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Member Profile: Melissa von Stade

Melissa von Stade

Melissa von Stade is assistant head for development at Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey. She previously served as assistant dean for advancement, alumni relations and communications for the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, she served as director of development at the university's Morris Arboretum and worked for five years in Harvard University's development office. A graduate of Taft School and Denison University, von Stade is chair of the 2017 CASE-NAIS conference, which takes place Jan. 22-24 in Austin, Texas.

What are some of the milestones you've achieved at Peddie School?

We are working on engaging our alumni more robustly and have expanded our outreach through events and social media. We are keeping new metrics on alumni engagement as we work toward launching the largest campaign in Peddie's history. We are tracking and correlating attendance at events and impact on giving. In addition, we recently launched a new alumni leadership organization, the Peddie Leadership Council, which is made up of 60 alumni from across the globe who return to campus twice a year for updates and serve as our ambassadors by spreading news about Peddie. In addition, we have strategically added six new positions in stewardship, alumni relations, development communications, reunion fundraising, special events and prospect research as we move closer to a campaign launch. 

What do you see as a key challenge this year, particularly for schools?

While not a new issue, so many schools are looking at the cost of private school tuition and having to continually articulate the value of the investment. We are all chasing after the same small market of students and working to define what differentiates our school. What sets our school apart? What distinguishes each school? Why would our school be a good fit for your student and your family? What is the return on this considerable investment? What are the outcomes beyond college acceptance that parents can expect? What values will be instilled? How does each school define success? These are some of the questions we are working to address at Peddie, and we are working to develop a new set of criteria for defining success and for articulating the impact of a Peddie education. I believe the pressure to answer these questions and to truly distinguish our respective schools will continue to be imperative as we work to admit the top students and reach larger fundraising goals. 

What led you to work in the independent school sector?

After 30-plus years working in the development field mostly in higher education, I was eager to work for a school where I could be very close to the students and faculty and see first-hand and up close the impact of philanthropy. I believe what happens in independent schools sets kids up for life-long success by instilling a love for learning at an early age, by teaching them to use their resources and develop relationships with faculty and fellow students, and by inspiring them with strong values and the desire to get involved and give back. 

All of these things happened for me starting at Columbus School for Girls, which I attended from kindergarten through ninth grade, and later at the Taft School where I boarded (10th through 12th grades) and learned the importance of "not to be served but to serve." At Peddie, I enjoy getting to know the students and their families well. I also enjoy the additional duties of staffing a family-style dinner table, being on dorm duty or overseeing a weekend activity. It is an honor to be part of such a close-knit community and being so close to the students helps me market and raise money for the school. 

What are some of the hot topics that will be addressed at the 2017 CASE-NAIS conference?

In addition to one of the keynote speakers—Kathy Pearson from Wharton, who will address how to build resiliency and plan for unforeseen and unknown market forces—there will be interesting presentations on international fundraising, campaign planning, designing impactful PowerPoint presentations, managing your career, and understanding Wall Street and what it means for philanthropy. We also have taken an idea from CASE District II and will host our own Shark Tank where four schools will present their new innovative ideas to a panel of industry judges.

How has CASE membership influenced your career?

One of the first things I did when joining the Peddie alumni and development team was to attend the CASE-NAIS conference as a way to connect with my peers in independent schools. I also obtained additional budget resources to ensure every member of the alumni and development staff could attend one professional conference each year. The vast majority of the staff will use this resource to attend a CASE conference in their specific area. I greatly enjoy the CASE conferences in addition to reading Currents

My goal for each conference is three-fold: meet at least three new colleagues who I intend to stay in touch with, return with three new ideas I plan to implement in the coming year, and identify a minimum of three things we are already doing extremely well. I think CASE plays a very important role in helping to network, share ideas and reinforce what is working well. It is so important to take time to reflect and analyze as we are often too quick to move on to the next task or goal without stopping to recognize achievement or tweak an existing program. CASE conferences and information provide me with the reminder as a manager to slow down, recognize success, adapt or change what's not working and to use my outside resources. 

This article is from the BriefCASE 2017 issue.