This is an interview with Kate Tkacik, Director of Development at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, done by Naomi House of INALJ. This is part of INALJ’s 2020 series on non-library jobs for library workers.
On Development & Prospect Research Work :
an Interview with Kate Tkacik
Q1: Thanks so much for taking the time to help us better understand what Development / Prospect Research work is and how LIS folk can get into this field. First could you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you got your MLIS and what you do?
I’m currently director of development at St. John’s College, a small, classical liberal arts school in Annapolis, MD (we also have a campus in Sante Fe, NM). I got my MLIS at Dominican University (‘12).
Q2: Now can you tell us how You personally got into doing this type of work?
I’ve been on a bit of a wandering journey since completing my MLIS. During library school, I worked full time at a nonprofit in Chicago (Mercy Home for Boys and Girls) where I ran in the in-house learning center. The center was essentially a small library and study space that the young men in the home used to work with tutors, finish their homework, and check out books. I thought I wanted to be a public librarian. As school went on, I found myself more interested in management, and the different opportunities available through academic and special librarianship. I was also confronted with the reality of needing a salary that could support my student loan debt. While job hunting, I took a full-time contracting gig as a research analyst with an investment bank — basically working reference requests for bankers. Not the most fulfilling work, but I was getting paid, broadening my skillset and had the flexibility to travel to conferences and network. My experience in nonprofits, and now business reference, lined me up nicely for a role at Candid, formerly known as Foundation Center, where I worked for just over five years, through a range of roles including nonprofit reference support and training, as well as project and people management.
This role also exposed me to opportunities in philanthropy. And so that’s where I am now, gaining direct experience as a fundraiser from both major donor and foundation prospects. It’s not my end goal: I still hope to work my way into a leadership position in a library at some point. But fundraising is essential to leadership in almost any institution, so I see my current opportunity as invaluable experience, filling in an important gap in my resume.
Q3: What makes this a great field for LIS workers and likewise, what do you think makes LIS workers strong candidates for hiring managers in this field?
Successful fundraisers know how to research, make connections, and relate to people. Should sound familiar. It’s not a role for everyone, but it could be a logical pivot for many. Prospect research is, of course, an easy way in for a library worker, and it is a field that includes many, many librarians. For folks who enjoy outreach and making connections, development could be a good fit. And frankly, there are usually an abundance of job opportunities and many of them pay well. Do a quick scan on your local nonprofit job boards and I can almost guarantee you’ll see a handful of development roles.
Q4: What is the best way to get your foot in the door or your first development / prospect research job?
Like any other job, work your networks to see if you have anyone who can give you some inside scoop on the organization or team you want to work with. Obviously, take care with framing your application materials. Let go of the librarian identity and carefully craft your resume and cover letter in a way that explicitly translates your experience and education as a librarian to show how those skills will help you bring success to this ex-library role. Ahead of interviews, familiarize yourself with common prospecting tools. Also, be ready to talk about the mission of the organization you’ll be working for. Fundraising is akin to sales, and your product is your organization. You do have to be prepared (and enthused) to sell your work to your supporters.
Q5: Finally what are some of the most important skills / certifications / etc that LIS folk can do to prepare them? Any last tips?
There’s plenty of free training out there, and I’d absolutely recommend you start with Candid’s suite of free introductory trainings.
There’s always the informational interview–you might work at a library that has a foundation or fundraising team. Ask them about their work! If you volunteer with a local nonprofit, reach out to their development folks.
Finally, before making the switch, you may want to spend some time researching the state of philanthropy. Like I said above, it’s a major industry, and it’s also a practice with a long, complicated history. Personally, I believe there is an important role for responsible private philanthropy to play in our world. But it is still a field fraught by significant issues relating to power, oppression, and colonialism. It’s also a field overwhelmingly white and male. Just things to consider.
Here are a few recent books with ranging perspectives:
Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas
Giving Done Right by Phil Buchanan
Decolonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva
Kate Tkacik (she/her) is Director of Development at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD. Kate has a decade of experience in nonprofits and special libraries, helping connect people with resources and one another. Kate earned her MLIS from Dominican University, and her MA/BA from St. Bonaventure University.
Views expressed are those of the interviewee and not INALJ or their employer. Photo provided by the interviewee and permission granted to use it for this interview.
Updated 6/16/2020 : changed the “and” in the title to “&” for consistency across the interview series