Before fundraising, you were a classical concert pianist. What drove your passion for piano?
I started piano lessons at the age of four, but soon asked my mother for permission to quit. Her answer was “yes, when you are 99.” Things changed when I won my first trophy at the age of eight, which spurred my competitive spirit. I went on to earn a bachelor’s in piano performance at Florida State University and a master’s in piano performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM). A big driver of my passion was being part of a community that shared my love for the arts. I also enjoyed giving a life and a story to the notes on the page.
How and why did you transition from a career as a pianist to fundraising?
While at CIM, I realized I needed to supplement my performance curriculum with real-world arts management skills. I created a directed study course with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, and my first project was planning their annual fundraising event. This was my first experience in matching the needs of the organization with the interests of donors and seeing the immediate impact of that work. We auctioned off measures of a commissioned piece of music, so you saw the piece come together with every dollar raised.
Although I loved performing and teaching, I knew I wanted to make a difference on a broader scale, so I pursued an MBA knowing that it would give me the skills and credibility to step into high-level fundraising roles. And I was right–within six weeks of graduation, I accepted a role at an NYC-based nonprofit called OPERA America.
How does fundraising for a business school compare to working with arts organizations?
Across all organizations, fundraisers are storytellers and match-makers. We learn as much as we can about the organization: its mission and needs; the people it serves; and the impact of its programs. We then share that story and vision with members of the community in a way that resonates with what they hope to accomplish through their giving.
In my experience, the business community is more direct in navigating giving conversations and asks us to articulate a clear return on their investments. Our donors are eager to understand the management of their investments alongside the demonstrated impact for our students, the broader Stern community, and the School.
What do you find the most rewarding part of fundraising for Stern?
My favorite thing is hearing all of the stories. Alumni who speak about faculty members who changed their lives, Washington Square Park in the 80’s and 90’s, or the classmates who later became their husbands and wives. Students who share how a scholarship made it possible to attend a School like Stern and how the vote of confidence that comes from an investment in their future drives them to make the most of every moment.
Our office is eager to bring donors and scholars together to share experiences across generations and encourage the cycle of giving back when you are able. Through the pandemic, we hosted virtual meetings, where student and alumni scholars had an opportunity to meet one another, say thank you to their donors, and seek professional and personal advice from leaders in the alumni community. It is an honor to be a part of these moments, where rather than saying to our donors that they have changed lives, we can show them through our students.
Stern alumni have been generous with their time and in paying it forward. What is it like working with the Stern community?
This is a community that is inspired to do well and do good. I hear time and again from donors who were scholarship recipients that they wish to offer the same opportunity to the next generation. And, those who did not receive financial aid, sometimes report struggling to complete the degree and wanting to offer a sense of relief to students in a similar position.
Our current students regularly express their interest in returning the generosity and goodwill of those who have given to Stern. When sharing professional goals with our office and our donors, students often mention a desire to uplift communities, change lives, address some of society’s greatest challenges, and use business as a force for good.
Fun Facts about Amanda Parker:
- Studied piano performance at Florida State University, and then her Master’s at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and then earned her MBA at CIMBA in Italy.
- Amanda has been baking her way through the episodes of the Great British Bake Off
- Reads each and every thank you letter (often hundreds of them) from scholarship students each year