Friday, April 18, 2008

Defining Development

As it turns out, I really do not think that I want to go into nonprofit development. The idea of making a living out of asking people for money leaves a bad taste in my mouth, especially asking for money for something like dance instead of for a life-or-death cause. I had gotten wrapped up in the idea of still contributing to the dance world before I really thought it out. I'd love to work for a dance or arts organization, but not in development.

Victoria's words stirred something in me. I encounter a fair amount of smart remarks about "asking for money" in my line of work, and while I do have a sense of humor, I also want to explain why Development is not just a different name for Sales. There is a world of difference.

Sales is the selling of a product for profit. If you meet with a salesperson, you are there to buy a product or service, and to pay a set price for it. For example, if you need a digital camera, you go to an electronics store, discuss with a salesperson what you need and how much you want to pay. Eventually, you give the store your credit card, and walk home with a tangible camera. If something happens to the camera, or it turns out to be not what you wanted, you go back to the store and return it and get your money back, or exchange it.

Development is working with a donor to invest in something that they care about. Instead of someone coming to a development office and saying "I love ballet," the development office searches for people who are interested ballet (i.e. ballet patrons, parents of ballet students) and talk to them about why they love ballet. Perhaps they have fond memories of going to see the Nutcracker as a child. Perhaps they took ballet as a child and have a fondness for their former teacher. And then, once this interest in ballet is identified, the development officer provides the donor an opportunity to engage with the ballet in a new way, by supporting it financially. The donor doesn't walk home with ballet slippers, or box seats, but they are aware that they are supporting something that they love. It's an intangible sentiment that is important. I work in higher education fundraising, because I got my education on scholarships, and I love being able to provide funding for future students so that they can also get a great education. I'm not asking people to "give me money," I'm asking people to invest in education. The returns for philanthropy can't be quantified, nor can they be returned or exchanged, but it is so gratifying to know that you are making a difference in the arts, or in education, or for any other cause.

I really have to take issue with Victoria's qualms about supporting ballet over a "life-or-death cause." One works for an institution because of a belief in its mission. If you love ballet, then supporting ballet is important. I love the ballet myself, and see it as an important piece of culture. It enriches the mind, which in my opinion, is worth as much as education. And in any case, many people support health-care causes (i.e. cancer research, AIDS treatment, heart disease), but there are not enough people who support the arts. There is enough good will to go around.

For me, Development is not about money; it's about investment and outcomes. It's about caring about something, it's about making an impact.

3 responses:

Anonymous said...

This is such a wonderful post. Thank you for spelling out your philosophy about development work! I'm also looking for a job in development, and your ideas help me to clarify what my interest in that line of work comes from.

Victoria said...

I really appreciate this post Kate... because I was worried that people who feel like you do about development didn't exist. I've gotten a bad feeling from alot of the development folks I've talked to at some pretty major dance companies, because they're seeing it as a 'make sales or get fired' sort of position. I've probably just been looking in the wrong places, and have been disillusioned. While I still don't think it's for me, you have an incredibly logical and even inspirational approach to your work. Thank you!

KEHutchinson said...

@knitwhere: I'm glad to help. what area of development are you looking at? I'd be happy to offer any help or advice.

@Victoria: yes, idealistic people like me do exist :) And there are dance companies who don't do sales-based fundraising (such as the Boston Ballet). Maybe you might like to try a dance school? Definitely look around, not all development shops are the same; I've been at small shops and scary big corporate shops; they're all different.

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