Conferences & Training
Faculty - Annual Conference for Donor Relations Professionals

Conference Co-Chairs

Kirsten Lavin

Kirsten Lavin
Director of Stewardship
Johns Hopkins University

Kirsten Lavin is a classically trained musician who began her career in arts administration. In her tenure at Johns Hopkins University, she has led communications teams at the Peabody Institute and the Office of Alumni Relations before helping to build the strategic communications and donor recognition platform for the $6 billion "Rising to the Challenge: The Campaign for Johns Hopkins."

As director of stewardship in the Office of Donor and Volunteer Engagement, Lavin guides the stewardship, recognition and engagement of top donors to both Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine, and leads a team working on discreet projects for principal level donors. Additionally, she calls upon her expertise in project management and constituent engagement to champion the mandatory stewardship program with the goal of building and enhancing relationships with donors at all levels. She has presented at the Association of Donor Relations Professionals International Conference and the CASE District II conference.

Sarah Sims

Sarah Sims
Executive Director of Donor Relations
University of Florida

Sarah has been responsible for building new and innovative donor relations programs from the ground up at three different higher education institutions and now heads the donor relations team at the University of Florida as they embark on the University's first $3B capital campaign.

With more than ten years of experience in donor relations and frontline fundraising in a variety of higher education and non-profit settings, Sarah focuses on building strategic donor relationships while forwarding the mission of the organization. Her specialty areas include top donor strategy, program development, fund stewardship and major gift development.

Sarah is a non-profit consultant and active industry volunteer with positions held on the CASE IV Board of Directors and with the Association of Donor Relations Professionals. Sarah earned her Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) in 2013 and is a frequent presenter for CASE, ADRP, DRG, and Academic Impressions.


Leslie Carmona

Leslie Carmona
Director of Donor Relations
Wayne State University

Leslie Carmona is the director of donor relations at Wayne State University in Detroit. She has worked in philanthropy for more than nine years and proudly serves on the executive committee of the local AFP Chapter. She is an experienced speaker with a keen understanding of philanthropy and the field of donor relations. Prior to joining the Wayne State team, she raised funds for the Humane Society of Broward County, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and Michigan State University. 

She graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor's degree in sociology and completed her graduate work at Michigan State University.

Matthew Helmer
Executive Director, Events & Community Engagement
Colorado State University

Matthew S. Helmer is committed to elevating the way donors experience mission-driven organizations. His philosophy is that every experience should be designed from a meaningful, well-articulated purpose—without it, the moment becomes just something that happens.

With an extensive background in strategic events, fundraising, constituent engagement and team development, Helmer currently leads the donor relations, advancement communications and centralized events teams at Colorado State University. A frequent speaker for industry associations and nonprofit consultant, he specializes in experience design, ideation and innovation, and crafting purpose-driven, metrics-based programs.

Adrienne Seitz

Adrienne Seitz
Director of Donor Relations
Gettysburg College

Adrienne Seitz is the director of donor relations and stewardship at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA. During her five years in this role she planned and produced all campaign events and coordinated stewardship efforts for a successful $150 million campaign. Adrienne specializes in giving society stewardship, donor events, high level prospect stewardship, and creative impact communications. She is focused on strategic partnerships with front line fundraisers and campus collaborators to facilitate effective donor relations and retention. Adrienne has experience in prospect management and previously worked in international education, arts administration, and the film industry. She has a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University and M.Phil from Trinity College, Dublin.

Keynote Speaker

James Harris headshot

James T. Harris III
President, University of San Diego
Chair, CASE Board of Trustees

James T. Harris III became the University of San Diego's fourth president on August 3, 2015. Throughout his academic career, he has worked closely with cross-discipline teams to spearhead new civic and community engagements, connecting academic environments with intractable issues faced by society.

Previously, he served for 13 years as the president of Widener University. He initiated and oversaw the establishment of the Chester Higher Education Council, a consortium of a diverse group of colleges and universities dedicated to improving access to higher education for students from underserved populations. Under his leadership, Widener opened the Widener Partnership Charter School, the state's first university-based charter school and developed other programs to engage the community. During his tenure, the university completed its largest campaign, achieved the highest undergraduate enrollment in its history, improved the retention and graduate rates of students, and achieved national recognition for its work in civic engagement.

Prior to his appointment at Widener, he was the president of Defiance College, where he established the McMaster School for the Advancement of Humanity and developed a service-learning program that was ranked among the top 25 in the country.

The span of his career includes volunteer leadership service in numerous local, state and national roles. In recognition of his considerable contributions to education and the communities he has served,Harris is the recipient of many awards and honors, including leadership awards from the NAACP for his work on defending civil rights. Earlier in his career, he was named by the John Templeton Foundation as one of the Top 50 Character-Building Presidents in America, and in 2011, he received the Chief Executive Leadership Award from CASE. Defiance College recognized him in 2002 with its highest recognition, the Pilgrim Award; and Widener University bestowed upon him the lifetime title of President Emeritus in 2015. In 2014, he was recognized with the College and University Public Relations and Associated Professionals' Ciervo Award, presented to one who exemplifies the association's fundamental purposes of supporting and advancing the understanding of higher education.

