Year of Graduation: 2004
Major(s): Political Science
Current Position: Senior Development Associate, Mercy & Unity Hospitals Foundation, Minneapolis, MN
Please give a brief description of your current position and where you're working. I am a Senior Development Associate at Mercy & Unity Hospitals Foundation. My main responsibilities are to identify and recruit major philanthropic partners and work with these partners to support the mission of the hospitals through charitable giving. I meet with donors and prospects to cultivate major gifts; assist with implementing a regular, year-round communication strategy with our network of patients, community partners and donors; and plan and execute fundraising events.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job? When I was in junior high, I decided I wanted to have a career in the Foreign Service. One of the reasons I chose St. Ben's was because of its strong Political Science program and extensive study abroad opportunities. While at St. Ben's I went on service trips to El Salvador and Peru and spent a semester in South Africa. After graduation I joined the Peace Corps and served in Botswana. I believed that all of these experiences would help me prepare for my career abroad. However, at some point during my Peace Corps stint, I realized that I didn't want to spend my life half-way across the world from my family and friends. I wanted to return to Minnesota.
But after having my eye on the Foreign Service for ten years, I didn't know where to begin to determine another career path. A friend of the family suggested "Development." I had no idea what that meant. Was he talking about real estate? Or construction? I learned that a career in development - or philanthropy - meant securing financial support to further the mission of a non-profit institution. Basically, it's professional fundraising. I'm a "people person" and a career in development has given me the opportunity to interface with individuals from all walks of life.
In the six years I've been in the industry, I've had the opportunity to do a little bit of everything. I started in special events (i.e. galas, golf tournaments and races) and the Annual Fund (phone-a-thons, mailings, etc.) and have transitioned to grant writing and major gift fundraising. But I still get to manage a couple of events: our golf tournament and our pheasant hunt. I also help with our hospital gala.
What I like most about this career is that, at the right place, you can do a little bit of everything. Our foundation is small enough that I get to dabble in what I like (and what I do) best. Some days that means sitting in my office, researching a grant proposal. Other days that means taking one of my donors out to lunch to ask him to support a new capital project at one of the hospitals. And yet other days that means choosing a menu for our golf tournament dinner.
And it's definitely a "feel good" career. I've worked for a Catholic school and two hospital foundations. I believe strongly in Catholic education and quality health care, so these organizations were natural fits for me. I think it is second nature to raise money in support of causes you can identify with, yourself.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career? There isn't one particular major that will get you into a career in development, so I'd suggest studying what you enjoy - be it Marketing & Communications, History, you name it. A good development professional is knowledgeable about a little bit of everything - because you have to be able to relate to your donor, whether he's a 60 year old CEO who loves to golf or she's a 35 year old stay-at-home mother of two who enjoys gardening. So I think it's less about what you study and more about what you experience while you're in college. Since I traveled a lot - often to impoverished parts of the world - I think I developed a compassion for those who are less privileged than many of us are.
Through my career, I have been able to raise money for scholarships for students whose families could not otherwise have afforded a private Catholic education. I have been able to raise money for breast cancer patients whose finances were stretched so thin because of the high cost of medical treatment that they couldn't afford to pay their heat bill in the middle of a Minnesota winter. I don't think there's a particular class or major in college that could have prepared me for this career, but in a way, it's the culmination of my entire St. Ben's education that did. The liberal arts curriculum at St. Ben's helped me to be a well-rounded, socially-conscious individual with a fairly realistic world view. And I can't say that happened only within the classroom walls. Service trips and studying abroad were key components of my educational experience as well.
What skills are important in your field? Most important are interpersonal skills. As I said, I need to be able to relate to donors across a broad spectrum. Strong leadership ability is also a must. Often I'm running meetings of committees comprised of male businessmen who are at least 20 years older than me. Also important is a self-starter attitude. There's no one way to "do" development. You can't expect to be handed a roadmap. Basically every day I ask myself "How am I going to get to my goal today?" and then I need to sit down and devise a plan to reach it. Every once-in-a-while I wish I had one of those jobs where I just followed somebody else's directions and left at the end of the day knowing I completed my work. That's certainly not development. This isn't just going through the motions. It's very much a big picture job - and you have to be ready to brainstorm, set your own course, revise your course when you hit a roadblock, and evaluate your successes/failures before doing it all over again.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job? What is the most challenging? It's extremely satisfying to raise money in support of causes I believe in. The most challenging, right now, is the dismal economic situation in our country. Corporations have smaller charitable budgets, so they're allocating fewer grant dollars and sponsoring fewer fundraising events. Many individuals are struggling to make their own mortgage payments, so they are pulling back their annual charitable contributions to their alma mater, their church, their local hospital. But the truth is that while most of us are enjoying less of the luxuries than we did before, those who have needed our help in the past now need it more than ever before. Now is the time when your donation to St. Ben's to fund a first year student's scholarship might make the difference between her attending CSB and having to settle for a less expensive school. Your donation to your local library might help fund the salary of a staff member's who otherwise could be laid-off due to budget cuts. It's incredible to see donors who continue to support organizations that are important to them - even if it stretches their own budget a little thinner than it once did.