Habitat development director to head up fundraising for Cape Fear Museum

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Kitty Yerkes, longtime development director for Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, will take the helm of donor relations at Cape Fear Museum later this month. Photo by Hilary Snow.
Kitty Yerkes, longtime development director for Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, will take the helm of donor relations at Cape Fear Museum later this month. Photo by Hilary Snow.

For Kitty Yerkes, fundraising doesn’t really come down to dollars and cents.

The bottom line, as she sees it, is the story.

After years of telling the story of Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, Yerkes is moving on to a new chapter as donor relations director for Cape Fear Museum.

She’ll wrap up her eight years with Habitat this weekend during the nonprofit’s fundraising event, the Upscale Resale Challenge, which kicks off tonight with a preview event and continues Saturday. Yerkes will assume her new post on May 12, helping to secure money and grants for the museum’s educational programs and exhibits.

“I really love it,” Yerkes said of her work as a development director. “People say, ‘How can you ask people for money all the time?’ But I really love it because when you can provide somebody the opportunity to get connected with something bigger than themselves and see them get excited about, it feels really good. And that’s what fundraising is, really–connecting people to the right cause.”

Yerkes stumbled upon a passion for raising money almost accidentally after her relocating to Wilmington by way of New York City two decades ago.

“I did HR for big law firms in New York City and the trouble was, there was not a job here like that. So, I looked around for the biggest employer and it turns out, it was the hospital so I said, ‘I’ve got to figure out how to get a job at the hospital,'” she recalled.

But when she sat down for an interview, she was told her experience didn’t match the job qualifications.

“They said, ‘Your resume doesn’t match this job at all.’ I said, ‘Yes it does. I worked in big buildings full of hundreds of lawyers with big egos. The hospital is a big building full of hundreds of doctors with big egos,'” she said, laughing.

Her charming confidence and quick wit landed her the position, but after a few years she admits she was feeling less than fulfilled.

“I ended up doing report writing…And one day I realized, you know, this stuff looks great on paper but is it really helping people?” she said.

So, Yerkes moved on to Domestic Violence Shelter and Services Inc., where she began her ongoing stint as a fundraiser for nonprofit organizations. Years later, she was hired as development director for Habitat for Humanity.

“[The shelter] is still a cause I believe deeply in. I always say if I win the lottery, I’m giving them a lot of my money. But that is a difficult story to tell,” she noted. “Habitat is such an uplifting story to tell. And at Cape Fear Museum, I’ll get to tell their story to an even wider audience.”

As donor relations director, Yerkes will work closely with the museum’s 501 (c)(3) board, Cape Fear Museum Association, to help raise funds to support the programs and its increased push for educational outreach. She’ll handle grant writing and corporate underwriting and, new museum director Sheryl Mays said, will help gauge what the community really wants from its local museum.

“Our goal is to bring in the community, looking at how we can better serve the residents of this county. We want to be a more important resource for the residents of this community,” Mays said. “We are delighted Kitty is joining our team. We know she has been an important part of the community and Habitat, so we are excited she has chosen us.”

While her farewell to Habitat is a bit bittersweet–she says she’ll miss her “super boss,” executive director Steve Spain, the construction crews and the families–Yerkes believes she is leaving the organization in good shape and is ready to help shape the museum’s future.

“I’ve never worked at a museum before but, you see, the thread that goes through everything really is the people. I’m not ever begging for money; my job is the story. Now, I get to find out, what are the jewels of the story here?” she said. “I don’t know what they are yet. But I’ll find out.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.