For more than two decades, Linda McNeil has helped some of the city’s largest organizations raise money to support their causes. Nonprofits like MIFA, BRIDGES, and the Soulsville Foundation have relied on her expertise in fundraising and development to help grow their initiatives that impact thousands of Memphians.
Linda credits Lemoyne-Owen College for her career in development. She worked in the school’s alumni affairs office for more than 10 years learning the fundraising ropes, and she hasn’t looked back. She has served as the chief fundraiser for some of the city’s most noteworthy nonprofits and initiatives, and currently, Linda is a senior account manager at Gaskill Strategies, a Memphis-based firm that provides expertise to non-profit clients in fundraising, communication and strategic planning.
A Memphis native, Linda’s enthusiasm for her job is contagious as she speaks candidly about her love of fundraising and why she believes her hometown has one of the biggest populations of givers. As a mother, wife, and philanthropist in her own right, we also spoke with the award-winning fundraiser about finding work-life balance and what she does to give back to herself. Meet our newest FACE of Memphis, Linda McNeil!
What do you love most about your job?
I love the fact that I am able to help organizations fulfill their missions by meeting their fundraising and/or strategic goals that take them and their work to help others to a new level. Whether it’s building a new facility, renovating their current space, creating sustainable funding streams, etc., it all helps them serve and do more to make our community better.
Would you say Memphis has a large community of “givers”?
It’s no secret we’re one of the most philanthropic cities in the United States. We have people giving their time, talent and treasures every day to enhance the work of nonprofits in our community. So yes, we have a large community of givers, however, we don’t have a large community of transformational givers … those who can give very large gifts. So it takes a lot of givers to make an impact for any one organization.
There is research that suggests that Memphis ranks #1 in non-profit organizations in the country. Do you think the large number of nonprofits helps or hurts causes?
The need is great in our community, and we’re fortunate to have so many people who want to make a difference. They feel creating or starting a nonprofit is the solution. However, I do think we have too many nonprofits working on some of the same issues, and we could definitely benefit from having some organizations merge or join forces to tackle certain issues.
Honestly, I worry that the philanthropic community in Memphis (although very generous) will not be able to sustain the number of nonprofits we have, and that number is increasing every day.
You’re a life-long Memphian. What do you love most about the city?
I love the people in our city. Memphis is filled with people who care and genuinely want to make this community better and are working every day in the spotlight and behind the scenes to make a difference. Because of the work I’m fortunate to do, I have met people from all walks of life who inspire me and remind me that even with its challenges, Memphis is a great place to live, work and play. The grit and grind motto is real, and I’d add that we do it with a whole lot of heart.
What are your favorite places to go and things to do in Memphis?
Oh, I love exploring our city! It has so much to offer. You may find me checking out our local talent in its various venues — at art openings, dance performances, live music, etc. There’s so much talent here. Our museums are top rate, our parks are amazing, and the riverfront is great now and will be even greater in the future. There are awesome things to do Downtown, Midtown, Orange Mound, Whitehaven, Frayser, Collierville, Cordova, etc. I seriously enjoy checking out the tried and true places in Memphis and finding hidden treasures that I’ve never visited. I LOVE MEMPHIS!
Let’s talk style. Your job requires you to meet with clients quite frequently. How does your profession affect your style?
I would say my style is professional-chic. Because of my job, I wear blazers almost every day, but I try to add some chicness to them with color, accessories and shoes.
You’ve accomplished a lot in your professional life, even receiving accolades for your work as a fundraiser. How do you define success?
I feel as if I’m successful now. Work is good, my family is good, and I’m able to step back and relish in it now. At one point I was always working to get to the next level, but now it’s about … am I happy? Is my family happy? I always make sure that I take time for myself and to be with my family. At one point in my career, I wasn’t able to do that as much. It’s a blessing to step back and say all of that work I was doing paid off.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I have two pieces of advice. “Trust God and never doubt. If you’re going to worry, why pray?” And also, “The answer is always ‘no’ if you don’t ask.” This piece of advice helped me in situations where I was nervous or felt anxiety around asking large amounts of money. I learned that the alternative was definitely no if I didn’t make the request.
Do you have a motto that you live by?
I do! It’s “You only get one life, so live it fully.” Every day I’m on a serious living spree.
Besides faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
I would have to say music, books and laughter!
Thank you, Linda, for your tireless efforts on behalf of all Memphians. And thank you to Elizabeth Looney for the beautiful photos of Linda shot on location at Collage Dance Collective.
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