My Charity Career – Grainne O’Hogan

Monthly career interview with professionals in the not-for-profit sector

My Charity Career

What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?

I have been Director of Development with Social Entrepreneurs Ireland since March of this year having joined SEI as Development Manager in April 2019.

How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

I graduated with a languages degree from the University of Edinburgh at the height of the last recession. I returned to Dublin and began temping at a fast-growing field marketing company. Luckily for me, after a month there I was hired permanently as an account executive working on national FMCG accounts. This was a steep learning curve for me coming from an arts background, but I loved the challenge and the business environment.

Soon after, I joined a semi-professional choir in Dublin and began acting as their manager in a voluntary capacity, alongside my day job. After a year or so, it became clear to me that I wanted to apply my business development skills in other sectors, which led to a Masters in Arts Management and Cultural Policy at University College Dublin. I then spent half a decade working in development and production roles with Tenebrae Choir, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Choral Scholars of University College Dublin.  I loved the variety and creativity of the music business, and how passionate and committed my colleagues were to their work even though a career in this industry can be full of risk and uncertainty.

In many ways this made my move to Social Entrepreneurs Ireland a natural next step – working with another community of inspiring, creative people who are committed to taking action despite the journey being risky and lonely.

What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland believes that people can solve Ireland’s social problems. As a result, the SEI community is made up of some of the country’s most inspiring, dedicated and socially-minded individuals. Getting to work collaboratively with people from across all aspects of this community – social entrepreneurs, supporters, the SEI team and our board of directors – fills my days with interesting, ambitious conversations where I am inspired, challenged to think bigger, and always learning.

And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

Many people would rightly say that fundraising is one of the most challenging aspects of any organisation, and the current economic climate adds more truth to that statement. However, SEI has for many years lived by the motto that ‘impact drives income’ – and the impact of our community over the last fifteen years has attracted an incredible network of visionary individuals, businesses and charitable foundations to be part of SEI’s work.  Our relationship-based funding model allows time for our supporters to build deep understanding of our community and create significant and lasting impact across Ireland by engaging not only as funders but as contributors, advisors and active participants in our work. Our supporters walk the path with us – that has never been more true than over the last six months – and face these challenges side by side with us on the journey.

How do you relax?

While a few things are always part of my day – playing music, walking, cooking, listening to podcasts – I firmly believe in the saying ‘a change is as good as a rest’!  I am always looking for something new to occupy and challenge my mind. At the moment I’m taking an online French language course at the Alliance Française.

What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

The SEI organisational values are Visionary, Authentic, and Impact-driven – so we aspire to emulate those as a team. In addition I think the important skills and traits for any development professional are: curious, resilient, supportive, problem-solver, reflective, collaborative and active listener.

What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

One of the things that amazes me about the not for profit sector is that almost no two people ever have the same experience or career path. At SEI I have colleagues that have backgrounds in the arts, teaching, finance, sales, advocacy – this diversity brings together an incredible pool of knowledge and experience and directs it towards a shared vision.

If you are looking for a career change into this field, don’t underestimate the value of your transferable skills, especially sales experience as building a sustainable revenue model is crucial; charitable organisations are businesses too. It’s always good to bear in mind that not for profits very often run on a leaner team relative to the impact they deliver, so roles tend to be much broader in remit and therefore strong teamwork is essential!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Years ago a good friend said to me ‘How you spend your days is how you live your life’. It’s a reminder that tomorrow is never guaranteed – so spend today with good people, do good work, and have fun along the way.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

One of the most memorable moments of my career was arriving at Carnegie Hall in New York on St Patrick’s Weekend 2019 for the Choral Scholars’ debut performance there. After more than a year of fundraising, planning and co-ordinating the tour arrangements for an ensemble of 35 singers, musicians and crew – seeing this group of young singers finally take to that legendary stage for a sold-out concert was a very emotional moment, not only for me but for the hundreds of diaspora, Irish-Americans and New Yorkers who came to hear them that night.

What are your career aspirations?

I feel very privileged to have been entrusted with a leadership role at SEI earlier this year. I’m energised and focussed on developing my skills in this role to support our fantastic Development team to increase SEI’s impact by growing our partnerships and income over the coming years. I would love to do more professional qualifications and further study in the future as well. At 75 years old, my grandaunt graduated from UCD with a PhD, having left school at the age of 12. She is the epitome of lifelong learning and a great example that everything is possible!

If you’re a professional who works in the not-for-profit sector and you’re interested in taking part in the ‘My Charity Career’ interview series, please get in touch by emailing Laura, our Head of Recruitment at [email protected]   We’d love to hear from you!

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