Kevin KickhamSeptember 14, 2021
Kevin Kickham (he/they) lives in St. Louis, MO where he serves as the Director of Institutional Giving for LaunchCode, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to paving more accessible pathways into well-paid tech careers. He also sits on the Board of Directors for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, St. Louis. In his free time, he enjoys cooking, concerts, volunteering, watching reality TV, and spending time with his dog, Perry.
What year did you graduate and what was your concentration?
What extra-/co-curricular activities did you do?
I was a member of the Student Activities Board for three years, where I served as chair of the Communication & Development Committee and Special Events Committee. Additionally, I was on-air as a KTRM DJ for more than two years, and was the Treasurer for the Advertising and Public Relations Organization. I enjoyed acting in and coordinating publicity campaigns for theatrical productions presented by the Truman Theatre Department & IPAC. In my senior year, I was a teaching assistant for the Advertising course with Dr. Marilyn Yaquinto, and served as the Spring intern in the University Public Relations office.
Did you go to grad school? If so, where? Was it immediately after you left Truman or did you wait? Why?
While I have not attended graduate school, I continue to seek out professional growth opportunities to maintain my status as a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE). I first achieved this certification in November 2019 after five years of working in the fundraising sector, completing a certain amount of volunteer hours with various nonprofits and logging dozens of hours in continued education through webinars, online classes, and conferences. I passed the certification exam, which tests various nonprofit competencies, such as donor research, securing gifts, volunteer management, leadership development, and professional ethics.
What was your first job after graduation?
After graduating, I started as a Development Specialist at Lift For Life Academy (LFLA), St. Louis’ first charter school. I was hired to assist with fundraising events and to help grow the school’s social media presence. My department’s goal was to raise funds for staffing and student support services, providing all students with the resources needed to graduate with post-secondary plans.
Throughout my years at LFLA, I was given the opportunity to learn more about board management, grant writing, volunteer management, direct mail campaigns, and data management. Most importantly, I got to witness many students persisting and excelling in academics and other career-focused skills.
What work do you do/What are you doing now?
Today, I am the Director of Institutional Giving at LaunchCode, a national nonprofit that provides community members from all walks of life with no-cost technical training and career placement services, while also providing companies across the U.S. with a pipeline of diverse, driven tech talent. I manage LaunchCode’s grant proposals, grant impact reporting, and philanthropic relationships with corporations, foundations, and government entities.
I’m grateful to work in a role that allows me to assist individuals as they pursue well-paid careers in technology without incurring additional debt from student loans. For too long, the tech industry has had persistent gender & racial disparities in its hiring practices, largely due to cultural biases in STEM professions and the growing cost of pursuing a computer science education through traditional pathways. It is extremely fulfilling to know that the philanthropic funding my team brings into the organization supports programs that transform folks’ financial futures and helps people secure jobs in a workforce sector where, historically, they may have been overlooked.
How has your Liberal Arts/COMM education helped you?
Working in the nonprofit sector, I’ve definitely experienced situations where I’ve been asked to assist with a variety of communication-related tasks in addition to my assigned fundraising duties. I’m grateful that Truman COMM courses helped me build a solid foundation in marketing, design, media relations, and social media skills. All of these skills have proven beneficial as I’ve been asked to manage donor and mission related communication at various points in my career.
Additionally, I really appreciate that most of the courses I took across departments at Truman involved some level of focus on research-based, critical writing. Whether it was for Communication, English, Theatre, or courses in other departments, I enjoyed learning how to build well-supported arguments in my writing. These research papers helped me hone crucial skills in critical thinking, applied reasoning, and persuasive writing that I often use in my work writing grant proposals and reports.
Which class did you dislike at the time you took it, but now you’re grateful you took it?
COMM 392 – Experimental Methods and Survey Research. I think my biggest struggle in this course was understanding the practical application of the skills we were learning. I now utilize the skills learned in this course often as I collaborate with my team to develop data-driven measures to evaluate program outcomes and community impact.
What was your greatest accomplishment at Truman?
My SAB committee helped bring a hot air balloon to campus for Homecoming 2013! I think they’ve done that again in a few subsequent years. That was fun to plan, but also very stressful with all the weather considerations. I was also honored to receive a Senior Leadership Award through the Center for Student Involvement.
Why is Truman a good place for a student to study?
I think I really benefited from the smaller class sizes at Truman. My friends who went to larger universities often referred to courses that had more than 50 or 100 students per class. I really appreciated that most of my classes had around 15-30 students in them. Not only did this setting help me develop great working relationships with many other students on the Public Communication track, but it also fostered an environment where my professors were accessible and invested in my success.
What would you say a COMM student should absolutely do while at Truman?
Definitely host a radio show on KTRM! Being in that booth not only gave me an outlet to enjoy and discover new music on a weekly basis, but it also helped instill a new confidence in my public speaking ability. Some of my favorite memories at Truman came from hosting radio shows with great friends.
What advice would you give someone who wants to go into the same line of work as you?
Nonprofits need great communication professionals like you! I’d recommend reaching out to nonprofit organizations in Kirksville and seeing if they need additional help in the areas in which you would like to grow, whether it be social media strategy, grant proposals, layout design, etc. Many nonprofits, especially newer organizations, would appreciate the extra support, and this could help you begin to build a portfolio of work with nonprofits.
I’d also encourage students interested in a nonprofit career to join a local chapter of a national professional network like the Association of Fundraising Professionals or the Grant Professionals Association. In Kansas City, Nonprofit Connect hosts a lot of great events, including those hosted through their Connext young professionals group. I currently sit on the Board for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of St. Louis, and we regularly host professional development and networking events.
What do you miss most about campus/Kirksville?
I miss the close-knit sense of community that I always felt while on campus at Truman. I have many fond memories planning SAB events in the SUB, completing projects in the Barnett computer lab and rehearsing for various performances throughout Ophelia Parrish (OP).
What tag line would you create for the COMM department at Truman?
“COMM at Truman: Amplify Your Voice.”
If you could come back to Truman and teach a class for a semester, what would be its title and what would it be about?
Intro to Nonprofit Fundraising. The course would explore the basics of grant writing, donor cultivation and stewardship, data management, fundraising ethics, and nonprofit marketing and public relations. I hope it would give students a glimpse of different career options COMM graduates could apply for at nonprofit organizations. I would love to include a final project that allows students to collaborate with regional nonprofits to help solve an existing problem at the organization.
What did we not ask that you think is important for people to know?
Take an acting class if you can! Acting II: Advanced Scene Study with Dr. Dana Smith was one of my favorite courses at Truman. The intensive monologue work helped me realize so much about my own nonverbal habits and created a new awareness of how these nonverbal cues could enhance or diminish the message I was trying to convey in various situations.
Also, as someone who deals with depression and anxiety, I know it can be easy to get one’s priorities a bit mixed up dealing with mental health issues in a stressful college environment. At least, I certainly felt that way. Please remember that your health and wellbeing are your first priority, followed by the friends you make, the mentors you find, the skills you acquire, and lessons you learn. While it is important to maintain passing grades, your experience in a course can have great value whether you get an A or a C, depending on how much you learn from that experience. Don’t let your belief in yourself be diminished by a grade you’re not proud of or a rejection from an employer.