Lisa Alpert, Vice President of Development and Programming, Green-Wood Cemetery
As the Vice President of Development and Programming at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Lisa Alpert has played a pivotal role in helping to establish Green-Wood as a cultural institution and in building financial support for its future. In her previous positions, Lisa served as the Director of Development at The Municipal Art Society (2005-2010) and the Finance Director for a 2005 political campaign in New York City. She has also held key management positions at Doubleday, Scholastic, and Random House, where she served as Vice President and Publisher of the Random House Reference Group. A graduate of the College of William & Mary, Lisa received her MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.
WID: The Green-Wood Historic Fund is unique in that it falls into several different categories: a national historical landmark, an arboretum/public park, and a cultural institution. What are some of the challenges and opportunities you face in fundraising for an organization with such diverse priorities?
Lisa: Channeling Walt Whitman, we like to say, “We are large, we contain multitudes.” That can be both a blessing and a curse. Diverse programs help us appeal to a wide array of donors. But it can be tough when trying to present a full picture of the institution. We don’t exactly fit into any checkboxes. At the same time, we believe that cemeteries – and there are tens of thousands in the United States – are extraordinary resources in any community. Each one, especially if it dates back to the 19th century, is a unique combination of history, greenspace, sculpture, and architecture.
WID: How do you continue to engage your donors during a time when there is a mainstream focus on supporting organizations that assist vulnerable populations or healthcare, and what advice can you offer fundraisers in similar situations?
Lisa: Focus on what matters to people now. It might surprise you. While Green-Wood offers cultural programming, environmental initiatives, school programs, workforce development, and more (in addition to being an active cemetery, and, yes – you can still be buried at Green-Wood), we found most people were coming this year for the tranquility. Last spring, when the pandemic first hit, we announced we would open all four of our gates (and pay to staff them) and keep them open every night until 7pm. People needed to get out of their apartments, but also stay safe. The rolling hills and the winding pathways of Green-Wood were the perfect balm. In a normal year, we get about 330,000 visitors. This year, we’ve had 575,000. Good thing we have 478 acres. Interestingly, we also asked for volunteers to become “social distancing ambassadors” and we’ve had over 300 people sign up. Now they’re known simply as Green-Wood Ambassadors, and we engage with them every week with information about Green-Wood’s history and horticulture.
WID: How has WID been helpful to you as you have progressed throughout your career?
Lisa: The very first time I went to a WID lunch (back in 2005), I had just finished two years of political fundraising and wanted to get into nonprofit fundraising. I wasn’t sure if the skill set would translate. I went to the WID lunch. The women were incredibly warm and friendly. At the end of lunch, I mentioned to the woman sitting next to me that I would really like to work at the Municipal Art Society. She said, “Get out your pen, I’ll tell you who to call.” Before long, I was working there. The connections and the network are invaluable. I’ve been at Green-Wood now for ten years, and I’ve enjoyed WID lunches and programs throughout.
WID: What virtual WID events have you most enjoyed or are looking forward to this year?
Lisa: I truly love I-to-I. In one night, you are instantly connected to about eight other women through conversations on a theme you all care about. And the conversations are so candid and helpful. My secret strategy is to volunteer to take notes. When I email them to the group the next day, I’ve got a new group of advisors and friends. In any job, especially a new one, you need to be able to reach out to someone and say, “Help! I have no idea how to (fill in the blank) and I can’t admit it to my boss or staff. Can I get your advice?” Women who work in development are the best. WID members are an amazingly supportive group of professionals.