An Interview With Greg McElroy

An Interview with Greg McElroy

Celebrating 30 Years of Service to the Annual Fund – Transcribed by Tyler Boisvert (Seton Hall ’10)

Greg McElroy has meant more to Zeta Psi than anyone else over the past 50 years. I’ve been fortunate that when I joined the board in 2009 as the Undergraduate Board Representative and then as I continued as a sta member in 2010, that I’ve been able to consider Greg a close friend, mentor and brother. So that everyone in the brotherhood can understand what this man has meant to Zeta Psi, I decided to ask him a variety of questions that led him to tell us all about his service, dedication and involvement throughout the years.

1. After receiving your undergraduate degree at NYU, why did you want to work for Zeta Psi?

My more than 25-year tenure as staff member of the Zeta Psi Headquarters — which was called the Zeta Psi Central Office when I began my association with the International organization — began in my fifth year as an NYU studenti in its uptown campus, which was then in the Bronx. At that time, the leaders of the staff needed someone to work in the back office of the Central Office — primarily to run its addressograph system, which era was the way that Zeta Psi’s Elder database was managed in the pre-technology era. We communicated through direct mail and The Circle magazine distribution to our alumni members. As I was about to graduate in the spring of 1971, I was offered the job as the only Chapter Consultant for the Central Office. I visited all of the 40-plus chapters throughout North America during the 1971-72 school year. I did not actively seek to work for Zeta Psi, but rather was a beneficiary of being the right Zete at the right time and was offered the Chapter Consultant position in the spring of 1971.

2. How long did you work for Zeta Psi?

Following one year of primarily being on the road and visiting with all of the Zeta Psi chapters, I attended my second annual convention in Boston — Zeta Psi’s 125th anniversary celebration. I was called into a private meeting with Zeta Psi’s Phi Alpha, Jim McLaughlin, and Alpha Phi Alpha Peter Pakradooni. I  was unexpectedly offered the position of Executive Director at the age of 24. It was a position I held for the next 24 years. I left in the fall of 1996 to accept a position as a professional fundraiser for a firm located in Indianapolis. It had a strong client portfolio which raised funds for both national fraternities and the local chapters of those fraternities. They primarily sought funds for capital campaigns to fund chapter house renovation and upgrade projects.

3. How long have you been in charge of the Annual Fund program for the Zeta Psi Educational Foundation? When did you transition to being a contractor for the Annual Fund?

I began my Annual Fund management in the 1980s. When I left my full-time position as Zeta Psi’s Executive Director in 1996, I continued to manage Zeta Psi’s Annual Fund program as part of my client relationship with the firm I had just joined.  When I started my own fundraising consulting firm in 2000, I entered a formal consulting relationship with the Zeta Psi Educational Foundation to continue managing the Annual Fund, which continued until this year when that management function was given to Barth Gillan, who became Zeta Psi’s major staff development person.

Another key to Greg’s career is the support that he has received from his three children. During the 1993 convention, Greg was seated at a baseball game with daughter Stephanie, Bobbi, and son Georey (WPI ’01). Greg’s oldest daughter Christy was not at that convention, but joins her sister and brother as parents of Greg and Bobbi’s eight grandchildren.

4. What has been your favorite part of working for Zeta Psi?

There are so many enduring memories of my quarter-century tenure with Zeta Psi and there is no one favorite aspect of that part of my professional life. I would guess the most endearing part of my 48 years of association with the International Fraternity is the satisfaction of having made close (and in many cases, lifetime) friendships with hundreds of Zetes from chapters throughout the USA, Canada and the British Isles. In my early years, my strongest memories are centered on rebuilding Zeta Psi’s chapter roll from a low of 32 in the early ‘70s to the mid-40s by the early 1980s.  In the 1980s and early 1990s, some of my strongest memories revolve around the significant growth of Zeta Psi’s endowment funding. I spent more of my time involved in fundraising activities. On a more personal and emotional basis, I would rate the initiation of my only son Geoffrey, which I attended, as a highlight of my last few years as Zeta Psi Executive Director.

5. McElroy and Associates consist of you and your amazing wife Bobbi. What has Bobbi meant to Zeta Psi and to you over the years?

