Musicology at Kaufman Music Center (feat. Brooke Bryant)
Alumni Aloud Episode 62
Brooke Bryant received her PhD from the Graduate Center’s Musicology Program. She is now Director of Development at the Kaufman Music Center.
In this episode of Alumni Aloud, Brooke talks to us about what it means to work in development, the skillsets graduates have that can help them pivot into the field, and what some of the best practices are for activating your network.
VOICE-OVER: This is Alumni Aloud, a podcast by graduate students for graduate students. In each episode we talk with a GC graduate about their career path, the ins and outs of their current position, and the career advice they have for students. This series is sponsored by the Graduate Center’s Office of Career Planning & Professional Development.
SARAH HILDEBRAND, HOST: I’m Sarah Hildebrand. I’m a PhD candidate in English at the Graduate Center and a Fellow in the Office of Career Planning & Professional Development. In this episode of Alumni Aloud I interviewed Brooke Bryant who graduated from our PhD program in Musicology and is now the Director of Development at the Kaufman Music Center. She’s going to be talking to us about what it means to work in Development, the skillsets graduates have that can help them pivot into the field, and what some of the best practices are for activating your network.
So, to get us started Brooke, would you mind telling us a little bit about what the Kaufman
Music Center’s mission is and maybe what your role is there?
BROOKE BRYANT, GUEST: Sure, absolutely. And thank you Sarah for having me. It’s so great to meet you and so great to connect with grad students from the Grad Center. So Kaufman Music Center is a music presentation and education organization on the Upper West Side. We reach about 75,000 people each year through out concert hall Morgan Hall. As many people know, it offers a concert season of over 200 concerts featuring musicians from around the world who are really at the top of their game. And then we have several music education programs that serve about 4,000 students a year and what’s really interesting is that we serve students of all ages and music levels. So it ranges from two and a half year-olds who come to do classes with their parents to eighty-seven year-olds who love to play jazz and want to play in a jazz ensemble or want to keep playing piano in a chamber music ensemble to students who are really on a pretty professional music track. Having studied Musicology, I’m also a professional singer. So it’s really amazing to work at Kaufman because it brings together my love of Development and non-profit administration with my love of music. So it’s a really great place to have landed and I feel really lucky that it’s my professional calling.
HILDEBRAND: What got you interested in the field of Development? How did you make that switch from Musicology to nonprofits?
BRYANT: Great question. And to be candid, necessity and economic necessity was part of it. So I finished my, deposited my dissertation in 2009. So I was applying for jobs in 2008 and 2009. And I empathize with people who are doing that right now because I think a lot of the challenges that people are facing on the job market in COVID really echo the economic crisis of 2008, because at that time when the economy crashed, the academic job market really changed. You know, this is a podcast in itself, but as grad students know, the academic job market has been changing for decades, tenure-track positions are getting replaced by adjunct labor, it’s very very challenging to… there are more people on the job market than positions. So that was compounded in 2008, 2009 with the economic crisis when there were hiring freezes. So I applied to 50 or 60 Musicology jobs. I got 3 calls for more materials and no interviews. And so, at the time, I was adjuncting and teaching at three different places. I live in Brooklyn. I was teaching at College of Staten Island and Manhattan College at Riverdale, sometimes on the same day. And so, I really saw that writing on the wall, that it was kind of do this for a few more years while I continue to bolster my resume and while the job market recovers or look at what skillsets I have and see if I can do something else.
I’d been really lucky to have done some grant writing both for my own research and for a small, independent nonprofit while I was in school at the Grad Center. And as I was thinking about alternative career paths, realized that fundraising was something that people could get fulltime jobs doing, with benefits. And so I was really lucky in that I was able to transition into a fulltime grant writing job right after I finished. So my fellowship ended in August of 2009 and I started a new job in August of 2009 in grant writing, made that switch. Honestly, initially I thought it would be a temporary thing—something that I could do to actually make a living while I continued to research and write and maybe teach on the side, do some performing. I did that for awhile. But I came to really love the field. You know, my goal going into academia was to be part of an intellectual creative community, and that’s what I do in nonprofit fundraising. I’m not teaching, but I am part of an intellectual creative community on the business side, really finding the resources so that teachers and artists can share their work with the world and the next generation. And so I feel that I did what I set out to do, just in a different form than I thought it would take.
HILDEBRAND: That’s great to hear, because I think a lot of students are making similar transitions to find intellectual communities outside of narrowly defined academia. How did you find that very first job?
BRYANT: So, very similar to applying to academic jobs, I applied to anything I was remotely qualified for. So I looked at a lot of job postings. Fortunately within… in 2008-2009, it was a bad job market year for everyone, including the nonprofit sector. But one thing that people always need is money and so there’s never a shortage of development jobs. There might be certain organizations that aren’t hiring or certain sectors where there are few jobs, but there are never not development jobs because organizations need revenue to exist. And so I looked at as many job descriptions as possible. I looked at where skillsets aligned with my own. I tailored my resume to highlight those skillsets. And then I just applied. I also just did the networking, the talking to people in my college alumni network—less at the Graduate Center and more from the undergraduate level where people were working in the nonprofit sector. Just to do informational interviews to get advice from them as to how to tailor my resume, how to present myself. And then it was just kind of sheer volume of continuing to whittle down, get closer to a resume that spoke to my skillsets and what organizations needed and I was finally able to make that match. But it took awhile and it took many many applications.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, I think that happens for a lot of people, but it’s great that you were able to end up somewhere that you really enjoy now. So, what does it actually mean to work in the field of development?
BRYANT: It can mean many many different things. So one of the great things about development is that there are many different pathways that build on many different skillsets, most of which align with what Graduate Center students are doing. So when I started in the field I was doing grant writing, so I was researching grant making organizations that were primarily foundations and corporations with philanthropic missions, looking at their grant making priorities and how they aligned with the programs of with the organization I worked for, writing proposals for funding, setting up meetings for executive leadership with corporate leaders to see where there were alignments, and then following up with proposals or reports.
So it was a lot of research, heavy writing. So again that aligns very well. There’s also in the development field, a lot of database work. So again for people who have done certain kind of more quantitative work in graduate school there is a lot of database work, kind of research that goes into behind the scenes, nuts and bolts pieces of it. And then there’s also the major gifts or frontend side. So for people who really enjoy forging relationships with people, there are tracks in development where you’re building relationships with major philanthropists and talking to them about how their goals align with the goals of the organization we work for. So one of the things that makes it a really interesting field is that there are so many different directions you can go, everything aligned towards raising the financial resources organizations need to fulfill their missions.
HILDEBRAND: Great, and so, that’s kind of a great overview of what development is and the different skills that are useful for graduate students to have. What does kind of your day-to-day look like? Are days mostly the same or do you do different things?
BRYANT: Great question. So, very different. And my day to day I’ll say looks different now than when I started in the field. So I’ve been doing this for 11 years. I feel very lucky that I’ve had increasingly, progressively more responsibility as I’ve moved on in my career. So, right now I manage a team of 5 people who raise about 3.4 million dollars a year, which is about a third for our organization. We do that through special events, so we organize a big gala and other special events throughout the year, through grants from other corporations and foundations and from individual gifts. So, people we’ve built relationships with, they give directly to the organization.
So I wear a bunch of different hats and every day looks different. Part of my role is management, making sure the people on my team know what they have to do in terms of their responsibilities for our revenue goal, helping to coach and mentor and train them, which is interesting because it aligns with the teaching background, helping to make sure that they’re developing the skills and have the oversight they need to be successful in their roles. There’s also direct interfacing with donors. So I’m the primary person at the organization that works with our Board of Trustees and Executive Director to help set our fundraising strategy and make sure things are aligned there. And sometimes it’s just a lot of troubleshooting. Part of development is relationship management, and where there are relationships, feelings can get hurt and there can be questions. We’re kind of the first round of defense when there are things that are happening in the music world that people see might align with us.
Over the past couple of years there have been conversations about diversity and the lack of diversity in the classical world and donors may have questions about how that impacts our organization. The development staff are the ones who are picking up the phone, listening to the questions, having those dialogues, having to kind of help donors see how the organization is moving along. So, it’s… it’s really a mix. And I’ll say that one thing that is consistent is that no two days ever look the same.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, and you said that you’ve been in this field for 11 years now. Have you noticed any trends in the field? Has it changed at all?
BRYANT: I would say… and again 11 years is a relatively short time given you know kind of overall trends in the nonprofit sector, but I think there’s more and more accountability that I’ve seen in just the 11 years in terms of funders, not just foundations and corporations, they’re very very interested in seeing the impact of organizations. So we’ve had to do more and more work to prove impact through data through metrics, to really show that we’re holding ourselves accountable for stewarding the resources and the investments that donors are making in our work. And so I think it’s been interesting to see how the field has evolved in that way.
One of the other trends that’s really interesting over the past couple of years has been philanthropy kind of contending with its own power structures and becoming a bit more self-aware, especially in conversations this year around race and kind of who has access to power and making decisions. And in philanthropy, it is often traditionally very few people with a lot of money who hold power within organizations because of their ability to give. And it’s been very interesting this year to see philanthropists themselves coming to terms with that and having dialogues about that. Having foundations and grant-makers thinking about how to really engage, rather than being wealthy outsiders who come in to solve a problem, how do they engage with communities and partner in real deep and meaningful ways to make change. And that’s something I’m really excited about and excited to see more of.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, that’s great. There’s almost a social justice component within the field right now with the things that they’re starting to think about. So thinking about your own career journey, how did you move from graduate school into your current position? What other positions did you hold in-between?
BRYANT: Sure, so I’ve held four positions to getting where I am now. The first one was a grant writing position, so pretty straightforward portfolio of grants for foundations and corporations, writing the proposals, submitting reports, doing research to find more funders. Just like we would do in graduate school, looking for grants for our research. I did that for about two years, but as I realized I loved it and wanted to stay in this field, I was looking at what are the other roles that people in leadership positions had. I was always very interested in leadership and what it would take to get into a leadership position. In the united states, for many reasons, tax code, all kinds of things, most of the money that is given through philanthropy is given by individuals. So high net worth individuals are writing checks.
Foundations, government giving, is a very small slice of the pie in comparison to individuals. And so since most of the money that comes to organizations for philanthropy is through individuals, you tend to see most people in leadership roles in development having experience working with individuals and major gifts. And so I saw that as a skillset that I wanted to develop. So I was able to develop some skills in my first role that were applicable in that area.
I joined a professional organization called Women in Development, which is a really great support network where I got some training and mentoring in how my skillsets would be applicable in major gifts and so after two years I moved into a major gifts office for a role at Cooper Union. So it was great to be back in higher education. I did that for a couple years. I was there when Cooper instituted tuition after a hundred years of being a free tuition school, which is very interesting. Again building on development being the ones who are answering the phone and answering questions. That was a very interesting time to be in that seat.
And then, I moved to a major gifts officer role at Hospital for Special Surgery. I took that job because a mentor of mine and someone I really really admired was the chief development officer there and I was excited about having the opportunity to learn from her. That was very different both because it was a big corporate environment, again doing what we were doing which was fundraising for research. So my research background at the Graduate Center was really helpful in understanding how the scientific researchers worked, building relationships with them and with donors.
And then I moved into my role at Kaufman. Most of the work I’ve done there, they were really looking for somebody with major gifts experience to help build out a major gifts program, but having had the background additionally in grants, I was able to oversee that pretty seamlessly. So, picking up different skillsets along the way, looking for roles that would allow me to build on my skills but also kind of move to the next level was the trajectory that I’ve taken.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, that’s great. That’s interesting to hear about. If there are students who are looking to apply to similar roles, are there things that they could do now to make their applications really stand out?
BRYANT: Absolutely. So I would say just first and foremost, like I did, just look at some job descriptions and see what they’re looking for. And then do some real soul searching about your own experiences and what aligns. And I think you’ll find that there’s a lot that aligns. The writing skills that you’re developing, the research skills that you’re developing are very very applicable in grant writing roles. And again people who are in the more quantitative fields, in terms of some of the research roles, database roles that are available in development. And then look at the resume, I mean, I , kind of a job-job resume is going to look very different than an academic CV.
Unfortunately very few people kind of sitting in my seat in hiring are going to care a lot about pages and pages of teaching experience or publications or conference presentations or that kind of things. However, that kind of stuff is applicable, too, it’s just about paring some of the details down and pulling some of the skillsets out. You know, the public speaking skills that you’re building through teaching are very valuable. Through conference presentations, the ability to distill complex information into a very very brief presentations or papers or proposals. All of those are skillsets that are very very helpful in development. So it’s kind of pulling those things out and presenting them in a way where someone looking at the resume can see how they map onto the job description. And I think there are a lot of skills you’re developing that are applicable if you can sort of mine the CV in that way.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, speaking of the different between applying for a faculty position and applying for positions in development, what’s the hiring timeline like? Because I know when we’re applying to faculty positions, it can take a year. What are we looking at for the field of development?
BRYANT: it’s such a good question. It varies. For more senior positions I have seen it take a year. Interestingly enough in my own position that I’m in now, I started conversations in the midsummer of 2015 and I started in January of 2016. But that’s not even the longest timeline I’ve seen for a senior role. For roles that are more junior it can be very quick. A lot of times the roles come up… because again it’s different than a faculty position where someone’s kind of teaching for a year and you figure out what the next year looks like, you often know very well in advance if you’re going to have vacancies and you can plan for it. Development jobs tend to turn over faster. The average tenure in the field is actually just 18 months. Often because, and especially in smaller organizations, there just aren’t opportunities to move up. So people often move up like I did by moving out to another organization. So someone might give their two or four weeks notice, and at a smaller organization with four development positions, you need to fill that position as soon as possible because if you don’t, I mean, revenue is on the line.
And so with that being said, I think, when you’re looking for a job you want to find someone who’s willing to wait for the right person. It’s really about finding the right person for the right seat. So some organizations will wait and they will take that time even if it means the position is sitting open longer. They’ll wait kind of as long as it takes to get the right person. And in academia, too, there’s a big cost at hiring the wrong person who has the wrong skillset or the wrong kind of set of soft skills and emotional intelligence to fulfill the role.
So again, I think the places where you want to get a job are the places that wait for that person. But some places want to kind of snap their fingers and hire immediately. So for a development associate position, it, and again it depends on who’s applying and all of that, but I’ve seen that those will generally take 6-8 weeks to fill. The higher level positions where you’re a grant writer or major gifts officer, those can take 3 or 4 months or sometimes longer. A lot of it just depends though on who’s coming through the door and how much patience the organization has to find the right person for the right seat. Because again, these development cycles are pretty grueling. There’s work to be done all the time. So the longer a seat stays vacant the more of an impact it can have on the revenue.
HILDEBRAND: Have you been in charge of hiring processes before?
BRYANT: Yes. So my current role, I’m in charge of hiring. Everybody on my team currently I’ve hired and having been there about 5 years now, we’ve had a few iterations of that cycle of people coming in and going. So that’s definitely been a skillset that I’ve had to build and am still building.
HILDEBRAND: What does your ideal candidate look like?
BRYANT: So, it’s a great question. And I’m not going to speak to skillset quite as much because the different roles, as we’ve discussed, there are so many different roles and different skillsets in development, but I will say that the person, they don’t have to hold all the skillsets for the role, and I would encourage you to apply to things even if you don’t check every box on the job description. But they would hold a great deal of the skillsets required for the role, combined with a keen interest in learning, a sense of humility to kind of know what they don’t know, and a willingness of receptiveness to be coached or to learn, and patience with themselves to learn what they don’t know. And then they need to be someone who works hard, is super organized and knows how to get things done.
In development, you are juggling a lot of balls. This is another skill I think grad students especially at the Grad Center possess in spades. The ability that students at the Grad Center have to teach and adjunct at multiple places and hold multiple jobs and while you’re taking coursework and while you’re working on your dissertation proposal. The ability to be organized about all that stuff and still just work forward is something that’s applicable to any role. And finally just nice people with good people skills. Because again, development is about relationships. We’re the ones answering the phone to talk to people when they have questions or concerns. So great judgment in those situations, kind of knowing again when they don’t know how to answer a question and knowing who to ask for more input. And then just again emotional intelligence to really connect with people, not only externally, but on your team.
HILDEBRAND: I love your advice to just apply to jobs. If you have the majority of skills, then go for it, it’s worth a shot. And I think you also just did a really nice job of pointing to all the transferable skills our students have. It’s not only about what your research was, it’s about all the skills you’ve learned in the process of doing that research that are going to really help you get a job.
BRYANT: Absolutely. And again I can’t speak enough about organization, project management, and time management. Those are skills in development, in the nonprofit world in general on the admin side, that are so valued. Because organizations big or small, whether it’s a hospital that’s you know operating at the billion dollar a year or a 11 million dollar a year arts nonprofit, because funds need to be redirected in the mission and the work, the administrative structures are never going to be as robust as they need to be. So people are always wearing more hats than just one. So the ability to juggle things, muscle things through and get them done with a smile and while maintaining relationships is one of the hardest things to assess and apply for. So you all have those skills in spades, you should shout it from the rooftops.
HILDEBRAND: Great. So even if you don’t have a background in development yet, you can still pivot there using your graduate level studies.
BRYANT: Yes, absolutely. And I will say, well, it’s a fun story here—one of the superstars on my team who’s the manager of institutional giving is a Grad Center alum. I connected with her a few years ago because we were looking for somebody part-time so she ended up… I reached out to someone in the Music department, she connected me with a few different people who were interested in arts admin, and so I hired her on the spot. Mostly because of her interest, her ability to project manage and multitask. She did a phenomenal job. She worked with us for a year. She took a year off to do some heavy teaching and research, but we had a grant writing position come open and we hired her to come back. She’s done a phenomenal job. You know, she never had a fulltime position in development before. She’d only don’t a little bit of grant writing. But because of those research skills and really those project management skills, she’s been able to dive in and she’s don’t a phenomenal job. So yeah, I’d say just go for it.
HILDEBRAND: Great. And there was one other thing I noticed about your background from your LinkedIn profile, which is that you’ve done a lot of volunteer work. And I was kind of wondering if you could talk to us a little bit more about that… if you kind of developed any of these skills through your volunteer work or how that’s affected your career.
BRYANT: That’s a great question. And I would say that volunteer work is an absolutely wonderful way to get experience. It’s been key for me. Not only in gaining skills, but in activating networks, because networking is very important and maybe we can talk about that as well. But through, I got very involved in the college alumni club for my undergraduate institution. Very involved in Women in Development as I mentioned. So through those volunteer opportunities I got experience with board management, membership recruitment, event management, so even though I wasn’t doing those things in my fulltime job, I was still developing skillsets. But I think equally valuable is the networking potential. Because in doing these volunteer roles, I got to know people who worked in different organizations. I would say my last three positions really came about through people I got to know through these organizations where they got to see me at work. They also got to know me as a person and that really helped my resume stand out from the pile when people they knew were interviewing. So being able to build that network, have people who see you and know you and call on you when opportunities arise is invaluable.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, I’d love to talk about that networking component even more because networking if probably one of the most important skills that graduate students should be working on and practicing. But can you even explain a little bit about what does it mean to network and what are some tips to do it successfully?
BRYANT: To me, networking is building genuine relationships with people with whom you have a shared interest and kind of concern about some area of the world. Whether it’s your college alumni network or whether it’s you know a community-based organization where everybody is working towards the same goal. I found that I built my most valuable relationships through those opportunities because I’m working with people towards a common goal. It allows people… you really get to know who people are, what their interests are, where they’re connected, and you connect on a real personal level. So that when an opportunity arises, it’s not putting someone out or it’s not really awkward to ask for help or a favor or for a connection. I’ve read that kind of the most valuable professional connections that can be made are people that aren’t necessarily your friends, but they are people you come to know socially as colleagues or those second or third degree connections. And so if you can build genuine relationships with people where you have a shared interest, when those opportunities arise, it’s very comfortable and easy to reach out for advice or connections or things like that.
HILDEBRAND: And do you have any tips for how to best go about networking?
BRYANT: So, for me networking has worked best—again I’m a doer—so I volunteer for things and I get to know people organically. But that’s not the only way to network and I realize time is limited. So I would say, think about what those areas are in your life that you have overlapping interests with people who can help you. And reach out. But reach out to people who could help you in ways that are polite and actionable. So people are genuinely willing if you don’t know them if you’re part of a network to take the time for an informational interview to tell you a little bit more about what they do. I know if somebody from the Graduate Center ever called me and said, “Hey, you know, could I talk to you for 20 or 30 minutes about development?” if I didn’t know them, I’d be happy to connect with them. There may not be a job opportunity open, but it’s a great way to connect with someone and they may remember you in two months when there is.
I would say though, be polite about it. Be straightforward about what you want. Be straightforward about how much time you want to spend. Keep it easy, 20-30 minutes is all I need. Come prepared with questions that you want to ask so you are informed and you can have a thoughtful conversation, which again, anyone at the Grad Center knows how to do. And then follow up and say thank you. A thank you note goes a long long way towards helping someone remember you and sustain a relationship with you. So if you can practice those best practices in terms of politeness it goes a long way towards opening doors, helping people remember you for the long-term.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, that’s definitely an important skill and those are helpful tips for our students who are just getting into networking. I think that’s something we might let slide a bit in our earlier years of graduate school, and then we realize when we’re looking for jobs that it’s really important to get to know who all is actually out there.
BRYANT: Yeah, and I think doing it early is such an important key. You know, people who are in their first year, it just it doesn’t hurt. Even for people in your field if you are looking to stay in academia, it’s never too early to forge those relationships. To find out what people do, to find out what cultures are like at various institutions. It’s an invaluable thing to build and something you should definitely carve out time to nurture.
HILDEBRAND: Yeah, especially if you’re in that career exploration phase. It’s a good way to find out about new careers—what are people doing with my particular degree once they graduate?
HILDEBRAND: But okay, I don’t want to take up too much of your time and I really appreciate all the advice and all the stories you’ve shared with us. Usually as a final question we like to ask you what advice you might have for our current graduate students, whether they’re in Musicology or graduate school at-large. Do you have any tips for things they should be doing now or anything you wish you’d known at the time?
BRYANT: Such a good question. I would, I mean again, this is more of, probably everyone is doing this and I was just in a cloud and not paying attention to it, but I would say just pay attention to the job market and look at it with a realistic eye, which I’m sure everyone is already doing. But the academic job market is changing so much. I’m not the only one from my cohort at the Musicology program that has gone into a different field. Kind of a lot of us have by necessity but also just in opening our eyes to what’s possible to do with a PhD and being genuinely interested in things.
I know, for me, I went into the PhD right after undergrad with no break and I may have gone in a different direction if I had a break. But I would just look at the job market with open eyes and even if you are set on that academic track, on the tenure track job, knowing that the job market is changing so much, I think you’re going to do yourself a disservice if you don’t at least explore some alternative career paths early on. I wish I had done that. I really didn’t do it seriously until the very end.
To that end, many people at the Graduate Center and elsewhere are working multiple jobs. I know I was; I know all of my friends were. Think about whether you could get some experience in something that would be transferrable in another area. Again, as I mentioned, I had the opportunity to do some grant writing for a small grassroots music organization. That was the thing that helped me pivot because I could show concrete examples of what I’m doing. You know, there are so many organizations that need volunteer work that would just be delighted to have volunteer grant writing services even if you can’t get a job in it. You know, think about whether you can build some of those skillsets while you’re in academia, even if you’re staying they will service you very well.
And I think, building your network as we were discussing. You know, take time to speak with people who have alternative career paths. See what’s out there. Test the waters. Maybe do something part-time at a nonprofit for a semester. See if you like it. You may find that it is a better fit for you than academia. I think you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t explore a little bit. Because if you do that, and you end up deciding to go a different way, you will be so competitive with your PhD and with that experience to do a whole host of things.
HILDEBRAND: I think that’s great advice and thank you so much for sharing everything today with us. It was really interesting to hear more about your work. And I just want to thank you for coming in!
BRYANT: Yeah, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure. And again, and I’ll put this out there, if anyone is interested in development, please feel free to reach out. I’m always happy to have a conversation or you know connect you with people who might be able to help. Again, the Grad Center network is a great network—you should all take advantage of it!
HILDEBRAND: Thanks again to Brooke for coming in and giving us lots of tips about starting a career in Development. The Office of Career Planning & Professional Development can help you decide what career path is right for you. Find a list of our upcoming events or make an appointment to speak with one of our career advisors at cuny.is/careerplan. You can also follow us on Twitter @careerplanGC. Thanks for listening.
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