Conferences & Training
Speakers - Inspiring the Largest Gifts of a Lifetime

Conference Chair

Rebecca T Smith headshot

Rebecca Tseng Smith
Senior Executive Director of Development
University of California, San Diego

Rebecca Tseng Smith is the senior executive director of development for the University of California San Diego.

Previously, she served as vice president of development for the University of Hawai'i Foundation and associate dean for external relations at Stanford University's School of Education. Smith believes that the ideas of relational fundraising, as described by David R. Dunlop, provide the best principles to guide our practice, and she has had an opportunity to put these ideas to work at each of the universities she has served.

At Cornell University, she worked in the major and principal gift programs and later served as assistant dean for alumni affairs and development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Cornell's $1 billion campaign for endowment was launched and completed during her years there and she participated in many different aspects of it, from developing strategies for the solicitations of lead givers and recruiting and motivating campaign volunteers to celebrating in the College of Agriculture when they completed the campaign at 45 percent over goal. In 1997, she joined the major gift program at Harvard University where she worked with alumni in New York City and Washington, D.C., and assisted with Harvard's campaign to raise $2.1 billion. At Stanford University she led the School of Education's participation in "The Stanford Challenge,"  which raised new funds directed toward solving complex problems, like K-12 school reform.

Smith served on the American Cancer Society's National Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee, which studied and advised the society on its fundraising practices and long-term goals.

She earned a bachelor's degree in English literature and a master's degree in theology at Boston University. She spent her first undergraduate years at Eckerd College, a small liberal arts college in Florida.


Danita D. Nias

Danita D. Nias
Vice President for Institutional Advancement and CEO of the FAU Foundation, Inc.
Florida Atlantic University

Danita Nias joined FAU in October 2016 to lead the university into a new era of donor relations and to spearhead a capital campaign. Nias oversees all FAU fundraising efforts, including principal gifts, planned giving and alumni relations. Prior to arriving at FAU, she served as senior associate vice president for external affairs at the University of Florida. In that role, she was responsible for managing a portfolio of major donors and prospects while managing the university's campaign strategy and structure for volunteers.

From 1995 to 2011, Nias held numerous leadership positions at the University of Maryland, including assistant vice president for development and alumni relations. She has a bachelor's degree with a concentration in personnel and labor relations from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at Maryland and a Master of Social Science with a concentration in international relations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

Ronald J. Schiller

Ronald J. Schiller
Founding Partner
Aspen Leadership Group, LLC

Founding Partner of the Aspen Leadership Group and the Philanthropy Career Network, Ronald J. Schiller is a nationally recognized advisor to presidents, board members, and other leaders in higher education, arts and cultural organizations, health care, and social and community services. Since 2011, he has focused his attention on executive search and strategic consulting, drawing on his experience as fundraising leader, executive team member, board member, and search consultant built over a 30-year career.

Ron has held leadership positions in seven educational and cultural institutions, including the University of Chicago, where he led a team of more than 450 that completed a $2.3 billion campaign and facilitated two nine-figure gifts. A recipient of CASE’s Crystal Apple Award for Teaching Excellence, he serves on the faculty of the annual CASE conference, Inspiring the Largest Gifts of a Lifetime and has served as co-chair of CASE's Winter Institute for Chief Development Officers. He is the author of three books: The Chief Development Officer: Beyond Fundraising, published by Rowman & Littlefield; Belief and Confidence: Donors Talk About Successful Philanthropic Partnership, published by CASE Books; and Raising Your Organization’s Largest Gifts: A Principal Gifts Handbook, also published by CASE.

Ron has served on the Cornell University Council and on the boards of the American Friends of Covent Garden, Chicago's Harris Theater for Music and Dance, the Cornell University Glee Club Alumni Board, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Aspen’s Buddy Program, the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra, the Salt Bay Chamberfest, and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. He received his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University.

Robert Sharpe Jr.

Robert F. Sharpe Jr.
The Sharpe Group

Robert F. Sharpe Jr. is president of The Sharpe Group and has more than 30 years of charitable gift planning experience. The Sharpe Group consults nationwide with a number of leading educational, health, social service, and religious organizations and institutions in implementing their major and planned gift development efforts. With offices in Memphis, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., The Sharpe Group has worked with more than 10,000 nonprofits nationwide during its 50-year history.

He has authored many articles and other publications covering numerous gift planning topics. His remarks on this subject have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Newsweek, Forbes, Smart Money, CBS Market Watch, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Trusts & Estates, Kiplinger's and other national publications. He is chairman of the philanthropy editorial board of Trusts & Estates magazine and a co-author of the Model Standards of Gift Valuation adopted by the National Committee on Planned Giving (NCPG).

Sharpe is a recipient of the CASE Crystal Apple Award for teaching excellence and the Donaldson Distinguished Service Award from the Planned Giving Group of New England. He is an honors graduate of Vanderbilt University and Cornell Law School.

Heather Coleman Trippel

Heather Coleman Trippel
Associate Dean for External Relations
Stanford Graduate School of Education

After receiving her doctorate in political science from Purdue University, Heather Trippel began her career in academic advancement, working closely with alumni and donors as a major gift officer at the University of Chicago and, subsequently, at her alma mater, Santa Clara University.

In 2006, she joined the External Relations team at the Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) where she focused on building the school's major gift portfolio and was responsible for managing the school's volunteer advisory council. In 2008, she was appointed director of development for the Stanford Initiative on Improving K-12 Education as part of the $6.2 billion dollar "Stanford Challenge," a comprehensive and interdisciplinary capital campaign. After serving the GSE as the director of development from 2012, Trippel became the associate dean of external relations in 2016.

crystal apple CASE Crystal Apple award winner for excellence in teaching.