Harris earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Toledo, a master's degree in educational administration from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, and a doctorate in education from Pennsylvania State University. All three of his alma maters have recognized him for his leadership in education and in 2013, The Pennsylvania State University Board of Trustees named him a Distinguished Alumnus, the highest honor the university bestows upon a graduate.



Christy Cates
Executive Director of Advancement Services for Development & Institute Relations
California Institute of Technology

Christy Cates is currently the executive director of sdvancement services for Development and Institute Relations at the California Institute of Technology. She is responsible for establishing and refining comprehensive programs that integrate into all facets of the organization. Her areas of focus include prospect research, prospect management, reporting, prospect analytics, talent acquisition, professional development, staff engagement and performance management.

Prior to joining Caltech, Cates served as the senior executive director of advancement human resources at UC Irvine. She has also held human resources positions with In-N-Out Burger and Pick Up Stix, Inc., multisite corporations employing 800-4,000 employees.

Deborah L. Correa
Director of Stewardship
Oregon State University Foundation

Deborah Correa has more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit management. She has overseen the stewardship program at Oregon State University Foundation since 2006, through the launch and conclusion of Oregon State's first comprehensive campaign. She has managed donor recognition in more than 15 building projects on campus.

Before Oregon State, she was a donor relations professional at University of Oregon and a development director for the College of Fine Arts at University of Arizona. She began her development career at the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation in 2001 as director of development, where she had previously served as operations director.

Haruka Neiswender
Coordinator of Stewardship & Donor Relations, College of Engineering
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Haruka Neiswender is the coordinator of stewardship and donor relations for the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She manages strategic programs and processes that will foster and sustain long-term meaningful relations between six departments within the College of Engineering, their donors, and the College of Engineering at large.

Neiswender has worked in higher education advancement for six years. Prior to her current role, she worked for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Gies College of Business. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Joseph Plante
Associate Vice President of Principal and Leadership Gifts
University of St. Thomas

Joe Plante is the associate vice president of principal and leadership gifts at the University of St. Thomas. He is a graduate of St. Thomas and has worked for the university for more than 30 years-starting first in alumni relations, then major gifts and now principal gifts.

An expert at both the science and the art of fundraising, he will present how the most successful principal-gift strategy is best supported with a strong donor relations partnership from the start.

Sarah Schneider
Senior Director of Donor Services
California Institute of Technology

Sarah Schneider began her career in donor services at DePaul University where she served as both assistant director and director of donor relations. She successfully implemented a comprehensive reporting program, donor recognition objectives, and an acknowledgement program. Her path led her to Caltech, where she joined Development and Institute Relations in 2013.

As the senior director of donor services, Schneider rebuilt the donor relations team and created programming in preparation for Caltech's $2B "Break Through Campaign." Her team has been recognized with a CASE District VII Circle of Excellence Bronze Award and a CASE Circle of Excellence Award.

Carol Wilkie
Director of Donor Relations
University of St. Thomas

Carol Wilkie is director of donor relations for the University of St. Thomas. She has been at the university for 15 years and has operationalized donor relations during her tenure. She firmly believes that her donor relations team must be nimble in order to successfully support fundraising initiatives. She'll show how she and her team have done that in the past and how they have repositioned themselves to support new principal-gift strategies going forward.

Ross Williams
Assistant Director of Advancement, College of Engineering
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Ross Williams is the assistant director of advancement in the College of Engineering. In his role, he represents three departments within the college, focusing on securing major gifts with key alumni and stakeholders. He has been with the College of Engineering for more than three years and has been in higher education fundraising for five years.

Prior to his current role, Williams worked in annual giving at Millikin University. He received his bachelor's degree from Bradley University and his master's degree from the University of Denver. 

Dale Wright

Dale Wright
Chief Advancement Officer, College of Engineering
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dale Wright is the chief advancement officer for the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, serving in this role since January 2015. He joined Illinois advancement from his alma mater, the University of Missouri (Mizzou), where he earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees.

In a career spanning nearly 20 years, Wright served the University of Missouri from 1999-2014, beginning as an alumni relations program officer and managing award-winning student and alumni engagement programs before his final role as the executive director of advancement for the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business. During his tenure at the University of Missouri, he secured a number of transformational gifts in a number of areas, during the "For All We Call Mizzou" and the "Mizzou: Our Time to Lead" $1.3B comprehensive campaign.

In his current role of associate dean at Illinois, Wright serves on the college's senior leadership team and leads a team responsible for fundraising and constituent engagement programs for one of the top ranked engineering programs in the world. He serves as the campaign director for the "With Illinois" $2.25B comprehensive campaign for the college, which has a goal of $550M.

He has been an active CASE volunteer at the both the district and national level, including district leadership positions and co-chair of the CASE 2016 Conference on Diverse Philanthropy and Leadership and serving as faculty for educational programs conferences and webinars. He also volunteers his time in other charities including the American Legion Boys State of Missouri program where he serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors.