Spotlight Interview: Molly Griffith

Molly Griffith: Development

Atlanta

Senior Director of Development, College of Arts & Sciences, Emory University
WFU Class of 2002
Major: Studio Art

Molly Griffith graduated from Wake with a Studio Art major, and a desire to work with non profits. Now as Senior Director of Development at Emory University's College of Arts and Sciences, Molly gives us insight to her path since undergrad and what has motivated her along the way.

 

DeacLink: I know you were a studio art major at Wake. Tell me a bit more about that. How has your career unfolded since? 
Molly Griffith: When I was a student, the concept of development was not as professionalized as it is today. Now, there more academic programs in place for professionals interested in the development track. I remember being a student and thinking that I was not cut out for a corporate job. Wake was great at helping people get jobs at banks, but I felt a bit lost. I was offered a teacher assistantship in France following graduation, but I felt that I wanted to be working with nonprofits in some way. It wasn’t that I was intimidated by the private sector, but instead nonprofits felt more in line with my ethos and personality. Also, it tied back into the culture at Wake of pro humanitate. Nonprofits felt like the right place for me to be. 

I knew I wanted to be in Atlanta after graduation, and I started blanketing nonprofits with low-level job requests. I eventually landed a role as a receptionist for The Nature Conservancy. I was able to get the job because of a personal connection with the state director, going to show that who you know can pay off. Like it is for many development professionals, my personality allowed me to gravitate to a role in this field. I didn’t pick it, but it picked me. I worked closed with the Director of the Nature Conservancy and the Director of Development, and enjoyed it immensely. However, I wanted to get back into the museum world. Next I went on to be the Assistant to the Director of Museum Development at the High Museum of Art. This role really allowed me to touch a lot of things and learn more broadly about Development. Over the years, I have held every position you can in development, from behind the scenes work to face to face time. I changed roles a few more times, and ended up in higher education, where I feel the most connected.  

DL: Would you mind telling me about what you're doing at Emory?
MG: At Emory, I am the Senior Director of Development for College of Arts and Sciences. This means that I have a portfolio of donors, and I manage a group of development officers. My portfolio is mostly Atlanta based, and I am getting to work with the best candidates for support for the institution. 

DL: What surprised you the most about going back to work for the school? 
MG: It was a fantastic experience, and I loved working for my alma mater. One of the best things about switching from arts to high ed is that I found it to be an easier sell. I truly believed in the mission. But then to be able to represent your own school, that was really special. I did make a conscious effort to try and be sure that I could keep my alumni and student experiences separate from my professional one. It wasn’t always going to be the perfect job every day, so I wanted to keep those things separate. My career was wonderful there. Also, making the case to donors couldn’t be easier when you are representing your alma mater. Because you have years of memories to draw on, you never feel unprepared. That kind of authenticity doesn’t come with every position.  

DL: Do you think networking plays a key role for development roles? 
MG: I will say though that at the lower level, entry positions in Atlanta, you have to move around to advance. That is pretty pretty common though. Normally, people last eighteen months in a role before moving on. That leads to high levels of turnover among development staff, and that’s expensive for a nonprofit to deal with. The high turnover also opens up a lot more opportunities - there are lots of open development positions across various nonprofits at any given time. Instead of networking, people get in a position, realize they’ve hit a ceiling, and then start looking around. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of growth opportunities in most departments. Also, I would say the application process is much more common for getting a role than networking. I got my position at Emory through the HR website. 


DL: The development track seems to very popular with art alums. What do you think is the hardest part about breaking into the development field? 
MG: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s challenging to break into the development field, but you do need to start at the bottom. Also, nonprofit work is not known for producing highly compensated individuals. You have to start pretty low on the totem pole, and that’s expensive. My first salary was $22K a year, and that was in 2002. I tutored and babysat on top of it so I could get by. Once you are in at a lower level, the next challenge is getting face to face fundraising experience, which can be really hard to do. One of the coolest programs is what Wake does with their advancement fellows. The recent graduates are able to start having those conversations early. If you are interested in development, consider a fellowship as a first step. There are very few nonprofit roles where people with little to no experience are able to represent the institution. The liberal arts background prepares the fellows really well. Most students are terrific communicators that can adapt in any situation. They also have a broad basis of education that can hold up to whomever they are speaking with. 

