Jobs in Theatre: Development

Jobs in Theatre: Development image

by Jessica Walsh, Director of Development
 

Jessica Walsh, Director of Development at Casa Mañana

Years at Casa: I started in September 2018.

School attended: Texas Christian University

Degree: Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism

One word why you love your job: Passion
 
Development is essential to any non-profit. If you’re not familiar with the term, “development” refers to anything that has to do with fundraising, whether it’s through individuals, corporations or foundations. Fundraising may not sound like an exciting job, but Casa Mañana’s Director of Development, Jessica Walsh, tells us why it is so much more.
 
 
How did you get into a career in development?

It was not your normal path to a career in development. As people say, it’s about networking, who you know and being involved. That’s exactly what happened. One of my best friends was a golf pro at a country club here in Fort Worth and I was wanting to change careers. I studied broadcast journalism at Texas Christian University and had spent a good, almost 10 years, as a reporter, but I was ready to get out. If you don’t know, reporters make pennies and it’s a really tough job. I was working crazy hours and trying to make ends meet. I knew that for my life, I wanted to get married and have children. I was starting to look at the future. I was covering a lot of murder trials in North Carolina and Dateline was there covering the same stories. This executive producer and I became friends and she said, “I want you to come work for Dateline. I think you would be great.” If she had asked me three years before, that would have been my dream job. But after she talked to me, I was not excited. It was a wakeup call that something needed to change. I started putting feelers out. I was living in North Carolina at the time and I knew I wanted to come back to Texas. My friend at the country club helped me out by giving my resume to some of the TCU admins that frequented the club. When I initially went in for an interview, I was told that there were no positions available. This continued for about eight months until something finally opened up. That’s how I ended up in TCU athletic fundraising for so many years. I was very passionate about TCU, and still am, so it was an easy transition for me.

It may not seem obvious, but the skills I used as a reporter transferred naturally to fundraising. I used to ask people for interviews, and now I ask people for money. In my first interview at TCU, I was asked, “What if you have to ask someone for $1 million?” And I will never forget I said, “I used to ask people to give me an interview after they lost a child in a car accident. That’s hard stuff. Asking someone for $1 million is not that hard. The worst they can say is ‘no’.”
 
What kind of education do you need to succeed in development?

When I was in school, there was not a normal path to development. I don’t think many people grow up saying, “I want to raise money.” You probably did it through Girl Scout cookies or selling candy for your sports teams, but I don’t know many people that thought, “This is what I want to do when I grow up.” I think it’s later in life that people fall into these positions. Now there are undergrad and graduate programs that focus on development, but I think any degree in which you meet people and build relationships, like communications and business, is going to transfer well.
Development skills are transferrable regardless of what type of non-profit you work for. Even though I don’t have any background in theatre I can still fundraise for the theatre, but you wouldn’t want to see me trying to build a set or make a costume.
 
What sorts of duties fall under the development department?

Our primary duty is to build relationships. Writing grants and planning events, like our Annual Gala coming up on April 6, are just a couple ways that we build relationships. We don’t want to cold call people for money. We want people to see why it’s important to be invested in Casa. We want them to experience what it’s like behind-the-scenes and feel special when they get here. We want people to feel like they’re part of the family. The more they are invested, the more likely we are to get their support. Whether it’s $100 or $1 million, I want all of our donors to feel special.

Work doesn’t just stop here. It continues when we leave. Wherever I am, I try to talk up Casa because I’m passionate about what we’re doing here, and I think it’s important for the community to know.
 
Why is your job important?

Development is the support. Generally, non-profits receive more financial support from donations than sales of products or services. Charitable donations often make up the remaining funds necessary to meet operating budgets. If I don’t do the best job possible raising money, it’s going to prevent other departments from doing new projects that will bring Casa to the next level. The more support I can bring in, the more successful Casa can be.
 
Why do you love your job?

Passion. For one, donors are very passionate about seeing Fort Worth succeed. People in Fort Worth are so generous. If you talk to a donor, they probably give to five different places. Secondly, everyone here at Casa is passionate about their jobs. It’s contagious. Everyone really enjoys what they do. It’s exciting working at a theatre. We get to learn something new each day, which is super special.
 
Photo credit: Chip Tompkins