Member Spotlight: Melissa Malebranche

Melissa Malebranche

Name: Melissa Malebranche
Institution: New York University
Position: Donor Relations and Stewardship Manager
ADRP member for 6 years

How long have you worked in donor relations/stewardship and how did you get involved in this profession?

I’ve been in development/donor relations for about 15 years or so. I fell into it after being a paralegal for 10 years. I was burnt out and looking for something, anything, new. A friend of mine, who is a speech therapist, was working at a school for children with speech and language delays and suggested I speak with the Director of Development. I remember asking her what they did, and her response was “I don’t know, but she plans all the parties.” I met with the director and had a fantastic interview that felt more like a conversation with a friend. By the time I had gotten to my car, she was calling me with an offer as a Development Assistant, which I accepted on the spot. I worked with that organization for five years. We were a tiny shop! Just the director and me. It was an excellent opportunity to learn everything about fundraising, events, and stewardship. 

Could you tell us something about the organization you work for?

Founded in 1831, NYU is the largest private University in the United States, with 21 colleges, schools, institutes, and programs and a current enrollment of approximately 58,000 students (Grad, Undergrad, and Noncredit). This year we received more than 100K applications for first-year undergraduate admissions. 

What do you like most about being a member of the ADRP?

I appreciate the collaboration and the sharing of ideas. It’s gratifying to know that many of us face the same challenges and frustrations. I’ve benefited from learning how other institutions navigate those challenges. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend both international and regional conferences, which has been an excellent opportunity to connect with other stewardship professionals. 

What is your greatest donor relations/stewardship achievement? 

I hope my greatest career achievement is ahead of me! But before transitioning to the Donor Relations and Stewardship team at NYU, I was the stewardship liaison for the School of Professional Studies. I did a full fund inventory for SPS—this meant going through old files, finding gift agreements, etc., determining which fund belonged where. Doing this made sure we were spending all of our funds and reconnecting with past donors.

How big a role does the use of social media play in your work?

Not large enough. Currently, I focus on scholarship reporting. Getting students to complete profiles is challenging. I’d love to meet them where they are—Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Snapchat. I was told by my stepdaughter (in that crushing tone that only a 19-year-old can muster), “Facebook is for you, dad, and mom.” Eventually, I hope that social media will play a larger part in what we do. 

What is the most important professional goal you are currently pursuing, i.e., attaining a degree, preparing to give a presentation, launching an initiative at work or in your community, etc.?

I’ve recently started working on my Master’s in Professional Writing, which I am very excited (and nervous) about. 

What has been your biggest work challenge during COVID-19?

Merely working from home has been a challenge for me. I much prefer to be in the office with my colleagues and am looking forward to getting back, whenever that is. 

Is there a resource, i.e., book, blog, website, etc., that you would recommend to other ADRP members?

Who doesn’t love Lynne Wester? Her books and website have always been great resources, but she has been “hosting” Facebook lives that I have found helpful during the pandemic. Penelope Burk’s books and blog have also been an excellent place to turn when looking for some inspiration.

What is the best piece of professional advice you have ever received?

To ask for what you want, whatever it is—a raise, a promotion, a title change, etc. Opportunities don’t often fall in your lap—that on-the-spot job offer I received was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. I feel like you only get one of those. We all know what we deserve; it’s up to us to make it happen. 

Are there any particular stories, insights, etc., from your experiences in donor relations and stewardship that you would like to share with our colleagues?

I learn something new – either about my institution or about stewardship – every day. Having an open mind and being willing to stop doing things the way they have always been done has served me well. Also, being patient is key to being a donor relations professional. Many of the organizations or institutions we work for have been around for much longer than the idea of stewardship. The wheels of change can be slow. 

Back to the February 2021 Hub