Saturday, January 17, 2015 - 1:44am
posted by
Maureen O'Brien
Development Director
Musical Instrument Museum

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Paris, France to attend the 5ème conférence de fundraising pour le secteur culturel (5th conference on fundraising for the cultural sector) put on by the  Association Française des Fundraisers (French Association of Fundraisers). I was able to participate thanks in part to professional development grants from  Arizona Commission on the Arts and Sigma Alpha Iota. When exploring your own professional development, I encourage you to think outside the box when it comes to identifying opportunities as well as ways to fund your experience. 

This was my first return visit to France since studying abroad in Montpellier twelve years ago. It was wonderful to again be immersed in French culture and language. I rented a little apartment in the Canal Saint Martin neighborhood through Airbnb and pretended for one week that I was “une vraie Française.”

As the development director at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), which celebrates the music of every country in the world, my team has a platform to fundraise internationally. I was interested to attend this conference to get a sense for the differences in philanthropic culture in Europe, to build awareness for the museum, to make connections, and to explore opportunities for me to present at future conferences.

As a representative of an organization with a global mission, it is important that I am a citizen of the world who is well-traveled, well-informed, and can converse with absolutely anyone. I already had some knowledge of the differences between philanthropic culture in Europe and the US but I walked away with a much more nuanced understanding. In Europe, the government has traditionally been the primary supporter of culture, a model very different to ours in the US. However, the European model is becoming unsustainable as government sources are reducing their funding, and organizations are turning to corporate, foundation, and individual sources for support. With such big differences in our funding models and cultures, it was fascinating to participate in discussions where I could offer a different perspective as the only American in attendance. I was frequently called upon or volunteered my perspectives during sessions and was even asked to be interviewed on camera about my experience.

The conference took place November 26 & 27 (yes, Thanksgiving!) and featured a series of plenary sessions, workshops, master classes, and networking opportunities. Sébastien Soriano, a representative of the French Ministry of Culture, kicked off the conference. I then participated in an interesting master class entitled, “Mon coeur est français, ma collecte… internationale!” (“My heart is French, my fundraising… international!”) led by Anne-Christine Robine from international fundraising and communications agency Faircom International. Ms. Robine was born and raised in France but has spent significant time in the US, thus making her a perfect bridge for European clients establishing business in the US. Our group enjoyed several hours of lively, interactive conversation and I walked away with some interesting ideas about how MIM might test some international appeals or campaigns.

I also enjoyed a presentation by Alice Black, Deputy Director of the Design Museum in London. I found many parallels between the history and development of the design museum and of the MIM. Both museums were born of the vision of a single founder, underwent large-scale construction projects, and are now looking to build self-sustaining economic models. In fact, I enjoyed Ms. Black’s presentation so much that I asked her to coffee the following day and we met up at Centre Pompidou to continue to exchange ideas about the parallels between her journey and mine.

I also attended the lone session presented in english by Frankie Airey of Philanthropy Squared, which explored the need for fundraisers to think and act as leaders within their organizations. We discussed the need to position ourselves differently depending on our audience, which ranges from board members to directors to funders and had some great conversations about the challenges and privileges of high-level fundraising roles.

The final workshop I attended was led by Pauline Rouer of the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe, and Thibault de Saint Simon of insurance company Aviva France and focused on building partnerships with businesses. Ms. Rouer and Mr. Thibault encouraged the group to think creatively when it comes to working together to construct lasting relationships. Several attendees in the session voiced impassioned concern that businesses not overstep their bounds in terms of influencing the artistic product, a concern I have not heard here in the US. 

During my free time, I had the opportunity to visit the Musée de la Musique at Cité de la Musique, one of MIM’s early institutional partners, and visit with its Director, Eric de Visscher. I also wandered the streets of Paris admiring its beautiful architecture, enjoyed its unparalleled food and drink, people watched, and pursued my hobby of tango dancing in the evenings.

I returned to the states brimming with ideas about how MIM might proceed with testing some international fund raising, with 15+ new professional contacts with whom I plan to remain in touch, with a network of new ambassadors for MIM, with improved French language skills including technical vocabulary around fundraising, and with a sense of empowerment that comes with traveling solo and embarking on great adventures!

To cap it all off, after the conference, I spoke with the organizer and let her know that I would be interested in presenting at future conferences. I have already received a positive response and look forward to the possibility of participating in the next conference as a presenter. A bientôt!

Maureen O’Brien, CFRE, is the Development Director at the Musical Instrument Museum and has also held many other positions in the nonprofit sector. O’Brien graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Wisconsin?Madison, earning a double major in music and French. She is a faculty associate with Arizona State University’s Lodestar Center, a graduate of Valley Leadership’s Class 33, and volunteers as a board member for Arizona Citizens for the Arts, vice chair of Valley Leadership Class 36, and cofounder of Classical Revolution PHX.

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