Nonprofit Careers

Why didn’t they teach me how to use a copy or fax machine in college?

My first job in the nonprofit world.


Next month, I will speaking to undergrad students about a career in the nonprofit world (November 2: University of San Diego; November 15: Pepperdine University).  So I thought it would be appropriate to talk about my personal journey for the next couple of posts to offer some ideas, humor and how to avoid my mistakes in the nonprofit world.


My very first job out of college, I was hired to work at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in the Travel and Events department where we produced 25 art tours each year.  As the administrative assistant, I wrestled the fax machine into submission, kept the database updated and answered the phones —  but the best part of my job was that I actually got to travel with our Board members as a host.


I was lucky enough to host two back-to-back tours in Chicago with our Museum Board members and major donors.  At the time, I was 22 and unsure of how these older art aficionados would feel about traveling with such a young gal from the museum.  The trip was a great success and I had a blast.


I enjoyed traipsing around the city standing shoulder-to-shoulder taking in the same unique experiences — like a tour of a major art collector’s home so we could her private collection of modern and contemporary art or the boat tour along the Chicago river.  On bus tours, museum visits to the Field and Art Institute and architecture lectures, I was told stories about children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, travels to foreign destinations that I had not even dreamed of visiting and even marriages that had lasted well over 60 years. Each night we were treated to incredible restaurants (Spiaggia, The Fortnightly of Chicago, Chicago Culinary Institute) with a menu especially prepared for us by the chef.  I had to wonder: was I really getting paid to eat, drink and be merry with this amazing group of people?


I felt honored to be part of this great group and to share their love for all things art and cultural in Chicago.  I was flattered when my 82-year-old Board member asked me to go shopping with her and she speed walked up and down Michigan Avenue so fast that I could barely keep up, despite my long legs.  I even tried not to be annoyed when I got multiple phone calls from one donor about her broken toilet.  I have a newly minted college degree, which means I don’t know how to fix your toilet, but I do know how to call maintenance!


This trip taught me that I could connect and successfully work with major donors and Board members despite the fact that they were three or four times my age.  They didn’t see my age as incompetence — my age reminded them of their granddaughters or in some case, great-granddaughters and they wanted to opportunity to engage with me. Today, I continue to work with Board members and major donors – and it is one of my favorite parts of my job.


In the next post, you will hear about my own personal story of The Devil Wears Prada.


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