ONEplace Blog

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Coffee with Alice Kemerling

This month we sat down with Alice Kemerling, Assistant Director of the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival as she shares about her career and the people who inspire her.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

I came to Kalamazoo in 1976 to work in Admissions at Kalamazoo College. In the 1980s and early 90s I had the great privilege of staying home with our kids and did a lot of volunteering, including service on the KVCC Foundation Board. KVCC was just embarking on a $20 million campaign to build a new public museum when their Director of Development resigned. I was hired, and went feet-first into the frying pan. The campaign was intense and exhilarating, and I loved every minute of it (except for the agonizing process of ensuring that 11,000 donor names would appear correctly on the wall of the new museum). I continued with the KVCC Foundation for about 5 years after the end of the campaign, working with the KVCC Foundation Board to develop strategies for securing support for scholarships and college initiatives from individuals, corporations and foundations.

I worked for The Owen Group from 1998 – 2000, during which I consulted on capital campaigns for the Humane Society, Markin Glen Park, and Ministry with Community. I also helped with a feasibility study for the United Soccer Alliance. In late 2000, I was hired as Director of Development for the Gilmore Keyboard Festival. I did not know at the time that this would turn out to be my dream job, but it is that and more. I cannot believe that 14 years have gone by so quickly. The first 12 were spent building up the annual fund, corporate sponsorships, foundation support and starting an endowment, and since 2012 I have also helped manage the organization as Assistant Director.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

I love the friendliness, creativity and collaborative spirit of its residents and organizations.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

Be friendly, be compassionate, listen well, collaborate, and strive for the highest quality.

Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?

Blaine Lam, who taught me in 1992 that there are limitless opportunities if you seek help from others and don’t sweat the small stuff. I still quote him regularly when I or someone with whom I am working gets bogged down by details: “Don’t worry. It’s a speck on a moving horse.”

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

I learn at every meeting with our Board of Trustees. They are amazing. I also learn every time I make a mistake. On a practical level, Penelope Burke’s seminars have been inspirational.

What’s an average day like for you at work?

My average day is exciting, challenging, rewarding, and occasionally tedious (think database and budgets).

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

I’m concerned about timely communication with donors and endowment building.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

I am not so good at this, but our Development Officer is, so I rely on her advice and information. I also rely on e-news from Partnership for Philanthropic Planning, the Independent Sector and Artserve.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

Work with people you admire and for causes you can represent proudly and passionately.

What do you geek (i.e., what hobby or outside interests do you really like)?

Volunteering, going to the farmers market and cooking.

Anything else?

We are so lucky to have ONEplace. My colleagues in other cities are amazed at all that is made available to Kalamazoo non-profits – free of charge. It is one more testimony to the community spirit that is ingrained in our local culture.

Note: Alice Kemerling and Alisa Carrel (Development Officer at The Gilmore) will present Securing Corporate Sponsorships at ONEplace on July 30

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