Degree in philanthropy and development equals credibility

Posted By: Deborah Nahrgang On: 2024-02-16
Posted On: 2024-02-16

Dr. Anthony Leigh M’16 spent the first 10 years of his career in government, first as a legislative assistant in Washington, D.C., and then as the deputy state treasurer for the State of Alabama.

Around 2007, he decided to change career paths to one that was no longer dependent on the electoral decisions of voters — and also one that still allowed him to have a fulfilling career and serve people in a meaningful way.

He found just such a career in higher education, working for Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala., since 2009. He adds, “And I still love what I do.”

In his current position as senior vice president, student and institutional development and dean of students, he oversees the Center for Career and Vocation, alumni relations, development, fundraising, donor relations, communication and marketing, and student affairs.

“I get the opportunity, on a daily basis, to see lives transformed and students grow in wisdom and have opportunities to lead and prepare to take their next steps into the real world,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing to come to work every day and experience college life and interface with college students. My other hat, as chief development officer, is telling the stories of these students — and our mission — to individuals who can positively advance the institution to better serve even more students.”

In October, Huntingdon launched a $17 million capital campaign for a new wellness facility, and Dr. Leigh is proud to say they’ve secured over half the funds for that project that will benefit students.

When describing a successful fundraiser, Dr. Leigh listed two requirements, a genuine spirit and a deep unabashed enthusiasm and belief in the mission of the institution. “I can’t imagine doing this line of work for something I was not wholeheartedly committed to,” he said. “I am so blessed to love my institution, to serve alongside people I respect, and to have a pool of students who I enjoy serving. That makes this line of work so enjoyable.”

There are always challenges to development work, the largest being competing interests. “Every person who is affiliated is also being solicited by other institutions and nonprofits, so there’s always competing interest for dollars,” he said. “One challenge in the world of communications is that getting messages into the hands of donors is not the same as it was 15 years ago. Email addresses change. People have done away with landlines. Constantly staying connected to your people through all of the different ways people receive information is an ongoing opportunity.”

Part of ongoing communications includes keeping the message fresh and relevant. “It would be easy to copy and paste the same fundraising appeal we did six months ago because it’s the same mission and goal,” he said.

Dr. Leigh said he honed his development skills through Saint Mary’s M.A. in Philanthropy and Development program, which he learned about through other alumni at a conference in Georgia.

“I loved the idea of spending two weeks in Winona in July away from the Alabama heat,” he said with a laugh (and a southern drawl). I had been fundraising for five years at that point, but I always detected that there was an academic piece, a body of knowledge that I did not know because I had no formal schooling in fundraising. It opened my eyes to a lot of information about processes, plans, and strategies.”

He believes anyone should take the program to 1. get a master’s degree to advance in your career 2. grow in wisdom, applicable knowledge, and confidence, and 3. form a valuable network of professional leaders who are still meaningful well beyond graduation.

“I always felt the work we were doing through Saint Mary’s was helping me in my job performance at Huntingdon,” Dr. Leigh said. “I also found, through the cohort, this amazing collection of brains that I had access to. That network of people, all across the U.S., really became special and useful to me. The other thing Saint Mary’s really did for me was take me out of the bubble of Alabama and expose me to people with diverse world views, different political viewpoints, religious backgrounds, and cultural interpretations. That has been very fruitful for me.

“Anything (program director) Audrey Kintzi is doing, I wholly endorse,” he said, adding, “Not every school offers this. More than 30 cohorts have completed this renowned program. When you are working in this industry, having a master’s degree in philanthropy and development gives one a certain credibility with your peers, with your board, and with donors. This degree is unique in this field.”

After graduating from Saint Mary’s, Dr. Leigh went on to earn a doctorate in higher education management. “Being a full-time employee and being able to complete my master’s degree gave me the confidence that I could make the next step and get a doctorate. Saint Mary’s was very instrumental in my continued educational journey.”