Sarah Knight (’14)
Sarah graduated from the Arts Administration program is 2014 with the Master’s Degree and Graduate Certificate in Fundraising Management. Coming from an artistic family has given her the tools she needs to be successful as an arts administrator. She currently works as the Alumni Relations and Annual Giving Manager at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Sarah talks about her experience in the Arts Administration program, how she went through several different jobs at Harvard, and she gives advice for current students.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your artistic background?
I come from an artistic family, so I played instruments, took visual arts classes, and helped out backstage in theater, but I just didn’t have the creative spark. But participating in art and studying art history gave me fluency in the creative and design process which I use to communicate to supporters, and make sure the creative constituency I work with has the resources it needs to flourish.
2. I see that you started the program in the Fundraising Management Certificate. What made you decide to apply for the Masters after completing the certificate?
I finished the Certificate while I was working at BU. When I entered the working world, I thought I would spend two years in a job then move on to the next job — but then the economy essentially crashed, and I was lucky not only to have a job at all, but to be working in my chosen field. WBUR 90.9, where I worked, was one of the few public radio stations in the country not to cut staff during the recession. I thought I would use grad school as a way to move to another city, but after doing research into two-year full-time programs, and the debt I would need to incur to attend, I realized that we have a fantastic program here in Boston, that I could do the program part-time, and have a full-time job in my field while completing the Masters. It was a great opportunity, and I’m glad I did.
3. In what ways has the Arts Administration program impacted your career?
I use many of the anecdotal lessons as well as academic lessons in my work. My work is varied amongst fundraising, volunteer management, board management, event work, data analysis and reporting, and communications and marketing. Many of the courses I took in the AA program directly relate to what I do on a daily basis and improve my contributions at work.
4. You seem to have found your niche within Harvard University. What has it been like moving through different positions there? Any challenges that have come with it?
I started at WBUR in Major Gifts in a small department of three people. Then I went to the central Development Office at Harvard, which was highly specialized and employs about 300 people. I knew I wanted to be more well-rounded and more connected to alumni, students, faculty, and donors. Joining the School of Design (the most creative of the professional and graduate schools) gave me the chance to do a lot of different things and work with a lot of different people. On any given project, I might work with colleagues in the library, building services, the academic department offices, and Student Services. I’ve gotten to work with colleagues who work in the same areas in the different schools across the University, and we share challenges and successes to see if we can adapt or improve our activities based on others’ trial and error.
5. Can you describe a typical day as an Alumni Relations and Annual Giving Manager?
I would almost say there’s no typical day. We operationally work on the calendar of the fiscal year, July 1 – June 30. But there’s the overlay of the academic calendar (late August to late May) over that. So there are ebbs and flows, depending on if we are welcoming the graduating students into the alumni community, planning and staffing a 2.5-day Alumni Council meeting, or producing email campaigns to try and hit our fundraising goals. I enjoy the variety and I describe it as, “Instead of moving 10 feet in one direction in a day’s work, I move one foot in ten different directions.”
6. Can you describe one setback and one accomplishment that you’ve encountered in the Arts Administration world?
I definitely think a setback I faced was the recession, and how it affected my plans for my career when I thought I would hold certain positions. It had no bearing on what I was learning, what skills I developed, what I contributed to my workplace, or how I presented myself. It was this tidal wave to hit the non-profit world in an extraordinary way.
I think one of my greatest accomplishments is being able to develop relationships with and connections between what we would refer to as “program staff and talent.” I got to know a number of reporters that are now all over the country, and I still learn from their work. At the school, reaching out to folks in different departments expands my network of folks to grab coffee with, or to get their opinions on ideas for new programs I might want to put together. I really believe if you are working in an organization in fundraising, it’s essential to know as many other staff members as you reasonably can. It’ll make your work more enjoyable and place you in a position to connect your external constituencies with the most interesting work being done in your organization.
7. If you were interviewing to find your own replacement, what would you be looking for in an applicant? In other words, what does an organization expect from an arts administrator?
I think it is essential that arts administrators have varied experiences and skills, and are the Jacks and Jills of all trades. Learn as much as you can about your organization, what it takes to accomplish your mission, and what all the different departments contribute. I knew when I wanted to work in non-profits that I would be interested in leading an organization someday. I thought about what a leader needs to do: 1) Develop relationships, 2) Talk about the organization, and 3) Ask people for money. I learned that those skills are all acquired in development, so I started there. I have learned a lot from a number of different colleagues as well as what I learned in the AA classroom — from instructors as well as fellow students.
8. You were recently appointed Treasurer of the Arts Administration Alumni Association. What goals do you have for this organization and what changes would you like to see happen?
I look forward to working with the other officers and volunteers, and would like to engage as many alums to connect with the program and with each other. I would like to see us connecting in a number of ways — online, professionally, and in person — to expand our networks and to support the current students of the program. I think every alum brings value to the alumni community, and it would be great if we could grow our connections to each other.
9. Do you have a career bucket list? If so, would you mind sharing a few aspirations?
I don’t necessarily have a list, but am quite interested in Philanthropic Advising. I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the best practices of non-profit organizations so I can help people who want to make an impact, but don’t know where to start. I feel that my time in the AA program has helped me think critically about successful organizations, read a 990 tax form, and learn more about how a donor makes the decision about which groups to support, and what the donor can expect from a relationship with an organization.
10. How do you stay up to date on issues in the industry?
We have great resources in Boston in the Women in Development of Greater Boston and the Annual Giving Network, just to name a couple. WIDGB has brown-bag lunch presentations featuring fantastic programming on different topics, with people (not just women) working in different organizations across the city. AGN has webinars with experts all over the country featuring different topics. I’ve learned about student philanthropy programs, mid-fiscal year course corrections, annual giving during a campaign, and more.
11. For current students, what are the best resources in Boston to take advantage of and be inspired by?
I would say connect with and develop relationships with your fellow students. They now, or soon, may work at an organization that you may be interested in getting more involved with (attending programming, volunteering, or possibly employment). They are also a great pool of folks to invite to make plans with, to see that ballet or concert or exhibit that none of your friends will go to.
Interview conducted by Olivia Porada