Member Profile: Joe Cheeseman
Director of Development Joe Cheeseman came to the Nueva School in the Bay Area of Northern California, U.S., four years ago. In that time, he helped the school professionalize its advancement operation, and break campaign fundraising records along the way.
The Nueva School serves gifted students and, in the last decade, has grown from a pre-K-8 school to pre-K-12 school. The school collaborates with peer institutions nationally and globally to share its strategies to best serve gifted students.
How did you get started in development?
I have to credit a great mentor, Eve Kleger, who was head of school at the Village Community School in New York City, U.S. I served in several capacities there including teaching and athletics. I never thought I would be interested in development. Eve, who since passed away, saw my ability to quickly develop relationships, and she pushed me out of my comfort zone. She gave me an opportunity to try development, and gave me the time, training, and patience that allowed me to cultivate the skills. One of things that surprised me is that the relationships that you develop in philanthropy last a lifetime and have an impact for future generations. I loved the role and found a career path far beyond anything I imagined for myself.
I went on to several other rewarding roles in the field. I was at Hope Hospice in Rhode Island, U.S., where I really enjoyed providing resources for underinsured and uninsured people. At the Providence Country Day School in Rhode Island, we had success increasing alumni engagement. As the Chief Development Officer at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City, I worked to secure an endowment to keep the museum alive in perpetuity.
What led you to this position at the Nueva School?
I wasn’t looking to relocate or change jobs. I was recruited and a lot intrigued me about the position. I liked the school’s twofold mission: one, to serve gifted students, and two, to share our best practices nationally and internationally. The school was in the middle of a $100 million capital campaign and at that time had secured about $50 million. I knew there was much more potential there. I was excited–along with a bit apprehensive–about the challenge to build up and professionalize the development office. Due to staff transitions in previous years, fundraising had largely been delegated to the school’s very loyal and enthusiastic volunteers. They needed the guidance and direction of a professional team.
And how did that go?
I had the opportunity to look at everything and evaluate needs versus what we had. I got to determine needed positions, create job descriptions that aligned with industry standards, and hire the best. And it’s been my honor to work with this talented, dedicated team.
There are now six of us: a director and an assistant director of annual giving, a director of alumni relations, a manager of development data and reporting, and a manager of development operations. With the school now in its 10th year of having a high school, it was imperative that we develop a strong alumni relations and engagement program and we’ve made great strides. Last year we held our first five-year reunion to celebrate the Class of 2017. And we’ve developed an alumni portal, so that for the first time alumni can connect with other alumni. That drives most of our newsletter content. We’ve done some extensive work developing regional alumni programming around the country.
We operate using data-driven best practices and industry standards–much of which comes from CASE–and for that reason, we are trusted and highly regarded.
Now, based on data, our dedicated parent volunteers bring in about $6 million annually and feel informed and supported. Their time and talent is used strategically. Our office gives them the communications templates, along with direction on timing of messages for each donor, based on data related to giving history.
And there's been great success with the capital campaign. Tell us about that.
We raised more than $120 million to complete earlier planned facility projects and accelerate new projects while building up our endowment. Because of our success, we were able to add an additional $35 million to endowment, with $15 million to support to professional development and $20 million to support financial assistance.
We are blessed to be in a community with a strong legacy of philanthropy and a board of trustees that believes in our mission and the power of engagement. Everyone wanted to be involved and my goal was to be the coach behind the scenes, elevating everyone to shine. The campaign was developed with input from the entire Nueva community. That was key to the commitment to and belief in the campaign and future success of the school.
Just looking at the endowment, that shows the value this community places on caring for the people who do the most important work here: our talented faculty. We really talked through how we can help our faculty grow and attract and retain the very best talent. And by increasing financial assistance, our commitment to broad economic representation clearly resonated with our donors.
How would you describe development to someone unfamiliar with the profession?
I think there can be a misconception that we tend to surround ourselves only with wealthy families. But the real power of our work is creating an environment where everyone feels welcomed, respected, valued, and included. There’s a responsibility and privilege to be the person who encourages people to engage in a multitude of ways to both care for the present and pay it forward for the future. Our community does that at whatever level each individual can, and it all makes a difference.
What do you enjoy about living on the West Coast?
I love the ability to cycle throughout every season of the year. I’m spending a lot of time hiking and appreciating nature. That was especially true during the pandemic. It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you are surrounded by such beautiful vistas and nature at every turn.
Case Study: The Nueva School
About the author(s)
Ellen N. Woods is a CASE content creator.