Vice president in charge of asking

Yale's new development chief.

Julie Brown

Julie Brown

Twenty-five years after Yale hired her as a fund-raiser, Joan O'Neill has been appointed to run the development office. View full image

Students casting about for a post-college career rarely consider Joan O’Neill’s profession; fund-raising just isn’t known for its glamour. But in 1987, when O’Neill happened upon a job at Yale in development—the fund-raisers’ term for fund-raising—she found a calling.

“What better thing to be selling than Yale?” asks O’Neill, who was appointed vice president for development in May. “You meet very interesting people, and they take you down paths to learn about everything that’s going on at this institution. And people are so grateful to donors.”

O’Neill takes over from retiring vice president Inge Reichenbach in directing the 200 men and women who keep the donations rolling in. It’s labor-intensive: to raise $3.9 billion in the five-year Yale Tomorrow campaign, which ended last summer, the staff contacted 150,000 alumni and parents, plus corporations, foundations, and friends of the university. In all, more than 120,000 came through.

“Probably the hardest part,” says O’Neill, “is making sure we can match the donors’ interests to the aspirations of the institution. Sometimes you don’t have an identifiable donor base for all the projects and priorities.” When an alumnus proclaims, “Art history changed my life,” development officers can encourage the gift of a professorship or a museum collection. It’s been harder, she says, to find donors for projects without an obvious pool of prospective donors, like the biology building on Science Hill, which has been postponed since the 2008 economic collapse.

O’Neill cheerfully concedes that development lacks the allure of, say, finance. She remembers David Swensen ’80PhD, who manages Yale’s endowment, saying that “everyone wants to work in the investments office; nobody wants to grow up to be a development officer.” But lately a few students have asked O’Neill about careers in development. That makes her happy. “It’s a great profession,” she says.  

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