There has to be a willingness to bite the bullet early on from a salary standpoint, but then scrap to get the face to face experience. At my entry level role at at The Nature Conservancy, I was a liaison with the Board of Directors. If you are being trusted to communicate with biggest supporters of the institution, but can spin that to showing you can be trusted with important relationships. 

DL: What surprises you the most about the arts/cultural institution scene here in Atlanta? 
MG: I have been outside of the arts and culture arena for some time. However, I did spend five years on the board of Atlanta Celebrates Photography. I rolled off two years ago when couldn’t commit the time. I think there are two different art scenes in Atlanta. The first is the dominant Woodruff Arts Center/High Museum of Art scene. This is the traditional museum base that has a higher capacity donor base. It is the old guard scene for arts. Then there is this entirely fun, burgeoning, underground art scene at places like The Goat Farm Art Center and Art Papers. However, these groups are not supported in the same way. They have to be more creative about how they make their case for funding, and I like that part of it. Not to be negative about the High and other long standing institutions, but they don’t have the same dynamism at smaller nonprofits. 

I think many people are quick to dismiss the art scene here because it’s just the High Museum. The High also doesn’t have a well known permanent collection. If people don't know about Atlanta Celebrates Photography, smaller theaters and galleries, the Museum of Contemporary Art, people think there’s just one cultural behemoth, and Atlanta is much more dynamic than that. Think about Art on the BeltLine which speak to the growth of Atlanta. Like a lot of places, where artists go, growth happens. When you get creative young minds, you will see activity artistically and economically.  

DL: What advice do you have for students considering moving beyond the arts arena? 
MG: I have worked in places where I haven’t felt a connection to the emission, and it does make it harder to be successful from a fundraising standpoint. It is much easier to do when you truly believe what you are doing. One of the things I have really enjoyed is keeping a toe in the art world from an avocational instead of vocational standpoint. I have been able to engage the arts outside of my career, while still advancing my career. 

DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?
MG: I love the art department at Wake. I think one of the things that needs to happen is the introduction of graphic and digital programs, and a general design pace. I was a painting and photography student, but it was analog photos and oil painting. And let’s be honest, it is incredibly difficult to make a career out of those two things. Thankfully my family told me to study what I loved. It worked out in the end, but it is not the most responsible way to think about an education. The school should be thinking about ways to connect artistic people to careers like design or architecture. 

Also, I think it would be good for the school to bring the arts out of scales. Things are very sequestered, and should be further integrated into the broader curriculum. There is the one Management in the Visual Arts class in the business school, but that’s not enough. 

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?
MG: Find someone that can serve in a mentor capacity. I think that a lot of students graduate and think they have done the hard part by figuring out what they want to study and then getting a job. But there might be a point down the road where you question the path you are on. As a result, it is important to find those mentors from a career building standpoint who can help guide you along the way. 

Spotlight Interview: Ginny DeLacey

Ginny DeLacey Lewinski: Former Major Gifts Manager

Washington, DC

National Museum of Women in the Arts
WFU Class of 2012
Double Major: Art History (Honors) & French

Ginny DeLacey spent time interning for the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC throughout undergrad. Upon leaving Wake, she took a job with the same museum as Development Associate. Now serving as Major Gifts Manager, Ginny speaks to us about her new role, and how she transitioned from the Forest to fundraising.

*Since posting the article, Ginny has moved to Georgetown University where she is the Assistant Director for Board Operations.

DeacLink: Would you mind telling me about what you’re doing at the National Museum of Women in the Arts?

Ginny DeLacey: I am currently the Major Gifts Manager at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The museum is not a part of the Smithsonian system, but it is right by the White House. I started here two and a half years ago, and I interned here in college in during the summer of 2010 through the Wake Washington program. During the internship, a Wake alum at the National Gallery gave me ideas in terms of museums other museums to apply to. My initial job here as the Development Associate has evolved into Major Gifts Manager, which is much to do with fundraising. My job entails a lot of database management, creating reports, sending acknowledgements for gifts. I also work with the Board of Directors and stewards some of the committees focused on fundraising. 


DL: How did you end up on the development track? This seems to be a pretty popular career path for Art History majors. 

