Navigating the Non-Profit Sector: What's my job?

Every job in the non-profit sector is different - making the non-profit world a bit difficult to navigate at times. We're here to help guide you through the non-profit world, one job at a time. So, what does a museum professional do?

Ruth Brennan - Assistant Director of Individual Giving, MOCA Cleveland

Working in development is an interesting job within the museum field. It’s rewarding in that it is a position allows you to interact with the many different departments within a museum. However, it can be challenging at times, constantly having to explain what you do. (If you’re in development, you’ve experienced or will experience someone who does not know what development is). It’s a joy of mine to share with people who do not know what development is, the work that I do, as well as the many different jobs that go into making a museum thrive.

Broadly, it’s my job as a development professional to meet with donors and tie their passion to my organization’s mission. Conversely, it’s also my job to meet with the various departments within my organization and understand their needs. This relationship or dynamic is one of the reasons why development work is so exciting. It’s a role that forces you to learn about your institution in an intimate way and then allows you to go out into the world and share those stories with people who want to support it.

I’ve recently transitioned into the Assistant Director of Individual Giving position at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland. I started working at MOCA in the fall of 2012 when our new building was just opening to the public. For the first time in the organization’s history, we had a permanent home. I began working as a Development Assistant, helping out the department with various tasks. During this time, I learned a lot about the inner workings of a museum, the benefits and challenges of direct mail fundraising, and most importantly, how to avoid paper cuts.

I transitioned into the Membership Manager position, overseeing the museum’s member program, as well as the database. This work taught me a lot about best practices in data management, how membership is the welcome mat to any institution, and how it’s important to have patience with the person pulling reports and queries for your institution (it’s tough work!)

In my role as Assistant Director of Individual Giving at MOCA, I oversee a portfolio of individual donors who give annually to the museum. I meet, call, and email these donors on a regular basis. I also develop programming for this member group. These programs have ranged from offsite member tours to artist studio visits, as well as private curator tours. This position has given me the opportunity to get to know our donors on a personal level. I love learning why a particular donor gives to our institution, or what excites another about what we’re doing.

I recently spoke with a group of students who were about to graduate from undergrad (none of whom knew what development was). One of the things I impressed upon them was the fact that fundraising isn’t just the job of the development department. It takes an entire museum to make something great, to create stories and meaningful work, and then tie that work to people who believe in it and want to see it grow. I tell my colleagues all the time, “we’re all fundraisers.” Development definitely has its ups and downs, but knowing your work helps support the institution you work with, makes it all worth it.


Ruth Brennan is the Ex-Officio on the YNPN Cleveland Board. 

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