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40 Under 40 - Class of 2019
Business Observer Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 7 months ago

Heather Darling, 29

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Development officer, The Dali Museum
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

As a development officer at St. Petersburg’s renowned Dali Museum, Heather Darling has a job that flies in the face of logic: getting people to hand over money for nothing in return.

Well, maybe not “nothing” in the strictest sense of the term, but the return on investment from a charitable gift to a nonprofit arts institution like the Dali Museum is, of course, highly subjective. “People are motivated to give for different reasons,” Darling says. “And I do think they get something in return.”

That “something” could be any number of things, including furthering the region's image as an top arts destination, but it doesn’t make Darling’s job any easier. She says turning a “no” into a “yes” takes finely honed relationship-building skills and a long-term outlook.

“I just keep sharing information with [prospective donors],” she says. “I share stories, tell them about what we accomplished last month or even just today. I make an effort to remember people’s birthdays, remember the sports that their children or grandchildren are involved in. But it can’t come from a shallow place. People can read inauthenticity very easily.”

Darling faces the additional hurdle of being relatively young for someone in her profession. She finished her undergraduate degree at 20, having obtained an associate’s degree while in high school, and her aspirations were sky-high. “When I was in middle school, I was already working on my high school credits,” she says. “I was the first person in my family to go to college.”

In 2013, even though she had already been working in nonprofit fundraising for a few years, Darling decided to go back to school and obtain a master’s degree in nonprofit management. “It was something to put on my resume, so that people would look past my age and see my experience,” she says.

When asked if she has a favorite Dali painting, Darling recoils. “That’s like asking me for my favorite song!” But after a pause, she settles on "Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra," a 1936 work by the surrealist master.

“There’s a lot going on in it,” Darling says, “but it illustrates how in times of war, the arts are one of the first things that suffer. Plus I like the colors — these beautiful pastel colors.”

 

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