Marina Pedreira-Vilarino is deputy development director for the University of Sussex, which serves nearly 11,500 undergraduate and postgraduate students. Previously, she served as head of alumni relations at the university, located near Brighton, England, a famous seaside resort an hour south of London. She started her career as an alumni officer at the University College London after earning a doctorate in linguistics in 2001 from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. She can be reached at +44 (0)12-7387-3827 or email@example.com.
What attracted you to the advancement field?
Alumni relations and development seemed a most suitable profession for me for a number of reasons.
While I was completing my doctorate, I knew I didn't want to pursue a career in academia, but I did want to continue working in the university environment. I am passionate about the importance of a university education and the role of academia in the advancement of knowledge, and alumni relations offered me the opportunity to engage in activities that celebrate the important work conducted by universities. In making the subsequent transition to fundraising, I now play a role in helping secure the funding to make this work possible.
Another aspect of the field that attracted me is its internationalism. Working in Europe, I can develop a career that allows me to build relationships with interesting individuals from around the globe. I had been a student in three different countries-the United States, Ireland and Spain-and so the international and cosmopolitan environment of alumni relations made this line of work particularly attractive.
What kind of advancement program did the University of Sussex have when you arrived in 2002, and what role did you play in growing its development and alumni relations staff?
Sussex's advancement program was entirely focused on alumni relations. It was run by a four-person team, and the resources available were fairly limited. The main aim at the time was simply to reacquaint alumni with the university through a biannual publication and a dedicated Web site.
There were few opportunities for alumni to engage with the university-the main one was the annual 25th anniversary reunion, which was very successful. Only very sporadic fundraising took place, mainly due to the lack of a dedicated team of professional fundraisers.
When I arrived in 2002, the university was at a critical juncture in the development of its advancement program. The potential for growth was immense, and I was privileged to be a part of that agenda for expansion and development.
Following the outcome of a feasibility study in 2001, senior managers decided that it was the right time to invest in the development office and that Sussex was well-placed to embark on fundraising from its constituencies. As a result, a new development director was appointed. (At the time, I was head of alumni relations.)
The new director and I soon concluded that the development and alumni relations programs should merge and become fully integrated to be successful in the long term. Soon after, I became deputy development director.
My new role meant that I was involved in the growth of the team from many angles-from taking part in embryonic strategic discussions to managing the recruitment process of new staff members and five new team members.
The initial growth continues, mainly instigated by a combination of factors: the outcome of the feasibility study, a five-year plan that based increased philanthropic income on increased staff resources, and plans to embark on a campaign to coincide with the university's 50th anniversary in 2011.
Yet, of course, it is primarily the backing and support of the vice chancellor and the entire senior management team that have made all of this growth possible.
Tell us about the new fundraising strategy that you helped to develop and implement.
The focus of the new office changed to be primarily a fundraising function underpinned by an enhanced alumni relations program. Sussex follows an integrated approach, so our alumni relations objectives are, directly or indirectly, aligned to fundraising aims.
Previously, the university had hardly done any major gift fundraising from individuals, so we put a great deal of effort into offering potential major donors opportunities to engage with the institution. In addition, we launched a rolling program of telephone fundraising campaigns targeting alumni both in the U.K. and the U.S. where we have our largest concentration of overseas alumni.
We also launched a legacy program, which is mainly promoted via articles in our publications and targeted direct mailing appeals.
What is the biggest contribution that CASE membership has made to your career?
CASE has undoubtedly played a very important role in developing my career. I have benefited from invaluable training and personal advice from highly experienced professionals, both in alumni relations and fundraising. I also have found CASE to be an excellent platform for networking and a great source of information.