Hans CardenasHans Cardenas
Director of Individual and Leadership Giving, San Francisco Opera

How long have you been involved in the nonprofit sector? How and why did you get into fundraising?
I've been involved in the nonprofit sector for nearly 16 years, and it was my love of theatre and music that brought me to fundraising. I had graduated from a music conservatory in Chicago, moved back to California, and knew that I needed a job. I also knew that I wanted a job in the arts. After scouring the internet for local arts organizations, I found TheatreWorks Silicon Valley in Palo Alto. Even though I didn't know a single thing about "development," I still applied. Thankfully, they appreciated my love of the arts and my openness to learn new things. I never imagined that this would be how I'd spend my professional life, but I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Plus, I'm grateful to have landed in a profession that is all about collaboration and making the world a better place for everyone.

You got a new job! Tell us about your current role and responsibilities.
This past December, I rejoined the development staff at San Francisco Opera to serve as their Director of Individual and Leadership Giving. In this role, I lead a team of six talented and passionate fundraisers (and I'll soon be hiring one more position, so please check out the Opera's website if you're interested). This team is collaborative, creative, and highly committed to growing audiences for opera. It's a critical moment in history for our Company: we've embarked on our Second Century of producing big art. My team and I inspire extreme generosity from philanthropic partners so that this cultural institution can flourish for generations to come.

What are some highlights in your current role and in your career? What has been the biggest challenge?
We often measure fundraising success with a dollar amount. But when I look back on my career what touches me the most are the one-in-a-lifetime moments that I helped make happen. One that pops to mind is deepening a relationship with a public figure who initially wanted minimal involvement even though they cared deeply about the mission. Through careful planning and personalized stewardship, this donor ultimately partnered with us to produce a video testimonial which helped inspire over $1 million at a national gathering of women philanthropists. Another special highlight was spending a day with a lovely donor couple and volunteering with them to install smoke alarms in vulnerable communities in Monterey County. Not only did they sponsor the program, but they created special memories by helping their local community in their homes. It was a joy to see them interact with the residents and practice fire drills with little kids. Lastly, because so much of my time was spent in the arts, I got to meet incredibly talented artists, like composers Stephen Schwartz and Andrew Lippa, opera singers J'Nai Bridges and Sasha Cooke, Bay Area native and Tony Award-winner James Monroe Iglehart and many, many more!

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the nonprofit fundraising profession today?
It's impossible to choose just one challenge. Our profession is always changing and we often lack the resources to adapt as quickly as we'd like. But as a latino, I think that our profession lacks diversity. I cannot tell you how many years I worked until I met another latinx fundraiser. Diversity is important, especially since our job is about connecting with the community.

What professional knowledge would you impart to other nonprofit fundraisers?
There is more than one way to do something. Definitely learn "best practices," but learn to develop your own style by leaning into your true authentic self. You will create stronger relationships with philanthropic partners and thus raise more money to fulfill your nonprofits's mission.   

How do you manage to balance your personal and professional life?
This is always tricky! I've often felt the need to do everything in my power to serve the mission. While devotion is great, learning how to rest is better. It's like on an airplane when the flight attendent instructs us to put on our oxygen masks first, before helping others. We need to be at our best (or as close to it as possible on any given day) in order to help our communities. For me, I make time for things that bring me joy. This often means time with family and friends, my dog, reading, exercise. In 2024, I've resolved to try more recipes!

What is the last book you’ve read or movie you’ve watched (and would recommend)?
I love this question because I'm always reading a book. I like to read a little bit of everything, from philanthropy and travel essays to historical fiction and biographies. For me, it's a great way to learn about life and explore new, challenging ideas. And then, discuss with friends and family. I recently read Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid and loved it because I recently started taking tennis lessons (the book is about a record-breaking female tennis star who returns to the game after a ten-year haitus). I also recently watched the new movie version of The Color Purple with Fantasia Barrino. It's an inspiring story about sisterhood, overcoming challenges, and find grace, in yourself and in others.

What career goals do you still want to pursue or accomplish?
There is still so much more I want to attempt in my career, but I'm a big believer that everything happens for a reason. I'm very content with where I am now and want to focus my efforts on my new role and my team before taking on anything else.