Photo: Nonprofit Internship Program with  Zoie Alger and Gary Butler with Military Heritage Museum

The Perfect Fit!

Posted on April 16, 2024 by Gary Butler, Military Heritage Museum
Our decision to take advantage of the internship program offered by The Patterson Foundation really began with a legacy gift donation from one of our Museum's board members. In January of 2022, the Military Heritage Museum received an endowment gift of $500,000 from this donor. Additionally, the donor set up a matching fund of another $500,000 with a two-year time frame to match the funds. It certainly was a wonderful gift and opportunity for the Museum. As the museum director, the challenge I faced was that we still needed to create the strategy and capacity to launch a major gifts campaign. After relocating to a much larger facility three years before the donation, the focus up to this point had been on operating and capital dollars. As the months passed after receiving this gift, I struggled to find the capacity to kick off a major gifts campaign.

Almost didn't apply
A year later, we received an email from TPF Fellow Kellie Alexander inviting selected nonprofit organizations to apply for an internship program in collaboration with the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Quickly seeing the fit with our needs and with great enthusiasm, I immediately responded that we were interested. Leveraging an intern to assist with developing the endowment campaign collateral, which was our hold-up, was my first instinct as to why I thought this would be a very good opportunity for the Museum. As the deadline for submitting the application loomed close, and as the day-to-day workload of my "urgencies" increased, I resigned to the reality that maybe it's best to pass on this offer. A few days later, with the deadline now imminent, I received a call from Kellie with encouragement that if I needed a couple more days to apply, we could still apply. I made the time over the weekend to complete and submit the application.

The interview
After receiving and reviewing resumes from prospective interns, I chose two candidates for interviews using Zoom. They could not have been more different in both experience and presentation. It turned out to be a very challenging decision. My thoughts were, do I go with someone who brought with them the skill set this needed or someone with limited related experience? Coincidently, during this decision-making period, I was invited to present at a seminar hosted by The Patterson Foundation. As Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation greeted me, she made a point to thank me for applying to the Nonprofit Internship Program and then offered a bit of wisdom that made all the difference in selecting my choice. My career of forty-plus years in nonprofit service provided me with incredible opportunities and challenges. A collage of experiences, especially in the fund-raising arena, that defines who I am. Those words of wisdom opened my eyes to seeing that whoever I chose was not just going to assist with the project but could also have an opportunity to take advantage of those experiences and lessons learned over my career path. An opportunity that would be lost unless I was willing to make the time and investment in sharing my experiences and knowledge during our conversations. The interviews went well. I chose Zoie Alger, the sophomore with the least experience. What she lacked in direct experience was overtaken by her enthusiasm, eagerness to learn, her unique skills (which turned out to be extremely helpful), and her career goals.

The enthusiastic intern!
For the next twelve weeks, we collaborated on our project. We set aside at least an hour a week each Monday afternoon. We worked through the various stages of the project, including research, best practices, understanding the various tools and options when it came to legacy giving, and how best to connect with donor prospects. Zoie was a fast learner and leveraged her past work experiences related to marketing. A couple of times we skipped a meeting when conflicts arose and then regrouped the following week. In the beginning, I made some modifications to the scope of the project and the number of deliverables to allow for more "mentoring time." This worked well, enabling us to go deeper with understanding and developing the project content.

Teaching an old guy new tricks
What did I get out of the experience? I learned how effective Google Drive could be as Zoie set up a shared file for us to share back and forth the project content as it was being developed. It turned out that Zoie was a wiz with mind maps. The main project deliverable was creating content that could be used in multiple mediums, starting with the Museum's website. I remember explaining to Zoie that whatever content we create must be clear for our webmaster to translate into the website. She mentioned the mind map might be the perfect tool for creating the platform to illustrate the content in such a way to make it easier for prospective donors.

The twelve weeks went by very quickly, with the prime deliverable completed in the form of a mind map. We kicked off the major gifts campaign during our recent Gala, with much of the content extracted from the project. Hopefully, Zoie can leverage not only her direct experience with developing a major gifts campaign but, perhaps, a few of my stories, which could be useful as she pursues her career path. For me, I got to add a few more tools to my toolbox. Most importantly, I hope my impact on Zoie will contribute to her potential for an incredibly successful career in nonprofit service. I also learned that "passing it on from one generation to another" doesn't have to mean one way.

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