I met my wife Bobbi in the spring of 1972 at a small party I had arranged for some Zetes in New York City when Phi Alpha Jim McLaughlin was visiting, and we have been a couple ever since then. We were married in 1974. There is simply no way I could have ever continued to work for Zeta Psi as its chief operating officer for 25 years without her support. But, since she had a highly successful career as a retail executive  (which involved frequent travel all over the world) I was an important partner to her as I often managed some primary care for our three young children while she moved up the corporate retail ladder—primarily with Toys”R” Us and Babies”R”Us—until she retired from that job in 2005. She then joined my firm, McElroy & Associates, as my partner and chief office administrator. We have worked together as a team for over ten years.  Bobbi has been almost as important to Zeta Psi as I may have been as she has been an integral part of Zeta Psi’s IHQ operations for many years, especially in regards to the Annual Fund and other capital development programs – which I had managed for over three decades. We are truly blessed as a couple as we are not only happily married, but best friends as well

6. If you could share any one piece of wisdom to donors over the last 35+ years, what would you say to them?

Never forget what Zeta Psi meant to you as an undergraduate. Hopefully it had a positive influence on your life and professional career. What is true for so many of us is that some of the best friendships of our lives were formed and matured during our fraternity experience. This is one of the many reasons why thousands of Zetes choose to contribute to both their local chapters and the International Fraternity. It is only through the generosity of so many Elders over the years that Zeta Psi has the financial resources to support its operations and the many programs that make us as strong as we are today.

7. Anyone who comes after you is going to have extremely large shoes to fill. What piece of advice would you give them?

Stay the course with all of the good things that have happened for Zeta Psi over the past several years.  There will always be challenges to the Greek system, but it will more than survive them and will thrive for future generations of college students.  However, our members must continue to avoid the pitfalls of the three major negative activities that can bring down chapters anywhere: hazing, alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct.  Zeta Psi’s membership education programming is among the best in the Greek world. The success of these programs is one of the strongest attributes that should allow my successors to navigate the sometimes-rough waters of keeping Zeta Psi strong. These programs will also grow our worldwide chapter roll and emphasize to our members that Zeta Psi is worthy of their Three Ts: Time, Talent & Treasure.

Capital Campaigns

8. You’ve overseen a couple of Capital Campaigns for Zeta Psi. What are the challenges you’ve faced during multi-year campaigns?

My style in conducting the dozens of capital campaigns I have been privileged to manage in my professional

fundraising career is to first assess – by conducting face-to-face interviews with prospective campaign donors —  whether the capital campaign project I am about to work on is feasible, and if so, what is an estimated and realistic projection of funds that can be raised. Once that feasibility study has been conducted, the main challenge is to circle back to those that I have interviewed in the study to secure their pledges or contributions to the campaign, as well as to expand the prospect base that is necessary to reach the funding goal that has been established for the campaign.

9. This last Capital Campaign declared victory with 3.5 million dollars raised — mostly for membership education. So first off, congratulations.  How important do you think membership education is to the future and how did you decide upon membership education as a goal?

First of all, thank you for your congratulatory comment regarding the successful outcome of the Campaign for Zeta Psi: Building Strong and Honorable Leaders.  This campaign had its roots in the expansion of Zeta Psi’s membership development program – which began in1980. It then grew significantly with Maurice Ducoing’s oversight when he became that committee’s chairman and championed the program’s huge growth throughout the past two decades.  So, when then-Phi Alpha Andy Nunez approached me in 2013 and asked me to engage in the initial stages of a capital campaign (primarily to provide a permanent endowment for this educational program) I found a high degree of interest and financial support within Zeta Psi. Most of the $3 million-plus contributed to this latest campaign was directed to educational programming, so I truly believe this will help support the most transformative and educational Zeta Psi programming for decades to come.

10. Challenging question – when do you think the next Capital Campaign should be started?

It’s hard to predict.  There have been three major gift programs within the International organization in my time: the Campaign for Endowment, which was conducted in the early 1980s.This Campaign employed a combination of current gifts that were paid over five years or less. It was dominated by deferred gifts. In the mid-1980s, I was the chief

fundraising professional and raised $500,000 to purchase and endow the International Headquarters property in the NYC suburb of Pearl River, New York. During the ramp-up to Zeta Psi’s 150th convention —  which was held in New York in 1997 — a program to widely promote deferred giving was launched and is known as the Heritage Society. It had 150 charter members.  And most recently I had a hand in completing the Campaign for Zeta Psi, which was mentioned earlier. If I was to predict a logical timeframe for the next capital campaign, it might be around the time of Zeta Psi’s 175th anniversary in 2022.

Heritage Society

11. The Heritage Society was founded in 1997 and now consists of over 400 members. How did you come up with the idea to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Zeta Psi?

As mentioned previously, the Heritage Society concept arose out of the positive response to the successful outcome of deferred giving contributions — mostly bequests from Elders, but also some insurance gifts — prior to and following the 1980s Campaign for Endowment.The major attribution for the Heritage Society idea belongs to an early IHQ staff member who worked for me, Jack Doyle, Tufts ’76. Jack served on Zeta Psi’s Board in the mid-1990s and has become a major figure in the direct mail fundraising profession in his field.

