From New York City to Chile to back home in Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Foundation’s Executive Director for Advancement at the Price College of Business and Lindauer placement, Jared McDuffey has a world of life lessons, professional growth, and good advice.
Would you share a brief overview of your career and how you got back to the University of Oklahoma?
I graduated from the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications here at the University of Oklahoma where I was introduced to what at that time felt like a new concept: corporate social responsibility. I fell in love with it, and upon graduation, went to New York. It was 2008 — not the best time economically. Nonetheless, I was fortunate to be hired by Emanate Public Relations to help support Bank of America. Ultimately, I was on the team that helped sunset the Countrywide Home Loans brand and introduce the new Bank of America Home Loans. This is when I first learned about the expression “drinking from a firehose.” It was so true for me.
After that, I started my career in fundraising at Fordham Law School. I cut my teeth there; it’s where my fundraising foundation was laid; it’s where I formed lifelong mentors and friends. A few years later, I went to Brooklyn Law School where I had my first MGO role. I fell in love with major gift fundraising, especially with individuals. From there, I went to Long Island University — recruited by Lindauer — where I continued to grow. This is where I began saying to myself, “I’m a fundraiser: This is who I am. This is what I do.” It was powerful to claim that as my professional identity.
After experiencing success at LIU, I decided I wanted to step outside of higher education to experience fundraising in the NGO world, preferably in a complex, matrixed organization. This is largely what motived me to go to The Nature Conservancy, which was a transformative, international fundraising experience.
It was always a dream to return to OU, so when Lindauer called, I was incredibly excited — and grateful. I couldn’t be more thrilled about returning to higher education and having the opportunity to serve my alma mater at such an important time.
What has been your biggest challenge or highlight in your career?
I would say these are one and the same. The biggest challenge for me was learning how to fundraise internationally and to manage a team scattered around five countries, all with different cultures, different expectations, even different tax incentives. Our success in face of this is also my biggest highlight.
You worked at two law schools and a university and then you went to The Nature Conservancy — what led you to make that leap?
There are some inherent differences between higher education and the NGO world. Most notably, you don’t have built-in constituencies in an NGO. I wanted to experience that; to live and breathe that important segment of our industry. Why TNC? Its approach to conservation is long-term, which I find to be refreshingly spot on.
Do you have a particular success story from this international work?
Our opportunity within the Conservancy’s Latin America Region was to increase discretionary funding that could help unlock larger, more restricted gift opportunities. We turned our attention to our volunteer boards, of which we had five throughout the region. Across each program, progressing at their own rates, we institutionalized best practices that would cut through the disbelief of philanthropy and really demystify the process overall.
For example, we started in Chile, where we assessed certain enabling conditions, one of which was the country’s Program Director’s appetite to “fail fast.” She did not fail for a second! Her courage and positivity towards transforming how we could fundraise in Latin America created the energy and ethos needed to foster a highly engaged, philanthropic board — in Chile, where there are over 90 regulations on donations, and most are taxed at 40 percent. Within a year, our board was engaged and fully giving, the success of which encouraged other country programs to begin adopting and adapting.
You could be considered a leading expert in managing a remote team given your work at The Nature Conservancy. How do you feel about that?
I would push back on the idea that I’m some kind of expert on it. I am always learning, but I did have an incredible experience in living the Zoom life before it became necessary last year. It was a “roll up your sleeves and figure it out” kind of experience. There was no time where I was able to sit back and say, “Here’s the kind of pedagogy I’d like to develop and implement for leading the team.”
Instead, what I did is rely on what I knew best, which was building relationships. You’re doing it through a different medium of course, but the same principles apply, which are being empathetic, being understanding of where everyone comes into each conversation, being authentic, and genuinely energized about everyone’s success. If you do that through clear, concise, and thoughtful communication, I believe you can build a strong team no matter the time zone differences.
What drew you to this new opportunity at the University of Oklahoma?
I’ve always had a dream to return to my alma mater. Once I learned about the strategic decisions that both the Foundation and University were making as well as what was coming down the pike for Price College, to say I was impressed is an understatement. I was amazed at the level of leadership across the board and as an alumnus felt a tremendous sense of pride.
It was a no-brainer for me to pursue this role and have the opportunity to sit down with other alumni and share where we’re going. My wife makes fun of me, claiming I overuse the word “bullish.” Perhaps I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
So, without revealing any secrets, what do you see as the biggest opportunity?
My biggest opportunity is to grow personally and professionally within this high-value organization. The second thing, which is more holistic and team-wide, is that we are significantly growing our advancement team and operations. That provides an immense opportunity for each of us to really create a legacy here at the Foundation and across the University. The third thing that is exciting is the economic growth and opportunity in Oklahoma. I have been near evangelical the past eight months, and the sheen isn’t wearing off. I am, yes, “bullish” about Oklahoma’s future.
We have a tremendous opportunity to support economic growth and diversity in communities across the state, urban and rural. Having grown up in a small town in southwestern Oklahoma, I couldn’t be more excited and prouder to be able to see that come to fruition. It will take time, but we have high ambitions that will be impactful in the classroom and beyond as well.
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging have a stronger presence in our work than ever before. How is that increased focus present in your work and how is the University of Oklahoma demonstrating its commitment to DEI?
As an alumnus, I know that DEI is a priority at the University of Oklahoma. I ran across a recent quote from OU President Joe Harroz that I found particularly empowering on this subject: “Education is not just scholarly, that education is around social and emotional growth. It is around understanding people who are not like you. It’s about gaining empathy, and it’s about being able to impact the lives of others, and not just yourself.” I am eager to learn more about the various DEI initiatives across the University.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would say enjoy the opportunities within the opportunity. It requires you to be present in the moment and is totally worth it. I spent two months in Bogotá, Columbia when I first started at The Nature Conservancy to improve my Spanish. I was in one of the most culturally and naturally rich regions of the world, and I worked the entire time. Put simply, I didn’t experience as much as I should have, and that’s what I mean about the opportunities within the opportunity. It’s one of my favorite countries and one of my favorite cities, but I overlooked things to see and experience in the moment. It is important to be present. In my children, I have two perfect reasons to stay present. I go home each day and learn about what they learned, and they get to enjoy me trying to explain what I learned at work — inevitably, I learn more from them.
Interviewed by Megan Abbett, Lindauer Senior Consultant.