New UVA Darden Executive Director of Advancement Sees Potential in Passionate Alumni Base
By Dave Hendrick
Kara Mullins recently joined the University of Virginia Darden School of Business as executive director of Advancement. A skilled fundraiser, Mullins has held senior development positions at a number of well-known Washington, D.C., institutions, including the Phillips Collection, the National Gallery of Art and, most recently, the Brookings Institution. Mullins shared her thoughts on advancement, scholarships and joining Darden at a time when the School’s agenda has never been more ambitious.
Q. Welcome! What appealed to you about working at Darden?
A. Thank you! The Darden School is an incredible place, but for me it came down to the people. Not only is Darden one of the world’s leading business schools, its advancement efforts leverage one of the most loyal, passionate and accomplished alumni bases. I am thrilled to step into this role at a time of significant momentum. It’s the perfect time for me to partner with a celebrated new dean as well as the most respected, effective and talented business school faculty and administration — all while the University readies itself for its anticipated Bicentennial Campaign.
Dean [Scott] Beardsley’s vision for Darden and the expectations for the new executive director of Advancement are ambitious and exciting. I’m delighted to join such a talented team and am certain that my years of successful fundraising experience, effective team management, and campaign planning and implementation skills will be a tremendous asset as we work to reach our goals.
You have worked at leading nonprofits such as the National Gallery of Art, The Phillips Collection and The Brookings Institution. How would you describe your approach to advancement?
With more than 16 years of advancement experience, it comes down to being a stabilizing leader and an extremely effective fundraiser. I know that I am only as successful as the people around me, and I work very hard to build and nurture the very best-in-class fundraising teams.
I believe that forging productive relationships both internally and with key external stakeholders is critical. It’s also important to have a realistic view of your fundraising goals and priorities and knowing exactly what it will take to meet and exceed these goals. This includes consistently identifying innovative fundraising opportunities and engagement strategies to increase giving and retention.
My approach includes a combination of thorough research, a multi-faceted strategy for cultivation, effective solicitation plans, and executing superb stewardship with the intention of renewing and increasing annual support.
How do you think about the unique challenges and opportunities in advancement in the realm of higher education?
The opportunities are endless, but for me it goes back again to people. Nurturing philanthropic engagement among students from the very beginning creates a foundation for future fundraising success and generates lifelong supporters of Darden.
At Darden, we have the advantage of focusing on our unique programming and articulating both the importance of the School’s mission as well as our key differentiating strengths: the world’s leading MBA educational experience; the most effective and talented business school faculty; innovative new programs; a passionate, accomplished alumni network; and new investments in technology to enhance the core case-study method.
The advancement challenges aren’t unique to higher education — it makes no difference if our mission is health care, community services, arts and culture or higher education, fundraising is increasingly defined by the latest advancement trends and ongoing pressure on institutional budgets. Building personal relationships and stewarding a robust and loyal base of support from alumni and friends is what makes the difference.
What are the critical components of a successful advancement campaign?
With any advancement campaign, it’s imperative to prepare effectively, align organizational expectations, and craft a strategic and compelling case for support. We must personally engage alumni and friends through tailored outreach and target support that connects their specific interests with a variety of funding opportunities. It’s critical to clearly define the need for support, how it will be utilized and the positive impact it will provide for Darden.
A successful advancement campaign requires developing a concise campaign strategy from conceptualization to implementation, execution and beyond. It will be my job to strategically position Dean Beardsley with key constituents, bringing clarity to his vision to rise among the elite business schools in the world, while also maintaining laser focus on our overall priorities and determine how they best fit into the fundraising context at Darden.
Dean Beardsley has an ambitious goal to dramatically increase the funds raised for current-use scholarships. Are you looking forward to helping lead that effort?
Absolutely! Dean Beardsley is passionate about dramatically increasing the funds raised for scholarship support and he made this clear to me in our very first conversation. It was inspiring and exciting to hear. Darden is at a pivotal moment — we’re climbing in the rankings, but the competition among top business schools is intense and attracting top talent is a necessity. Not only do current-use scholarships attract the best and the brightest students, but they transform lives in the process. Promising applicants should never have to turn down Darden and choose another school because of a better financial aid package. Dean Beardsley has the solution and I’m looking forward to being a part of this critical effort.
Tell us something you’re particularly excited about in this role?
This is a very special opportunity for me. I’m incredibly excited about managing a talented advancement team and working with the dean to lead Darden’s next campaign, which will be larger than many standalone colleges. On a personal level, my family is thrilled to make the move to such a thriving and diverse community, and we look forward to making Charlottesville our new home.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia