Greg Oertel – 20 Under 40

Communities Foundation of Texas
33 | SMU and University of Southern California

Greg Oertel’s drive for community involvement started in college when he played the French horn at a local school for blind students.

“The faces of audience members would light up, and some attendees even cried,” he said. “These recitals were some of my earliest moments getting to witness the direct impact I could make on the lives of others.”

Now, he works at Communities Foundation of Texas as senior community philanthropy officer, leading philanthropic advising services to help fundholders with grantmaking strategy, identifying fundraising opportunities in North Texas, and evaluating grantmaking efforts’ effectiveness.

Oertel also volunteers with Equality Texas as the Dallas steering committee co-chair and with Social Venture Partners Dallas. He’s been a partner since completing its Dana Juett Residency young professionals program in 2020.

Before joining the CFT team, Oertel worked at The Arts Community Alliance, managing the organization’s $1.3 million+ portfolio of six grantmaking programs and developing programs for the North Texas arts and cultural sector.

He worked as a freelance French horn musician in Los Angeles before pursuing his master’s at SMU in Dallas.

“I’m a planner by nature, but I struggle with this one (the future),” he said. “I do see myself continuing to work in the ‘social good’ sector, hopefully challenging the status quo in big ways. Guess we’ll just have to wait and find out!”

What’s on your bucket list?

  1. Open my own cocktail bar (probably a pipe dream)
  2. Learn Italian by traveling to Italy often (no Duolingo)
  3. Get a makeover on RuPaul’s Drag Race (and yes, I can walk in heels)

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

My first job was being a library assistant at the Music Library at University of Southern California while I was a student there for undergrad. I was a music major, so this was a dream job. I learned all the tips and tricks to search books, USC’s collection of thousands of CDs, sheet music, and more. I also never had to pay late fees!

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?

RuPaul Charles is a big inspiration of mine. He’s had a trailblazing career in the face of adversity and has been a beacon of LGBTQ+ representation and visibility in mainstream media. One of RuPaul’s quotes lives on my bio at work: “The most important thing you can do on this planet is become the realization of your own imagination.”

What (or who) motivated you to get involved in the community?

A music teacher of mine always had me perform my recitals at a local school for the blind and it was always such a rewarding experience. The faces of audience members would light up and some attendees even cried! These recitals were some of my earliest moments getting to witness the direct impact I could make on the lives of others.

Where do you see yourself and/or your career 10 years from now?

My CEO recently asked me this question, too, and I have the same response — I have no idea. I’m a planner by nature, but I struggle with this one. I do see myself continuing to work in the “social good” sector hopefully challenging the status quo in big ways. Guess we’ll just have to wait and find out!

What is your favorite local restaurant or shop?

My favorite local restaurant is Il Bracco in The Plaza at Preston Center. I studied abroad in Milan which deepened my love of Italian food and culture. So much so, that my husband and I were married in Florence in 2023. When we sit on the patio at Il Bracco it transports us back to Italy and reminds us to celebrate the simple pleasures, like enjoying delicious food and wine!

What was your “lightbulb moment” that led you to your career?

When I was an undergrad student, I took a class called “Arts Leadership & Entrepreneurship” that truly changed my career trajectory. At the time, I was studying to become a musician in a symphony orchestra and I realized that though I loved music (and the arts generally), I was actually much more interested in the business side of the arts and the impact that music had on people. I still completed my degree in music performance, but decided to get my graduate degrees at SMU much more focused on business — an M.A. in arts management and an MBA. My education and past experiences created the perfect conditions for me to work in the nonprofit sector and expand the impact that the sector could have in our communities.

How do you motivate yourself and others?

I have an appetite for new and different experiences. Functioning in an environment where I’m exposed to new people, ideas, activities, or processes really motivates me. I also enjoy testing myself in the face of possible failure, and coming up with whatever it takes to succeed. It’s not a great personality trait, but I sometimes procrastinate on easy work just to challenge myself a bit more to get it done on time (don’t tell my manager). Everybody has their own unique purpose that excites and drives them — spending time to learn more about someone is invaluable to figuring out what their motivated abilities are.

What’s a fun fact that someone wouldn’t know about you?

I was Dustin Hoffman’s bodyguard once — kinda. I was interning at a nonprofit in Los Angeles and Dustin was the chair of a gala they were having. He brought some friends with him to this event and wanted some privacy during the dinner portion of the evening, so I was tasked with guarding his table and make sure nobody interrupted their meal.

What would you tell an 18-year-old you?

I would tell myself to prioritize my mental health. Living life as a queer teenager was tough. Luckily, I had music as a healthy outlet for a lot of feelings I was experiencing, but it never addressed root causes in a way that therapy or coaching would have.

What advice do you have for other young professionals?

Be open to new experiences. Don’t box yourself in your career or else you’ll never know what else is out there that you’d truly love doing even more than you’re doing now. And if you don’t like what you’re doing now, stop doing it!

If someone made a movie about your life, what would it be called and who would play you?

I had to ask my two best friends from middle school how to answer this. This is what they said: “The type of movie would be like early 2000s rom-com/Disney Channel Original Movie-coded about a little Mormon boy who gets into various misadventures with his two sassy besties and grows up to find the love of his life in Texas and gets married in Italy. It could be called The Greg Escape. The actor would be a cross between a young Matt Damon and Hilary Duff.”

Is there anything else you think we should know about you?

I love to travel and have literally all my PTO mapped out for 2024. This year, I’ll be visiting Mexico, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, the UK, Iceland, Aruba, Curaçao, and Colombia. Perhaps I should finally apply to be on The Amazing Race.

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