YPDaily: Sara Leishman

Calgary girl Sara Leishman works behind the scenes of Calgary’s Folk Music Festival, one of the biggest annual music festivals in Canada with nearly 50,000 in attendance every year. In charge of sponsorship and fundraising, Sara works hard to make the dream a reality every year on stage by seeking out partners and contributors from the community to this amazing event in today’s YPDaily…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
I am the Fundraising, Sponsorship and Development Manager for the Calgary Folk Music Festival. The CFMF is a multi-genre, four day, music festival that takes place every July on Prince’s Island Park in downtown Calgary. I seek out and steward strategic partnerships by engaging both potential and current sponsors and donors. I show organizations how CFMF can help them achieve their community investment goals and foster relationships with individuals who donate to the Festival. In a few short weeks my portfolio will grow slightly to cover sponsorship and donor relationships for our new performance space, Festival Hall.

Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
There is a certain magic that happens on Prince’s Island during Calgary Folk Fest- I wanted to be a part of it… and I love music! I grew up attending music festivals and working for the Calgary Folk Fest had been my dream job since I was about 10 years old. I remember sitting in the audience and thinking “I wonder how you would get a job at a music festival…?” As I grew older, it was something that always floated around in the back of my mind but it didn’t really seem like tangible goal. A few years ago I stalled on my career path and luckily, fell into development position with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Within a couple of weeks I knew that I belonged in the Arts & Culture sector. I tried to learn as much as I could about sponsorship, philanthropy and what goes into fostering a vibrant arts community, always with the intention of getting a job with the Folk Fest. A little while later- here I am!

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
I work with super cool and talented people, both staff and volunteers. I also get to see tons of live music through our year-round concert series, which is a major job perk! I also love talking with our sponsors and donors. They really love the Festival and are a daily reminder of just how amazing an event it is.

As for the most challenging part; the logistics of constructing a self-sufficient town for 4 days on an island is always interesting. I really only play a minor part in it, but setting up that site is like a 3-D puzzle, any one decision has a ripple effect. I don’t think I will ever really understand the full picture.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I will probably still be at the Folk Fest- the beauty of what we do is that everything is in a constant state of evolution. It keeps things fresh! Otherwise, in five years I may be on tour with some awesome indie band, having wed their handsome and mysterious bassist…

What does success look like to you?
Success is, finding what you love and making it your career, and at the same time figuring out the elusive work-life balance.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
July 21, 2011 – Opening Night of the Festival, my first as a staff person. I was standing at the back of the main field watching tens of thousands of people listening and singing along to City and Color. After months and months of planning and prep I just stood there and thought “This is it, this is what it was all about.” It hit me that I had answered the question, posed by my ten year old self. I will never forget that moment.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
I will defer to some advice my grandmother always said “Look sharp! Be sharp!” That always stuck with me. Know your stuff and stay one step ahead of everyone else; it will always set you apart.

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Currently I sit on board for two not-for-profit organizations. Very recently, I became a Director at large for CKUA Radio, a community-supported, Alberta based radio service. For the past year I have sat on the board of The NicarAGUA International Development Project which promotes health and wellness of rural Nicaraguans by creating local and sustainable solutions.

Being able to give back is something that is extremely important to me. I was fortunate enough to be born in a part of the world where I have been afforded every advantage; it’s my job to make it a little better, whenever and however I can.

What to you is notable?
Witnessing acts of kindness- random and intentional.

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?