the folks who are passionate about what we are fundraising for, or who can become passionate once we communicate with them. Not everyone will say yes and that’s okay.
Why are you a member of AFP?
One of my mentors suggested shortly into my career that I was good at this and I should consider making it my career, and that joining AFP would be a good way to dive in. I took his advice and never looked back. I have gained so much from AFP - again, the networking, education and opportunity to serve my profession.
What do you think is unique to professional fundraising in Maryland?
Maryland seems nonprofit heavy, though I don’t have the statistics to back that up. We’re also close to Washington, D.C., so there are nonprofit headquarters that want to be near D.C. for advocacy purposes. Those factors spell lots of opportunity—organizations of varying sizes and missions in need of professional fundraisers to advance their missions.
Where do you see the future of fundraising?
I would imagine we will see continued growth in use of technology—online fundraising, mobile device giving and social networks used to advance causes. With so many messages bombarding prospects and donors daily, it will likely be more challenging to stand out and get our message through the sea of emails and texts. Of course, we’ll still need to focus on providing opportunities for personal connection for those for whom that is important. It’s all about communication and while the methods of communicating our mission and plan to achieve it have changed, the goal is still the same—to get the word out about what we are doing to make a difference in the world, and connect with those who want to help us make that difference.