12. What are you hoping the Heritage Society will accomplish for the Educational Foundation?

In the years since the first 1980s major gifts campaign, the Heritage Society has already added at least $5 million to the endowment of the Zeta Psi Educational Foundation with more than 50 bequests.  It will add just as much — if not more than — $10 million in the next ten-twenty years. These added funds will allow Zeta Psi to provide funding for more programs and services to over 50 chapters and our 30,000-plus active and elder Zetes.

Educational Center

13. The Jim Ljunglin Education Center was dedicated a couple of years ago. How important is this to the legacy of the Foundation?

The Ljunglin Education Center is the brainchild of the current Vice President of the Zeta Psi Educational Foundation, Tom Roerden, Cornell ’83. Tom took the lead in finding a way to preserve over 165 years of Zeta Psi’s long and rich history and legacy. We are the 11th oldest national fraternity, the first coast-to-coast fraternity, the first international fraternity, the first intercontinental fraternity and the first fraternity on many campuses in the USA, Canada and British Isles. Tom’s dedication to the preservation of Zeta Psi’s archives is essential to the legacy of our history and is funded by the generosity of Jim Ljunglin, RPI ’57, Phi Alpha CXXI.

14. What’s your favorite exhibit in the Education Center?

The Ljunglin Education Center holds valuable archival documents and artifacts. These contain a treasure trove of important events and biographies of members of our Order, all of which have contributed to our deep, storied and rich history.  But to me, the most impressive exhibit in the Center is the collection of photographs of virtually every era of Zeta Psi’s 18 decades since our founding in 1847. The pictorial tracking of major events in Zeta Psi’s history takes up an entire wall in the Ljunglin Center and is the professional product of another Zete who worked on this project with Tom: Ira Berkowitz, Syracuse ’82.


15. You’ve graced Zeta Psi with being Phi Alpha of the Fraternity and Foundation President from ‘06-’08. How impressed were you with those on the board?

I was privileged to serve as Phi Alpha CXXXI in 2006-07 and 2007-08. It was a wonderful two years of my life and was during a period of relative calm in our long history.  I was blessed with many dedicated Board members who exemplified the Three T’s that I mentioned earlier. Each Board member contributed copious amounts of Time, Talent and Treasure throughout my tenure as Phi Alpha and in all the years that I have served Zeta Psi. The most noteworthy event in my two years as Phi Alpha was the privilege of presenting a Zeta Psi charter to the charter members of our Iota Omicron Chapter at Oxford University in the spring of 2008. This was a sort of bold experiment for Zeta Psi — to see if we could bring the concept and traditions of the North American Greek system across the Atlantic to a group in the UK.  Therefore, it was a special event for me this past April when I returned to London to celebrate the Oxford chapter’s 10thanniversary.

16. What do you want people to remember about your time working, running and volunteering for the Zeta Psi Educational Foundation?

I realize that my service to Zeta Psi is probably historical in nature, as my service as Zeta Psi’s chief operating officer was the longest in our history. My attendance at 48 straight Zeta Psi annual conventions is also a record.  But more-so, I hope I will be remembered as the one who, following one of the most disrupitive periods for the Greek system, grew Zeta Psi’s chapter roll in the 1970s. I’d also like to be remembered as the one who helped substantially improve the financial health of both the Zeta Psi Educational Foundation and Zeta Psi Fraternity. I tried to conduct both my professional and volunteer careers with Zeta Psi with honor and brotherly love.

17. You’ve had a long and distinguished career to be proud of – is there any one thing that comes to mind that you would liked to have done differently?

This is a hard question to answer, as I believe I avoided major controversies and hardships since 1971, which is when I became Zeta Psi’s Executive Director.  I always regretted whenever any chapter under my watch was forced to become dormant, which happened for a variety of reasons. In retrospect, some of those closings were unavoidable, but they still left a negative mark on me whenever those closings took place.

18. Any last thoughts?

I guess my last thoughts revolve around two central themes: the influence that a happy marriage and family life can have on one’s success or failure in his/her professional life, and the stark realization that success in the world of non-profit organizations is dependent on the dedication, generosity and scope of service of the organization’s members throughout each and every generation.  I have had more than my share of an abundance of fortune in these areas and I wish to extend my brotherly love to the hundreds of Zetes — both living and deceased — who have helped shape my years of service to Zeta Psi and to so many of whom will remain close to me until I die.

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