Matilda Carpenter circumnavigates the globe in her pursuit of major gifts.
In her role as senior director of development at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, she works hand-in-hand with the school’s dean, targeting philanthropic leaders in a well-established, multi-million dollar development operation.
Currently, Matilda’s leading a $125 million capital campaign for the business school as part of the wider university’s decade-long, $1.5 billion fundraising drive. The campaign concludes in June, but already exceeded her original goal of $100 million and is hopeful to exceed her stretch goal of $125 million; a target she and the dean set upon her joining the school in 2013.
Success breeds success, and Matilda’s fundraising career has had lots of it. At Fordham University, she secured a record $25 million gift which went towards the naming of the university’s Gabelli School of Business. Prior to entering higher education, she worked for over 20 years in entertainment, managing a roster of eminent performing artists.
How did you get into a career working in fundraising and development?
In the early part of my career, I had great success working as a manager with very talented and world-renowned artists, particularly in modern dance. Artists never have any money, so I was always fundraising, without even recognizing that it was part of a profession.
I then really looked into using my skill-set in fundraising. I’ve always believed in education and culture, so I thought that going into the field of higher education would be a very natural fit for me, and it was.
What is the best thing about your role at McDonough?
There’s so many wonderful things. I genuinely love my job. Our alumni love their school, they’re very proud and they really want to help the school and the university grow.
The dean, David Thomas, is a wonderful partner, and he and I travel extensively. In a 12 to 14 month period, I had the opportunity to go around the world twice; from DC, to Europe, to Asia and back. We’ve just returned from a trip to Rome, and this year we also went to Dubai and Mumbai.
Dean Thomas and I make a great team in fundraising. We’re an international school, we have people all over the world, and my specialty is high-net worth individuals, so we get on a plane and we go where we find them.
What challenges do you face?
The fundraising itself comes somewhat easily. It’s more about making sure we maintain our upward trajectory, that we steward the gifts well and focus on what our needs are and on delivering to the students. I don’t perceive these as challenges, but these are things that are always at the forefront of my mind.
What projects are you fundraising for this year?
We have a number of pillars to our campaign. Our first is faculty support - chairs and professorships – and we’re very highly focused on MBA scholarships.
We also have what we call transformational opportunities, which are really big gifts to, for example, start a new center or degree program.
Lastly, we have the dean’s leadership fund, which is essentially a venture fund that enables him to be facile and nimble if students or faculty members need funding for a project or specific activity.
How much do you raise for the business school on average per year?
In the last 5 years, approximately $13.4 million per year with over 60% coming from alumni.
My ultimate goal is $8 million a year and I have a team that raises about $1 million each, per year.
What is the largest donation you’ve received during your time at McDonough?
$10 million to establish our real estate center. I am also working closely with several donors to explore gift opportunities of seven and eight-figure gifts, and even a nine-figure gift is in the works.
What methods do you use to solicit new donations?
It’s about being intuitive, reading people and also being quiet and doing active listening. I try to tell some of the younger people I work with about the power of being quiet: it’s about the person that you’re in a room with, not about you as a fundraiser.
What advice do you have for anyone starting a new development office in a school or college?
It’s a 24/7 job so you really have to have the proper temperament for it. There are not enough hours in the day, so be absolutely ruthless with your time. You have to be very energetic, you have to be able to take rejection well and you have to have an awful lot of fortitude and self-motivation.
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