What makes prospect development a great career?
Apra-IL is asking local and national industry leaders what the field means to them and why and how they have pursued success in prospect development. Through this blog series, we will explore what drives industry leaders to propel their careers and prospect development forward.
For this month's piece, Joan Ogwumike, Apra-IL member and volunteer, interviews Jill Meister, Executive Director of Advancement Services at Adelphi University in New York.
Jill began her development career in 1991 when she joined the development office at the School for International Training (SIT) in Southern Vermont. She moved on to Landmark College in 1994, also in Vermont, and prospected lead donors for the first campaign ever at Landmark. In 1996, she joined the research office at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and became the Manager of Research Services in 1997. In 2001, Jill moved to Rhode Island and became the Director of Development Research at Bryant University. Jill was the Assistant Director of Prospect Development at Brown University from 2003-2007, Director of Research and Advancement Services at The Williston Northampton School from 2007-2013, and the Director of Prospect Research and Management at the University of New Hampshire from 2013-2017. She currently works as the Executive Director of Advancement Services at Adelphi University in New York.
Jill received a B.S. in Business Management from Franklin Pierce University, and an MBA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Jill is a director of Apra since 2011, served as President during the 2016-2017 year, and is the current Immediate Past President. She was the chair of the 2011 Apra International Conference Curriculum Committee, was a member of the 2010 Apra International Conference Curriculum Committee, and a founding member of Apra's Marketing and Branding Committee. Jill is a former director of NEDRA, and a past president of the NEDRA Board.
Apra-IL: In your Apra 2015-2016 Board of Directors biography, it reads that you have more than 20 years of experience in development and fundraising. Can you tell us what has kept you motivated all of these years?
Meister: What keeps me going is that through the work of philanthropy, we are ensuring access to education, health care, social programs that better people’s lives, and preserving the arts. Our non-profit organizations are important and have a positive impact in the communities and world that we live in. I like being a part of something larger than myself, and by continuing to work in philanthropy, it matches my vision to help the world and make it a better place. In addition, by being part of Prospect Development, I am helping to create scholarships or a new building that we are raising funds for that make a difference for many people. I like to see the fruits of our labor.
Apra-IL: What role has Apra played in your professional journey?
Meister: Apra has played such a huge role in my career. My first Apra conference was 21 years ago in Pittsburgh. I remember being so blown away by the scope of the conference and seeing all these different professionals in Prospect Development. I learned so much from the presenters and from the people I met. It truly helped me build my network. Early in my career, a much-esteemed member of the profession asked me, "When are you going to present at an Apra conference; when are you going to get more involved?" Every year he saw me he would challenge me to raise my sights. I volunteered at the Apra conference; I became a board member of my local Apra chapter (NEDRA), I presented, and took on more volunteer roles that had increasing involvement. The best part of being a volunteer was I learned even more and it directly helped me in my career. Being part of Apra comes with so many benefits. And, when I attend the Apra conference this year, I know I will still have the same feeling I had when I attended my first conference.
Apra-IL: So far in your career, what has been your biggest challenge or lesson?
Meister: Well, there have been many challenges! However, I believe this lesson can apply to all areas of our lives – learning there is always someone who knows more than you do. To restate that: recognizing that the collective knowledge and viewpoints are better than an individual one. There is more than one way to do something, and once I put myself in a fundraiser’s shoes, once I began to collaborate with my colleagues, it made me a better researcher. Every day there is something to learn, a new way of doing things and trying out new ideas. This is how we grow.
Apra-IL: What is next for you? Is there anything you would like to accomplish or a new challenge you'd like to take on?
Meister: I have just taken on a leadership position at Adelphi University. I am part of the leadership team that, with the VP, leads the advancement office. It is an opportunity for more growth and change. My involvement with Apra has helped me to get to this point, and will continue to help me in my new role. I am a big advocate for Prospect Development and Apra, and I think in my new role, I can have a bigger voice and advocate for our amazing field!