by Sarah Dalton
Can you provide a brief description of your current position as a donor relations officer?
My role as a Donor Relations Officer with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Foundation is primarily providing the tools and means necessary for gift officers to steward their portfolio of donors. More specifically, I manage all of the named spaces and donor walls (and their respective strategies) within the main hospital. This includes managing the production, installation, and maintenance of the displays. The gifts that these naming recognition opportunities represent range from $10,000 to over $15 million. There’s a number of other components associated with my role, but the gist is I’m the project manager for physical naming recognition, and the strategies tied to that recognition, in the hospital.
What does a typical week look like for you?
This is a tricky question because every week there’s something new! There are some projects that occur throughout the year on an annual basis, but since our team is “service-based,” our workloads are dependent on requests we receive from other teams. In any given work week, I may be working on a named space proposal, which means working with a gift officer on identifying named spaces a donor might be interested in, mocking up a plaque using Adobe Illustrator, and writing up content about the space in InDesign. I communicate with our external vendors on a regular basis regarding signage production and delivery. Additionally, I’ll have meetings throughout the week with my team on current projects, as well as meeting with hospital staff, including physicians and facilities project managers. These meetings are important to ensure everyone is on the same page as far as donor signage placement, events that may be happening in spaces, and the collection of other pieces of information that will be important to communicate with our donors. I review architectural plans of the hospital with project managers to ensure our database is accurate, while also learning about the functionality of specific spaces (which will be useful for later proposals).
What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
It is most fulfilling to know that the hard work my team and I do throughout the year for the Foundation is incredibly important in helping gift officers raise millions of dollars for the hospital. In turn, these funds directly support the Medical Center staff in carrying out their work and our mission of caring for the thousands of sick kids the hospital sees annually. It’s easy to lose sight of this since we are one step removed from the primary hospital functions, but everyone plays a part and contributes to the overall mission here. Additionally, helping create partnerships and bridges between the Foundation and our Medical Center colleagues (physicians, nurses, and other support staff) is deeply satisfying.
What are the most valuable skills you learned as a History major? How have they helped you post-graduation?
As a History (and Political Science) major, two of the most valuable skills I learned were communication and empathy.
The power of a good communicator is easily underestimated. Being able to effectively communicate your ideas and solutions to other people, including potential employers, coworkers, and clients is what can separate the average employee from a great employee. Especially in the fundraising world, knowing how to communicate with donors can mean the difference between a multi-million dollar gift or leaving empty-handed. Gift officers are expected to know the complex work of their non-profit and be able to explain it in a way that donors will understand. History majors have the unique opportunity to develop this skill on a regular basis, whether through presentations or research papers.
Second, one of the major objectives of the Honors College is to consider problems and solutions through different lenses or perspectives. This is also something that History majors can pick up, like identifying bias and looking at certain events in history from multiple angles. Empathy is something that is becoming increasingly important in the workplace. This can be seen at multiple levels – multi-disciplinary teams coming together to work on a major project, or one person simply seeing a coworker’s point of view on a potential solution. Being a History major/Honors College student helped me in taking a step back and consider alternative perspectives before acting on something.
Finally, I still have a deep interest in history, and while my career isn’t directly history-related I have been a World War II Living Historian for the past 11 years as a hobby. I am constantly researching with members of my unit and talking with the general public at events!
Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?
There were several great opportunities at Ball State, but two stand out. First, I took Dr. Doyle’s immersive learning course, which was the Oral History project partnered with the Cantigny First Division Museum. Not only am I passionate about military history, but it was a real honor to talk with veterans about their experiences from the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was an amazing chance to create historical records that are preserved in perpetuity, and I learned that Oral History is the art of conversation and communication – being prepared with background knowledge and asking compelling and relevant questions.
Furthermore, my capstone internship experience was with the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. The staff there was absolutely amazing to work with, and being able to help design a world-class special exhibit (focused on McCarthyism of the 1950s) was truly special. Seeing the product of our work being delivered to the general public and receiving extremely positive reviews was inspiring, to say the least. It was also a beneficial “transition” period for me as that was a full-time internship during my last semester; it helped get a feel for what would be expected of me in the workplace post-college.
Do you have any advice for History majors who are trying to decide what to do after graduation?
My advice for History majors is to push yourself to explore what’s out there, whether through volunteering, internships, or classes. You may be dead-set on a particular line of work, but don’t be afraid to try other unfamiliar areas. The skills you’ll acquire by the time you graduate with a history degree – including strong communication, research and analysis, and problem-solving – are needed in a number of fields. Employers take note of “well-rounded” applicants with a variety of experience in their pockets. Use that experience you have gained, as well as your network of contacts, to help carve a career path that can be both personally and financially rewarding.
Thinking about pursing a degree in history? Check out this post about the cool projects offered in BSU History courses.