Alumni Profile: Valerie Lawson
After nearly two decades working as the director of alumni relations at University of Virginia-College of Wise, Valerie Larson changed jobs within her institution and became the director of development in 2007. Although she had done some fundraising in her previous position, she focused on event fundraising rather than working with donors on a one-on-one level. Interested in continuing her education, she earned a certificate in fundraising management from North Park University and then completed a master of higher education administration degree in 2012. “When I moved to the fundraising position, I had a stronger desire to learn all I could about higher education,” she says.
Valerie found that completing her degree online improved her written communication skills and better prepared her to correspond with donors and students through social networks. Many of her classes informed her work as well. One of her job responsibilities is to prepare annual fund solicitations and manage the annual fund phonathon. A fundraising class helped her develop and implement an appeal. “The coursework helped to improve our appeals and focus more on the message that we convey during the phonathon,” she says.
Valerie particularly enjoyed classes taught by professors Wesley Lindahl and Gianfranco Farruggia. “They are both outstanding communicators, and as an online student that was extremely important,” she says. “You can tell that they love to teach and they are engaged in every discussion. Both of them challenged me and my assumptions and helped me think of things in a different way.”
She benefited greatly from course on planned giving taught by Lindahl, which helped her to better understand all the possible vehicles that donors have to make planned gifts.
Without hesitation, Valerie recommends the program to others who want to improve their knowledge and skills in higher education, and notes that coursework can transition to nonprofit organizations too. “You get out of the program what you put into it, so students should be willing to spend time reading, writing, sharing, and participating,” she says.