Samantha Wheeler Marrs started her philanthropy career in 1991 as a program associate at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. After working eight years coordinating higher ed and nonprofit grant programs, she moved to Richmond to join the Advancement team at Virginia Commonwealth University as the director of corporate and foundation relations.
Over the past 19 years at VCU, Samantha has built her career in frontline fundraising and in strategic development operations. In addition to fundraising for numerous campaigns, Samantha has managed annual giving, donor relations, donor and alumni communications, regional giving, corporate and foundation relations, advancement services, campaign operations and alumni relations. Today, she leads the strategic teams that support VCU’s increasingly complex and aspirational philanthropy environment.
In 2013, Samantha created VCU’s talent management and campaign finance departments for the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, and she co-directed a conversion to Blackbaud eCRM from a 30-year-old database. Since the start of VCU’s campaign in 2013, Samantha chaired or participated in 136 new employee searches. In 2018 alone, she coordinated the recruitment of 52 alumni and fundraising professionals to VCU’s team, managing the significant cultural change and onboarding challenges that ensued during the public phase of a campaign.
Samantha has extensive board and volunteer management experience in the Richmond community, where she also helped establish several nonprofits. She serves on the board of the central Virginia chapter of AFP, as well as on the board of the Virginia Association of Fund Raising Executives. In 2018, VAFRE awarded Samantha the prestigious Nina Abady Award for Excellence in Fundraising for lifetime achievements in fundraising and commitment to the profession.
For more than 10 years, Samantha has focused on providing increased knowledge of and access to development careers. She served on AFP’s strategic planning committee focused on pipeline development of fundraisers in Virginia. She has mentored 27 nonprofit fundraisers in the Richmond community over the past 3 years, and she has coached high school students in fundraising at Maggie Walker Governors School for 9 years. In 2016, Samantha successfully developed an upper-level undergraduate fundraising class at VCU that features expert fundraisers from community organizations as guest speakers. Over the past three years, more than 40 students have completed Samantha’s Foundations of Fundraising class. She also manages the VCU CASE summer internship program, and last summer she offered a webinar on Finding Your Mentor.
Samantha graduated with a literature degree from Smith College and has a masters degree in public health from Columbia University. A native New Yorker, she and her musician husband Greg moved their family to Virginia in 2000, where their daughter attended William & Mary and the son is a Virginia Tech Hokie.