Crabb enjoys challenges of development work


Some 20-somethings willingly embrace the cocoon-like safety of their parents’ homes rather than getting on with their young adult lives. Then there’s Libby Crabb.

Crabb was only 25 when she assumed the helm as interim director of development for Habitat for Humanity of Greater San Francisco, a post she held from February 2008 through July that same year, after hiring on in 2006.

It was a role that thrust her into the throes of managing one of the nonprofit’s foremost fundraisers, Blueprints & Blue Jeans, which draws an average of 700 business leaders and local philanthropists to its banquet.

The pitch in Crabb’s voice rises a bit when she recalls the thrill she felt of overseeing an event that includes a reception, program, silent auction, awards and construction contests.

“There was lots of excitement and responsibility,” said Crabb, who continued to work for Habitat through July 2009, eventually as a consultant. “It was my first opportunity to take a leadership role and I enjoyed the challenge of it and appreciate that I was given the opportunity.”

Her experience with Habitat for Humanity became a career determiner in two ways: First, it confirmed that she wanted to work in the nonprofit sector, and second, it showed that she excels in seeking financial support for deserving organizations.

Literacy Center of West Michigan
Position: Development Director
Age: 30
Birthplace: Grand Rapids
Residence: Grand Rapids Township
Family: Single
Business/Community Involvement: Member, Young Non-Profit Professionals of Grand Rapids and NextGen United Way.
Biggest Career Break: Working for Habitat for Humanity in San Francisco where she became interim development director.

Following her stint at Habitat, Crabb went to work for her alma mater, Albion College, a private liberal arts school located in southern Michigan between Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor. She stayed with Albion for three years as senior director of annual giving from August 2009 to June 2012.

While she enjoyed the challenge of that job, as well, it wasn’t her hometown of Grand Rapids, which, she is happy to acknowledge, has successfully morphed into a cool city where young professionals can work, live and enjoy a varied nightlife.

“Grand Rapids is always home to me,” said Crabb. “I saw the cool changes so I knew I wanted to end up here.”

But end up here to do what? Score another coup for the social network website for professionals: LinkedIn.

It was on LinkedIn that Crabb spotted an opening for development director at the Literacy Center of West Michigan, 1120 Monroe Ave. NW. This nonprofit with a $1.7 million budget relies on 26 staff members and about 260 tutors to fulfill its mission of helping an annual average of 1,500 “adult learners” improve their reading comprehension skills.

By the time she saw the job posting, Crabb felt certain she had acquired a credible measure of experience.

“I am a jack of all trades in the fundraising world,” she said. “I did special events, grant writing, corporate giving and PR at Habitat. While at the college, my sole focus was individual giving of $1,000-plus. Adding all of those pieces together, I felt the organization needed someone who could do a little of everything.”

But possessing the requisite experience is only one piece of Crabb’s career-related puzzle.

“I like the appeal of a one-person development shop,” Crabb said of the reason she applied for and was hired July 9 for the role of development director. “I liked the direct-service aspect of it. It’s definitely a message I believe in. My dad works at United Way’s literacy program, so this certainly was a cause I felt drawn to.”

There are a number of literacy organizations in the area that do a credible job of helping children with their reading skills, but the Literacy Center’s focus is solely on adults, said Crabb. Core services include: one-on-one tutoring; a family literacy program that works in consortium with Heart of West Michigan United Way’s Schools of Hope; English as a second language classes; the Community Literacy Initiative, which is a literacy coalition; and customized workplace English programs.

“I grew up in a family of teachers and nonprofit professionals,” said Crabb. “I knew I wanted to work in nonprofit, as well.”

That career choice was honed in 2003 when Crabb interned in Washington, D.C., for the Institute For Women’s Policy Research, a think tank that focuses on domestic women’s issues such as employment and economic change, poverty, welfare and income security.

There’s a certain panache required when it comes to asking individuals and corporations to part with their money, an endeavor Crabb intends to stay with for the long haul.

“It’s certainly challenging,” said Crabb. “It’s never an easy job. There’s so much matching people with the interest they have in a particular cause. It means sitting down with somebody and asking them to essentially be partners with us, who see literacy as a community need.”

Crabb said she has a pretty good bead on the reason she doesn’t blanch at enabling the Literacy Center to achieve its fundraising goals.

“I am somebody who likes to be challenged,” she said. “I love ideas and coming into this with a positive outlook and looking for ways to do the hard work. This is not going to be an easy job by any means, but I’m excited about that.”

The development director position was open for several months before Crabb was tapped for the job.

“I have a unique background in fundraising,” she said. “My work for nonprofits and in higher education gives me a unique skill set. (The Literacy Center) wanted to strengthen its list of individual donors. I’m energetic and committed. I’m a lifelong learner, passionate and engaged in the community. I’m not just somebody with skills but a good fit with the organization.”

Crabb attributes her drive for nonprofits to her father, Fritz Crabb, who, after working for Grand Rapids Public Schools for 30 years, went to work for United Way in his current role as director of literacy initiatives.

“He and I could talk shop for three hours,” said Crabb. “He’s passionate and dedicated to the community, particularly with children.

“And I’ve been blessed to have wonderful mentors at my (previous) jobs,” continued Crabb. “When I was at the college, my direct supervisor was in her early 60s, who was warm and kind and treated people with such respect. I want to adopt that attitude in my life.”

Such an attitude makes Crabb an unabashed do-gooder who believes one person can make a difference.

“It’s very much about the ongoing relationships I build and good feelings about the organization,” said Crabb. “I want people to feel engaged. In my life, I want to put good out there. I want to help others.”

Crabb graduated from Forest Hills Northern High School in 2000 and, except for visiting family and friends on occasion, has lived outside Grand Rapids for 12 years. She is glad to reconnect with her hometown.

“I think that’s why I really came back to Grand Rapids, to live and work and be a true member of the community and to be engaged in it,” said Crabb. “I believe that everyone can make a choice and I believe people can change. I believe in the power of forgiveness and in the world of second chances.”

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