Meagan Downey: Seeing much good in philanthropy

Photo by Susie Marchand
Meagan Downey

By PHYL NEWBECK

Meagan Downey of Shelburne knows many people are less than enamored with her profession.

“No little girl grows up wanting to be a fundraiser,” she concedes.

That said, Downey also recognizes the importance of her work in the world of philanthropy. Emancipated as an adolescent in Chicago, Downey has always wanted to make a career out of helping other people.

“Fundraising has a bad rap,” Downey said. “However, it is facilitating philanthropy which is one of the most beautiful things to be part of. If you approach it from that place in your heart and mind, it can be transformative, not only for the donor and the nonprofit but also for the beneficiaries and the organization’s mission.”

After obtaining a degree in psychology at DePaul University, Downey worked in the field of crisis counseling. Her specialty was communications and helping to tell the stories of people in need.

She discovered that if she wanted to work in the nonprofit sphere she would have to learn how to raise money so she earned a certificate in fundraising management. “I quickly learned that fundraising is not some function away from the real work, but needs to be integrated into the mission so it’s natural in communications,” she said.

Downey worked sequentially for a number of nonprofits but she liked the idea of being able to help several at one time. She also saw that managers tended to give more weight to advice from paid consultants than staff so she decided to go that route.

In 2016, she received her MBA from Champlain College. This summer, Downey was hired as vice president of the Chicago-based Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt to serve nonprofits across the United States. Included in that group are Vermont organizations such as Landmark College in Putney and the Catamount Trail Association. She has also served as a consultant for the Charlotte-based Youth Catalytics. Some national clients now include the Red Cloud School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and the organization that created the Stop, Drop and Roll fire safety campaign.

A resident of Shelburne where she moved in 2011, Downey has been involved with the project to rebuild Pierson Library and renovate the historic Town Hall. Initially she worked on the feasibility study to determine the project cost. Her subsequent work has been as a volunteer such as assisting with information ahead of last November’s successful $6.5 million bond vote for the project.

More recently, Downey has been working with local donors to match a generous offer of $500,000 pledged anonymously to the project. So far, $300,000 has been raised with a deadline of Nov. 1 for the rest.

A lifelong Midwesterner, Downey moved to Vermont in 2011 in part to provide her then 4-year-old daughter with the kind of childhood she didn’t have. Downey recalled that by the time she reached high school, she had changed schools seven times.

“All that transition and change motivated me to think long-term about the right setting and community for my daughter,” she said.

The 41-year-old Downey has since remarried and has step-children and has never second-guessed her decision to move to Vermont.

In her spare time, Downey also has gotten involved in public service. Because her daughter has a visual impairment, she said she volunteered to serve on the Vermont State Rehabilitation Board for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

“I wanted to be involved in a project where I wasn’t recruited because of my fundraising and communication skills,” she said. “I’m providing a parent’s perspective.”

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