Guest Post: Steven McCullough from GCFD Talks Networking, Fundraising, + Keeping an Open Mind

Friday, January 30, 2021

Steven McCullough, Vice President of Community Partnerships at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, recently spoke with the Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and offered some tips on leveraging networks big and small. An alumnus of Chicago Booth, McCullough will speak on using one’s network to fundraise and recruit volunteers at SEI’s On Board Conference on nonprofit board service on Fri., Feb. 27.

To learn more about how to leverage your networks to fundraise, recruit volunteers, and further your organization’s mission, join Steven McCullough and other nonprofit leaders at the Conference. Read more and register here.

SEI: Tell us about your work at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

McCullough: I’m responsible for our network of partners, which includes Cook County food pantries and shelters, as well as program sites at schools, older adult organizations, and YMCAs. My job is to manage those relationships, both on a daily basis and on a strategic basis. It’s a combination of building our capacity in terms of making sure everyone has access to food across the county, and then looking at the strategic, system-change relationships that we need to have in order to make sure no one ever goes hungry in Cook County.

SEI: So much of your work seems predicated on your ability to deploy relationships to move the mission forward. What advice can you offer in terms of raising funds and recruiting volunteers?

McCullough: The key thing is to make a personal connection with the work or with the mission. At the Food Depository, there are a lot of opportunities to make personal connections. It could be through children, through an older adult, or through a volunteer who has a personal experience with hunger or working with a particular population. You can use anything that creates a connection and avoids going into the conversation “cold.”

SEI:  What are the most important qualities nonprofit leaders should look for when recruiting new board members or encouraging existing members in their fundraising activities?

McCullough: For a board member, I think it’s about being a good, willing connector and having a real passion for the work of the nonprofit. The first step, for both the nonprofit and board members, should always be to identify what the nonprofit needs to move the mission forward. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be financial, information and contacts are useful too. Board members then can think about where they might have connections to those resources. When you build a board with a passion for the cause and a belief in the work, those members are that much more willing to work to connect the nonprofit to various resources.

SEI:  It sounds like one of the keys to using your network is to think broadly and keep an open mind about where your connections will take you. Have you experienced that?

McCullough: My personal story highlights the idea of not necessarily knowing the end result at the beginning of the “ask.” I started on the board of directors at the Food Depository and did a lot of volunteer work here. I was very much tied to the mission and identified with it, so when the CEO, Kate Maehr, asked me to come on staff, it was a natural step. Not everyone is going to move from the board to the staff side, but I think my story is an example of connecting to the mission deeply and then when there was a need, making myself available.

SEI: This is your second year speaking at SEI’s On Board conference on nonprofit board service. What about the event is valuable to you or valuable to others?

McCullough: What struck me last year was the response from other speakers and attendees. It was exciting to see so many people interested in learning more about Chicago’s nonprofit community and finding ways they could contribute, whether as a program volunteer or as a board member. That enthusiasm for getting involved reenergized me at such a high level. It was refreshing.

— Interview by Ezgi Cubukcu, University of Chicago undergraduate and SEI intern.