Natalie Norton, Rise Against Hunger, July 2016.
While working the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Natalie (Hollett) Norton (MA, 2014) became intrigued with how museums bring diverse people together. During her first year of study in the MA in Museum Studies program at University of San Francisco, this vision crystalized into studying the role museums can play in advancing social justice issues. Natalie moved back to Southern California to be closer to her fiancé (now husband) and accepted a full-time position as volunteer coordinator at the Pasadena Museum of History. She commuted to San Francisco to complete her capstone on how small museums can collaborate with other like-organizations to diversity their volunteers. Natalie and her husband returned to the Bay Area last year where she accepted the position of Corporate Relations Coordinator for the Northern California offices of Rise Against Hunger. We talked with Natalie about how she bridged her museum experiences and training into a position where she helps to advance global social justice.
- Tell us a bit about Rise Against Hunger.
Natalie: Rise Against Hunger, formerly known as Stop Hunger Now, is an international hunger relief organization that distributes food and life-changing aid to the world’s most vulnerable, mobilizing the necessary resources to end hunger by 2030. With nearly 792.5 million individuals impacted by hunger, this can seem like a daunting task, but through education, feeding initiatives, and sustainable community development projects, we are helping communities drive scalable impact and progress around the world.
- What is your role in advancing this mission?
Natalie: As a member of the development team, I work with some of our largest donors–especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area–to increase corporate social responsibility and the drive to give back to our world. I support a team that works diligently to raise funds for our sustainable projects, our meal-packaging program, and various other projects. I also serve as the grants administrator, helping to secure millions of dollars in grant funding for our mission.
- How did prior museum work prepare you for this role?
Natalie: Working in museums for several years prepared me immensely for my role at Rise Against Hunger. Before my current position, I worked to create a representative volunteer program for a museum in Los Angeles, an extremely diverse community. This prepared me for my current role so that I may help Rise Against Hunger approach a global volunteer base, seeking new opportunities for connections across the world.
Natalie Norton, Rise Against Hunger at a meal packaging event at Google.
- How relevant was your graduate education in museum studies?
Natalie: Some of the biggest lessons I have taken away from my MA in Museum Studies include the deep understanding of a nonprofit’s lifecycle, the importance of a robust volunteer initiative, and how to cultivate and communicate across a diverse donor base, while cultivating a collaborative attitude toward a mission. I majored in history and Latin American Studies as an undergraduate, and this, too, has helped me think of global solutions to global issues. Through an understanding of nonprofits, I have been able to bring a serious toolkit to Rise Against Hunger.
- Was there anything specific about our curriculum at University of San Francisco that has stayed with you?
Natalie: As we know, USF has an immense commitment to social justice, a theme present in all classes and embodied by all those who attend and work at the university. This is one of the main reasons I decided to attend. Part of my education required the understanding that we have to fight for those who need us most, for both our neighbors to those we may never see around the world. In my most recent museum work, I worked to develop a diverse volunteer community, so that the museum experience was more unique to each individual. This pushed me to think critically of our greater world: who wasn’t able to learn from a museum, and how can we reach them? I realized that millions of children, especially young girls, would never have these opportunities due to hunger and hunger related issues, which pushed me to work with Rise Against Hunger. I constantly think about how USF encouraged me to think about my education as a tool for my community, rather than just for my own personal achievement.
Photo credit: Steve Hickle, Rise Against Hunger, 2013. Taken while visiting one of Rise Against Hunger’s partner school feeding programs in Uganda.
- You were recently selected to attend a forum on philanthropy and entrepreneurship in Vienna, Austria. Tell us about it.
Natalie: One of the great things that my education at USF taught me was the idea that we should never stop learning. After making the switch from a museum nonprofit to an international hunger relief organization, I decided to gain a deeper understanding of what the rest of the world was doing to combat huge challenges. Through Philanthropy University–a free, global, and online learning community powered by Haas School of Business–I took the required courses to earn my certificate in Social Impact Learning. Through this program, I took everything my USF education gave me to discuss the world’s greatest challenges and bring to light the best solutions through global communication. Each year, Philanthropy University awards the top four students–from a pool of thousands–the opportunity to attend the Philanthropreneurship Forum. This year, I was one of those students selected to attend the conference in Vienna, where we had workshops on corporate giving, engaging millennials in philanthropy, and exploring the intersection of entrepreneurial giving and government. Leaders from philanthropy, development, academia, business, and government discussed sustainable and scalable impact for communities around the world. One of my personal highlights was hearing from Krishanti Vignarajah, Policy Director for former First Lady, Michelle Obama. She discussed the Let Girls Learn initiative, a program launched by the former President and First Lady to help support the millions of girls worldwide who are out of school.
And, I was able to visit a few museums in Vienna! My favorite was a private tour of the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein in the Liechtenstein Garden Palace. This collection contains major works of European art spanning five centuries, from the early Renaissance to the High Baroque era. As for my love of history, I enjoyed a cup of tea at Cafe Central, which was patronized by Lenin, Trotsky, and Freud.
- What would be your advice for someone doing social justice work today?
Rise Against Hunger, December 2012. A boy in Cange, Haiti at Las Pleiade, a center Rise Against Hunger meals have supported in the past.
Natalie: Social justice work has given so much meaning to my career, but it is not without its struggles. I think that social justice work is at the heart of anyone who looks toward a career in the nonprofit field, and it is increasingly more crucial in today’s changing world. From my love of museums as centers to create dialogue for social change, to my current work in the hunger relief sphere, social justice work can be the most difficult, but the most rewarding, work today. Remember the little victories add up to the whole.
Our organization works heavily in Haiti and there’s a Haitian-French proverb that I constantly think of when the going gets tough, or the uphill battle for social justice seems too steep: “Little by little, the bird builds its nest.” This reminds me that each step we take to improve our world for each of us is a step toward building a better world for us all.
For more information on University of San Francisco’s Museum Studies program, click here.