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August 6, 2012

Research rainmaker | Blaine Grimes, Gulf of Maine Research Institute

photo/TIM GREENWAY
photo/TIM GREENWAY
Blaine Grimes, CDO of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, has grown the nonprofit's budget significantly since her arrival in 2005

VIEW: Women to Watch 2012: Blaine Grimes

Nonprofit

Blaine Grimes

Chief development officer, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Portland

Gulf of Maine Research Institute 350 Commercial St., Portland

Founded: 1968

Services: Marine research and education

Employees: 60

Annual budget: $9.5 million

Contact: 772-2321 www.gmri.org

IN HER OWN WORDS

What was the biggest challenge of your career? I'm looking at it right now. We have a substantial fundraising goal, so the biggest challenge is facing that every year and saying 'you can do it again.' It takes a lot of chutzpah to start over again — you flip the calendar to January 1 and you start with the same $3 million.

When did you know you'd made it? I haven't made it; I don't know what that looks like. Someone let me know when I have, but I would never claim that I've 'made it.'

What advice do you wish you'd been given early in your career? I got the advice but I don't think I really understood it until now. It's the importance of being patient and ambitious at the same time, and how to hold those two things together.

"I'll relax when..." GMRI has a $50 million endowment.

What was your "Haven't we moved beyond this?" moment? We're not an aquarium; people still ask that. But I also struggle when people say, 'I've never heard of GMRI, what do you do?' I wish we could be better known.

During her time in the private sector, Blaine Grimes never considered herself to be much of a fundraiser.

"I'm a builder, a strategist; I really like seeing things grow," says Grimes, who was hired as chief development officer for Gulf of Maine Research Institute in 2005.

Her previous years spent in health care consulting, marketing and advertising left the Georgia transplant looking for a change of pace and a job that offered a more direct connection to her adopted community.

"I spent all my time making things, selling stuff and doing things that maybe didn't affect where I lived. I'm at the point in my life where I'm committed to Maine; I want to do something that ultimately makes a difference for people here," she says.

She left her position as director of marketing for Westbrook biotech giant Idexx Laboratories to take some time to raise her three children before being lured back into the business world by a former Idexx colleague who served on the GMRI board.

"I immediately gravitated toward what is effectively a very similar organization," she says. "[GMRI] is an entrepreneurial organization that is run like a for-profit business in many ways."

As it turns out, Grimes' corporate background made her uniquely suited to help the research and education institute achieve, then exceed, its fundraising goals. As CDO, Grimes has overseen a period of unprecedented growth at GMRI. The organization's budget has risen from $3 million in 1995 to $9.5 million today, growing nearly 30% a year until last year, when it remained flat.

"Nonprofits are called nonprofits for a reason: you don't normally grow," she says. "That translates to a fair amount of pressure."

Charged with raising $3 million of the institute's $9 million annual budget, Grimes says her familiarity with the corporate mindset allows her to better understand potential donor's motives and reservations.

"In order to fundraise, you really have to understand where the other person is coming from," she says. "To understand what the corporations who are funding us are trying to accomplish, or whether or not there is a place where we might fit in for those who aren't funding us, you really have to be a quick study."

The caliber of the GMRI staff was another big selling point for Grimes.

"We have an incredible leader [in president/CEO Don Perkins] and the people here were exceptional," she says. "At some point in my career, I found myself looking for exceptional people versus what it is, explicitly, that I'm doing."

Her performance has earned her kudos from others in the fundraising field, including Paula Peter, president of the Solstice Group, a consultant firm for nonprofits based in New York City. Peter says Grimes is one of the top development professionals in the country, stacking up against "any university vice president or nonprofit development director nationwide." She is particularly adept at getting board directors and others with GMRI connections to use their influence to drive funds to the organization.

Through her role as development director and concurrent work in marketing and civic engagement, Grimes is credited with securing the funding and industry ties to help launch two of GMRI's marquee programs: The LabVenture! marine education program and the Sustainable Seafood Initiative.

Launched in 2006, GMRI's LabVenture! program has brought thousands of Maine fifth- and sixth-graders to the facility each year to participate in hands-on research projects using multimedia lab stations.

"We live in a time where science and technology are really going to define our future, but we've really just scratched the surface of trying to understand the future of digital education and how kids learn," says Grimes. "We are experimenting with that here; watching how you can engage students through technology and the opportunity that provides."

The Sustainable Seafood Initiative aims to strengthen the economic and ecologic sustainability of the state's seafood industry. Recently implemented by all Hannaford Supermarkets, the program worked with stakeholders along the supply chain, with GMRI spending thousands of hours researching fisheries, tracing products to their source and ensuring that credible management plans were in place.

For Grimes, the program is a prime example of the symbiotic relationship between economically viable and ecologically sustainable harvesting practices that speaks to the lab's commitment to marine stewardship.

"We have one of the 12 most productive ecosystems in the world from fisheries perspectives, so it's an interesting opportunity for GMRI to emerge as a model for how one stewards a place like that and allows for the state and region to benefit as a result," she says.

While Grimes says the recession did not substantially change her fundraising role at GMRI, it gave her a look into how charitable giving and partnerships change during lean economic times.

"You have to be cognizant of the macro environment you are working in," she says. "Until last year, there were a lot of social services needs that I think took precedent. [Donors] prioritize other needs and you accept that."

How does the woman behind the ledger handle pressure?

"I went horseback riding this morning. I try to ride at least three days a week," says Grimes, who began riding when she was 5 years old. "I can't be thinking of anything else or I will get killed; it's very freeing and highly meditative."

The discipline and enjoyment Grimes takes from her morning routine allows her to better function in her role as CDO. "While it's not directly related, it's the counter to all this. It's very personal and gives me joy. If you fill your bucket, you can give to others; I fill my bucket so I can take care of my family and my work here," she says.

Grimes' professional goal is to help GMRI establish an endowment that will keep the institution running well into the future, but on the immediate horizon, her personal goal is more a matter of relativity.

"Hopefully, one day people will describe Becky's [Diner] as being next to us rather than us being next to Becky's," she says.

To register for a Sept. 20 reception honoring Blaine Grimes and the other Women to Watch, click here.

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