GD: The summer summer after I graduated, I was in New York for an art gallery internship at Bryce Wolkowitz. I had wanted to be in DC, and I had been a development intern while in college. While I was in school, I had been very much on the academic side of art history, and I thought about going to grad school. However, during my senior year, I took the Management in the Visual Arts class, and I started considering other opportunities in the art world, hence the gallery internship. Honestly, the gallery world and New York weren’t the best fit for me, so I moved back to DC. I took a part time job in development, and then also took a part time role at the Kennedy Center

Most people are attracted to curatorial positions, which are considered to be the “sexier” part of the museum world. However, Museums need money. Because of this, development teams are often bigger than curatorial ones. Because of this, there are more jobs and opportunities for advancement. I would also say there is a lot of mobility in the development field. There is a very high demand for strong development officers, especially at the higher levels. And at the end of the day, you are still supporting the mission. 


DL: When you were at the Kennedy Center, you were working in the performing as opposed to visual arts. How was that transition? 

GD: I am honestly not a performing arts person. My heart is in the visual arts. However, the Kennedy Center was a great place to learn but the staff was enormous. Now, I feel like I am on a more manageable sized team, and I am more connected with mission. I went from a team of seventy at the Kennedy Center, and I am on a team of eight now. With the smaller team, I have much more freedom and am able to make more of an impact.  Also, the Kennedy Center is such an institution. From a development perspective, there are a lot of people that give large sums of money. However, for the smaller level donors, people feel like they may be neglected in comparison, or question the value and impact of their gifts. At a smaller institution people are able to see the results of their contributions. 


DL: How much did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?

GD: Honestly, it was a bit of a mixed bag. At Wake, I was panicking during my senior year.. Thankfully there is a strong alumni network for art history in DC. Everyone is very inclusive and helpful. Jame Anderson has created a group of about fifteen alums in the arts, and we get together for informal happy hours quarterly. Of the fifteen, ten people are normally able to attend, and we will chat about work and any issues we are facing. 

I would say the alumni network has been a better resource than the OPCD. I was able to get my internship in New York through a connection I had made during the New York trip for management in the visual arts. And while that ended up not being what I wanted to do with my career, it was still a good learning experience. 


DL: What do you think Wake arts could have done to have better prepared students for life after graduation?

GD: I would say the professors were more supportive academically, and were not focused as much on life after graduation. However, I would say Management in the Visual Arts was super helpful. It was a crash course in terms of the various aspects of the art world. Honestly, I wish I had taken it earlier on at Wake. 


DL: What would you say is the hardest part about breaking into the museum development field. 

GD: You have to be incredibly persistent. For the first ten months, I had part time roles at a consulting firm and an arts organization. You have to stick with it and get the experience where you can. The more internships and part time roles you can have, the better off you will be. 


DL: How are you liking living in DC?

GD: DC is a manageable city, but it’s very expensive. However, I have a great friend group here. When I first moved here, I lived with a girl from Wake. Now, we have this amazing group of friends that is about half Wake people. Also, in DC, there is always something to do. 

In terms of living situations, the neighborhood I am in is pretty quiet. I have a dog and a backyard. I think some people get overwhelmed with the politics in DC, but my friend group is all people working for nonprofits, so I don’t experience as much of that aspect of the city. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to get caught up in the madness of the Hill. There are some bars you will go to, and people will ask you political questions, but you can find your own scene. Things are not ubiquitous throughout the city. Also, DC has a strong hipster scene. There are a lot of dive bars and cool coffee shops. It can be more relaxed. 

The last thing I would say is that DC is very active. A lot of the time, my friends and I will go hiking on the weekends. And there are a lot of parks near the city… not just buttoned up government people running around. 


DL: What has surprised you the most about the art scene in DC? Do you have any advice for students wanting to move to move there?

GD: The art scene here is definitely growing beyond just museums. However, museums are doing interesting things to engage new and younger people. Several museums have First Fridays where you can buy beer and wine. The National Gallery has started their Edge Series that is a free event with a cash bar. What’s really cool though is that people are in the galleries, not just at the bar. The scene here is not New York, but there is definitely an art scene. Also, there are a few galleries focused on emerging artists. Also, we are so close to Richmond and Baltimore which also have awesome art scenes that trickle into DC. 

DL: So what's next for you?

GD: Honestly, I am not sure. l love DC, but don’t know if I will live here here long term. My fiance wants to live abroad which would be really exciting. I exactly have a five year plan, but I know I want to stay in the arts. 

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on, or currently go by?

GD: Make all of the connections you can if you want to work in art world or museums. Also, do your best to stay up to date on what is going on in the art world.  Also, if you want to go into development at a museum, database experience is a huge difference maker, even if you have just learned those skills through an internship.