Marilyn Sheperd may be new to St. Louis, but she’s no stranger to higher education fund raising. Named Fontbonne University’s new vice president for institutional advancement in August, Sheperd brings with her an extensive and successful background in helping schools achieve their goals — and she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
“I can’t imagine not being in higher education. As a fund-raiser it gives me the opportunity to impact students in a very profound way,” Sheperd said recently. “I have been privileged to work with donors who share my passion for ‘changing the world, one student at a time.’ I get to witness the joy of the donor as well as the joy of the recipient. It’s very powerful.”
Sheperd most recently served as associate vice president of development at the University of Toledo, where she provided hands-on management and direction for the university’s $100 million capital campaign. She led the administrative team that secured a $15 million gift to name the university’s college of education. She also managed the “major gift” and development activities of the university’s nine colleges. Sheperd has held key fund-raising positions at institutions such as the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Chicago.
“Marilyn brings a breadth of experience in fund raising and institutional leadership to Fontbonne,” said Dr. Dennis C. Golden, Fontbonne president. “It is clear that her proven record, determination and dynamic personality will drive the university’s fund-raising efforts to even greater levels of success.”
Sheperd Shares Background, Vision
Sheperd will oversee all aspects of Fontbonne’s fund-raising efforts — including the new $20 million comprehensive campaign — as well as alumni relations activities. Link caught up with Fontbonne’s newest member of the administrative team for an informative and interesting Q&A.
Q: You weren’t looking for a different job. How did you find out about Fontbonne, and why did you take the position?
A: While I wasn’t really looking for another job, when this opportunity presented itself I felt that I owed it to myself to investigate. What I found when I interviewed on campus was a community of committed faculty and staff, and a student body that was diverse, but united together in their aspirations and hopes for the future. The mission of the university is not only compelling – it’s contagious! I was hooked! From a career perspective, this is a wonderful place to work and to grow professionally. Not that there are no challenges — Fontbonne is one of many worthy institutions of higher education in this city. All of them are competing for many of the same dollars. The question becomes how to distinguish Fontbonne from the other institutions. What is it that makes us different? What will interest a potential funder? Answering these questions energizes me. I know that I can do it. I know that Fontbonne can do it.
Q: What kind of child were you? What did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I was fearless, unflappable and never shy. I’ve always been even-tempered. When I was young, my ambitions ran the gamut — from a ballet dancer to a veterinarian. Although I never pursued dance beyond college, I have always loved it. As for the dream of being a veterinarian, that dropped off my radar screen when I realized that I had to take (and pass) organic chemistry. Those ambitions aside, I was always drawn to occupations that involved either people or animals. Nothing is an accident. I think that I landed in the right profession, given my interests and my disposition.
Q: What is it about higher education that appeals to you so much?
A: There is nothing quite like the energy of a university. It is such a complex animal — from the faculty, to students, to staff, to alumni, to friends. When all of the pieces come together, it is magic, and miracles happen. I believe from the bottom of my heart that the ills of our society cannot be cured without a well-educated population. Education is both liberating and empowering. To the extent that I can serve an institution of higher learning, I am helping to solve the problem. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Q: What do you look forward to doing most in this new position?
A: As the vice president of institutional advancement, I am, of course, concerned with securing as much financial support for this university as possible. I believe that as we continue to tell the Fontbonne story, we will continue to garner support from alumni, corporations, foundations and friends. It is such a compelling story. I look forward to spreading the word.