Written By JM Huck
Today, August 30th, 2023, marks my one-year anniversary as development coordinator at The Neon Museum.
I had a steep learning curve with development, doing my best to keep up with trends in the industry and enter contributions correctly in our CRM. At times I felt like a forensic accountant figuring out how to process donor advised funds (DAFs)!
Thankfully, I received a scholarship to attend Association of Fundraising Professionals events at my local chapter (Las Vegas). I also received a scholarship to attend a conference by our CRM provider–the Tessitura Learning & Community Conference held this year in Orlando. I am grateful for these professional development opportunities.
Yet, even more than the ability to receive support for learning, the work that mattered most to me this past year has been stretch projects going beyond my original job description. Spoiler–I have a background in marketing so the development projects I specifically requested involved donor communications.
JM Huck designs her first greeting card for The Neon Museum.
The first stretch project I was proud of was a greeting card design to celebrate Las Vegas’s 118th birthday. Illustration was a project I’d always wanted yet never had the opportunity to pursue. Though I had been preparing most of 2021 through a one-year subscription on Skillshare! I had a whole month to brainstorm a “winning” design for the museum, the judges being my boss as well as our director of marketing. I eventually settled on the flat lay-style illustration seen here. This card was snail mailed to a vast segment of our donor base and shared on social media. I also got to see my illustration animated on a mobile billboard truck in the downtown Helldorado Days Parade.
The Employee Engagement Committee rounds up The Neon Museum staff to participate in the city’s annual Helldorado Days Parade.
Now, this card was sent without a remittance envelope, but a few donations trickled in after sending it.
The second and more recent stretch project was being put in charge of our annual report. I knew I could put one together, since I’ve done booklets, magazines and newspapers before. I’m pleased to report the project was completed on schedule, and only slightly above budget. We transitioned from a 12-page to a 16-page version to be able to include more photos.
In a meeting with The Neon Museum’s executive director, a leading design firm gave us compliments on the report, which is viewable from our website’s About navigation. But the jury’s still out on the “success” of the report, since this mailing, which went to a much smaller segment of donors, included a remittance envelope.
A remittance envelope evoking the museum’s mission of telling Las Vegas stories.
My mother raised me not to see any situation as a failure but to look for lessons from my experiences. So, if the appeal part of the annual report falls short of expectations, we know where to focus energy and time moving forward. That could mean changing the appeal language or channel(s).
Including acknowledgement letters, I spend about 30% of my time on donor communications. I know that could grow with more annual fund or membership-type projects, since both weave skills from development and marketing.
Yet I’m keeping my options open, with specialties like prospect research. I’m no Excel guru, but I do have a degree in economics, and I’ve yet to use hard and fast analytical skills in any job. But who knows? Prospect research might also be a way to incorporate content creation (marketing skills) into my role.
The point I am trying to make to fellow emerging museum professionals is this–Always be iterating. In sales, there is the saying, Always be closing. But I think in our early career, regardless of division, we have to show flexibility and measure/benchmark our performance. If a campaign outcome is not as anticipated, we should make adjustments inching ever closer to our goals.
Additionally, seek assignments that inspire you. It can be in areas of low risk, where you have a proven track record. But if leadership is receptive it can be projects you’d only dreamed of, so go for it!
What accomplishments were you most proud of in the early days of your museum career? What did that experience teach you?
JM Huck is an EMP currently based in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she works on the advancement team at The Neon Museum.
She is an emerging visual artist and poet, as well as a community educator teaching STEAM and creative writing.