“Always have the best interest of the kids at heart”
A. David Dahmer
“I love just hanging out with the kids. That makes me happy,” says Karen Gallagher, director of development for the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. “I think we all get so caught up in our rules and our jobs and our process, but there are times when the kids really center me. I think it comes from me being a teacher in my past life. I'm always a teacher and education has always been important to me. I'm truly an educator at heart and it has evolved in a role of me being development director.”
Gallagher, who has been with the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County (BGCDC) for a little over a year and a half, sat down for an interview with The Madison Times to talk about her role with the club. One of her main focuses is bringing money and resources to the BGCDC.
“Ultimately, development is a multifaceted undertaking. It has many layers to it. Bring[ing] in money through donations, creating important community relationships, and overseeing a staff of two,” she says. “It's a big undertaking and there are a lot of people involved. It's something that we do well but it's something that we can always look to improve upon as well.
“You frame it where your focus is really on the relationship moreso than the money aspect,” Gallagher adds. “You hope that your time is spent well engaging folks and sharing your mission and your vision. You really want to connect with people who have the well-being of the organization in mind. It really takes time. People think that if you meet a donor or create a relationship that they will just hand you over money, but that's not the case. Just like any other thing in life, it takes time … ou need to build trust.”
It's a two-way street, Gallagher says, and it is important that the donor is true to the mission of the Boys and Girls Club and will donate for the right reasons.
“They need to be a fit for us, as well,” she says. “We always go to the number side of things, but you want somebody who will support your club and support what you're doing and be a good ambassador for the organization, as well. We've been very fortunate to live in an incredible community — a giving community. From that aspect, it makes things a little easier.”
Above all, Gallagher is always looking to provide for the long-term sustainability of the programs.
“I just got back form a conference where I spent time with other folks from Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the Midwest, and finding those sustainable dollars and those people who will commit long-term is a process,” she says. “I think that all of us in the world of non-profits are at the point where we are like, 'Where do we get that commitment for 3 or 4 or 5 years?' It's truly a way that we have re-framed fund-raising.”
For example, BGCDC often has donors who want to fund just a specific program. “But within that specific program there are all of these operational needs that need to be taken care of like staff salary and the overall operations of the club – electricity, gas for the trucks, heating, etc,” Gallagher says. “You can't write that into a grant or put that into a proposal. People will be like, 'What do you mean I'm paying for that? I want the money to go to the kids.' It used to be a little more straightforward, but now I believe the fund-raising world has become a little more complex.”
Gallagher has had a varied career with experience in creating new initiatives, leading and motivating, negotiating and persuading, marketing and public speaking, budget planning, and strategizing. She was the first head coach in the history of the University of Wisconsin softball where she built the team from scratch in 1994 when the UW Athletic Board approved softball as an interscholastic sport. She coached at UW for 10 years and finished with a 271-268-2 record.
“I think I will always be a coach. There are jobs that are part of who you are and being a UW softball coach was just that,” Gallagher says. “You're 24/7 [involved] in these jobs. They do become a part of you. Part of me still have that competitive nature.
“I miss being around student-athletes,” she continues. “It's always fun being around young, motivated people who are working for something each day. My proudest moments were not always on the field. My proudest moments were watching our student-athletes walk across that graduation stage and get that degree and know that we did something good in the last four years of their lives that made an impact on them.”
Gallagher does find some similarities between her UW softball coaching job and her current job at BGCDC.
“Both jobs are about building relationships,” she says. “If you go back to my recruiting days, you start recruiting an athlete when they are a freshman or sophomore in high school and you get to know them over the years. You do the same thing with donors and community partners. It's a lot of the same skill sets. You have to be able to wear many hats when you are a head coach and I've found that when you're in the world of non-profits, you have to be able to wear many hats, too.”
What Gallagher likes most about her job as development director for the Boys & Girls Club is when she really connects with the community.
“That's what really excites myself and [BGCDC President] Michael [Johnson] — when we can really go out and talk about what we do at the Boys and Girls Club and really dig down to the impact that it has on our children and the future of our community,” Gallagher says. “I really like to bring people into the club — potential donors or partners — who don't really know what we do and they really explore what the Boys and Girls Club does on a daily basis. We serve over 800 kids a day; we're in schools and at two sites. We're transporting 500 kids every day from school to the Clubs. We're feeding them, we're educating them, we're giving them opportunities where they can be creative and explore other avenues of what they might aspire to be some day. It's fascinating to give people the opportunity to see what we do. As they walk out, they are going, 'I had no idea that you did this much for our young people!'”
Gallagher adds that Johnson's unlimited energy can't help but rub off on her and everybody else around the club. “I don't know where all of Michael Johnson's energy comes from, but it's real. He is really driven and he makes things happen. He solves problems,” she says. “Michael is a creative leader and the bottom line is that he always has the best interest of the kids at heart. He's been there. He knows what a lot of these kids are going through and they really depend on the Club. These kids know that from 3-6 [p.m] that they will be in a safe environment where they can be themselves. They know that they will be around people who care about them and that they are going to get fed and do some fun things. It's important not only to the kids but to the families. We have a lot of single parents that really, really depend on the club for the support because they are working jobs and have busy lives.”
Gallagher says that her goals as an organizational leader are to make sure that the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County is strategically on a good path and that they continue to grow at a realistic pace.
“I think our community is growing and we see the need for several of our kids growing and I think that it is important for the Boys and Girls Club to stay within a realistic framework,” she says. “There are so many kids to serve out there … how do we strategically do that without overextending ourselves? We need to stay within a realistic framework but also stay open to opportunities for new things. You have to be nimble as an organization but you also have to always be ready to take advantage of a great opportunity if it comes your way. It might not be in the timing of the organizational plan, but if it's going to move the organization forward, it has to be something that you are willing to do.
“We want to continue to build new partnerships,” she continues. “We want to open up and create new cultures of philanthropy throughout not only your organization but the community and even the state. We're here to serve young people and I do think we're working on ways to be a little more creative. Nothing happens over night.
“When I think of the role of what I do, I don't think my job would be that interesting,” she adds. “But when I think about the impact that I make on each and every person and organization and all of the kids that we serve every day … that's when you get down to the meaningful purpose of my work.”