After two semesters in the Museum Studies program, I realized that I was to follow the “museum management” course of study, and ultimately pursue a career in museum fundraising. (In case you missed it, you can read more about my background here!) Paired with the museum-focused courses, I also take courses in the public policy school, as I am working towards a certificate in nonprofit management as well. The focus of many of my courses is (unsurprisingly) fundraising and philanthropy in the nonprofit sector. It would be impossible for me to take these courses, and not reflect on the philanthropic giving that is closest to me, being my own.
We discuss different generations of donors in my courses, and it is recognized that my (millennial) generation is up against many factors that might not make us the most philanthropic. Many of us have massive amounts of student debt, that is not going to be repaid anytime soon because entry level job salaries are often times laughable. Especially if you aspire to work in the nonprofit sector (like me!). But, there is also an understood desire to give back, and desire to support groups that we care about. Personally, while it does seem a little bit aggressive for my undergraduate college to be calling for donations very soon after graduation, I plan on giving as soon as I am done with school and I have a steady income. Before I started taking these courses and studying the field, I don’t think I would’ve been so eager to give.
The wonderful Nina Simon related similar sentiments in this blog post, titled “Can we talk about money?”. She details that once she became a museum director and had to start soliciting donors (a MAJOR part of a directors job) she and her husband began thinking of their own giving. She also describes the anxiety inducing moment of actually asking for money, something that I frequently consider as I look towards my goals of being a major gift officer and later a fundraising director. I imagine how awkward the situation must be, or how embarrassing it would be to be shut down. But I had a professor once tell the class, philanthropic-minded people were always going to give, it is just a matter of convincing them to support your organization. That changed my frame of thinking, rather than begging for money, you are making your case for support.
Simon also brings up the fact that “…not everyone is comfortable talking about philanthropy, or about money. When we do so in our field, we’re often focused on pay inequities for the work that we do. But pay and philanthropy are two separate topics. We should be willing to talk about both.” This is baffling that philanthropy and fundraising is not discussed more in the museum/nonprofit field because it is necessary to survive! The number of people who believe that because the Smithsonian Institution is a federal entity they don’t need to seek outside funding is is significantly higher than I expected. Even within the museum field, it should be recognized that in order for all departments to function, collections, exhibits, curation, etc. they need to be funded. Luckily museums are reacting to this necessity and fundraising departments are growing, and hiring more experts to help grow funding. But I think there needs to be much wider spread education concerning philanthropy and philanthropic giving, because there is a deficit and misconception, and the nonprofits we all know and love need to be funded!
And with that, I leave you with this –