Associate Vice President, Foundation and Alumni Communications

New Brunswick
New Jersey


The Rutgers University Foundation seeks a strategic, creative and experienced professional to serve as the Chief Communications Officer for the Rutgers University Foundation and the Rutgers University Alumni Association. In anticipation of a future multi-billion dollar campaign, the Associate Vice President of Foundation and Alumni Communications (herein AVP) will join the organization during a period of strategic growth with an emphasis on defining messaging to our philanthropic and alumni audiences. In addition, the AVP will be an internal partner to departments and teams, sought after for collaborative product development, provide strategic prioritization that aligns with the Foundation’s current strategic plan and be a critical vision setter for a 13-person communications team. The AVP will be expected to work on high-level proposal development while also creating and executing on the communications needs associated with campaign planning and readiness. In addition, s/he will partner closely with key communicators across all campuses on items that mutually impact the University and the Foundation, such as crisis communications, transformative gift announcement and high-impact news, both regional and national. As an immediate colleague to the Associate Vice Presidents for Alumni Relations and Annual Giving, the AVP will be part of an interdependent team, where collaboration and teamwork are common definitions for success.


The Rutgers University Foundation is an independent 501(c)3 advancement operation with the mission of fostering alumni engagement and garnering philanthropic support from Rutgers University alumni, friends, and organizations. The University has a total of over 500,000 alumni worldwide. In addition, the Rutgers University Alumni Association (RUAA) is a collaborative part of the Foundation and works closely with all areas of Rutgers advancement operation. Reporting to the Vice President for Alumni Relations, Communications and Annual Giving, the AVP will work closely with senior leadership and will be directly involved in the execution of the strategic plan. The scope of his/her work will include advancement related communications work across all three Universities – New Brunswick, Newark and Camden, as well as the Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences division (RBHS, a 14-unit academic medical system), non-degree units and BIG10 Athletics.


The ideal candidate will have a strong record of segmented messaging and marketing automation strategies, capable of envisioning and executing on communication plans that speak to large audience and individuals alike, concentrating on authenticity and brand identity. Experience and/or intimate familiarity with crisis communications, media relations and print/online media is highly desired, as is the ability to pivot quickly to new digital and social media platforms. S/he must have solid management experience, preferably overseeing teams with a track record of motivating staff, embracing change and encouraging colleagues to take initiative and lead by example. S/he must have a sincere desire to partner with internal colleagues, spending as much time with his/her team as with other teams across the Foundation. The successful candidate will need to have a strong background in utilizing data for audience segmentation. Accessible and collegial leadership style is a prerequisite, as is the creativity and energy to convince and persuade varying constituencies of new ideas and directions.


The AVP must have a Bachelor’s degree and at least 10 years of experience in a comparable communications operation, ideally with a background in advancement/fundraising/alumni communications.  Demonstrated success in collaborating with advancement partners to achieve strategic goals and promote cross functional project execution is required.


Rutgers University Foundation


Created in 1973, the Rutgers University Foundation advances Rutgers' pursuit of excellence in education, research, and public service. The RUF provides the bridge between donors and the schools and programs, faculty, and students that make up Rutgers University. The Foundation helps to match caring people with satisfying and meaningful opportunities to make gifts that have an impact on Rutgers.


RUF has 224 full time employees (63 frontline fundraisers) and is in an enviable moment of growth and expansion. The Foundation’s primary functions are development and alumni relations, which collaborate with Foundation and Alumni Communications all associated support services. RUF employees enjoy a collaborative relationship with the University, sharing many resources and benefits, yet still maintaining its status as an independent 501(c)3 non-profit. The Foundation’s main offices are located in New Brunswick, where this AVP will be located along with his/her associated staff and departments. The RUF also has advancement offices in Rutgers-Newark and Rutgers-Camden, and a fast-growing advancement team dedicated to Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.


More info on the Foundation can be found on:


Rutgers University Alumni Association


Formed in 2008, the Rutgers University Alumni Association (RUAA) serves all alumni of Rutgers University. Staff work in partnership with a board and network of alumni leaders to advance the best interests and well being of Rutgers University by engaging all alumni in the life of the institution. RUAA serves more than 500,000 living alumni of Rutgers University. Membership in the RUAA is free and automatically granted to all graduates of Rutgers University, or any of its predecessor schools, upon graduation.


More information on the RUAA can be found on:




Donna Thornton joined Rutgers University in 2006, was named Vice President for Alumni Relations in December 2007 and in 2015 added the departments of Annual Giving and Foundation and Alumni Communications. Thornton has played a vital role in transforming alumni relations at Rutgers. In July of 2008, the University launched the newly-formed Rutgers University Alumni Association (RUAA), its first all-inclusive alumni association. She was instrumental in reorganizing both the staff and volunteer structure to support the university's new non-dues based association.

In her capacity at Rutgers, Thornton has university-wide responsibilities in annual giving and alumni relations, engaging Rutgers alumni with the university and facilitating their support via a robust and comprehensive annual giving program.  Thornton is also a member of the University President’s Administrative Council and the Foundation leadership team, where she is a strong advocate for the role of volunteers and alumni engagement in advancing the overall mission and goals of the institution. Thornton is often consulted for her strategic and change management skills.

Prior to joining Rutgers, Thornton served as the COO and interim President and CEO of the University of Maine Alumni Association where she also directed the annual giving and membership dues programs.  She has extensive experience in the public and private sectors; before her position at the University of Maine she was elected to the city council in Brewer, Maine, and later served that community as its Mayor.

Thornton is a committed advancement professional and is a sought after speaker and dedicated volunteer. She is a member and former officer of the Board of the Council for Alumni Association Executives (CAAE), former president of the Big East Conference Alumni Professionals Organization, and a former member of the CASE Commission on Alumni Relations. She holds a bachelor's degree in public management and a master's degree in public administration, both from the University of Maine.





Specific Responsibilities and Duties:

  • Work closely with Foundation, RUAA and University leadership to strategize and implement the Foundation’s strategic plan. With one of the three major priorities of this plan focusing on creating urgency in our work, the AVP will be tasked with creating tactics to ensure all constituents gain a deep understand of the need for and impact of philanthropic gifts at Rutgers.
  • The AVP will lead the Foundation and Alumni Communications Department and implement an organizational structure that is a best-in-class, capable of providing exemplary communication partnership across all entities in the Foundation and the RUAA. Much like other team leaders, this AVP will be expected to build, execute and monitor a functional strategic plan for the team that identifies efficiency, expedience, high quality and excellent partnership services as key markers for success. Of particular importance is leading and participating in cross functional collaboration teams with Alumni Relations and Annual Giving as recognition the interdependency the departments. 
  • Manage all crisis communications and media relations on behalf of the Foundation. Act as the point person internally and to the donor base regarding any crisis matters, while collaborating closely with central University Communications leaders to ensure synced and unified messaging. The Foundation possesses a strong relationship with counterparts at the University; the AVP will continue to build on this relationship by finding common ground not just on branding and trademark matters, but on best practices and overall efficient communication between the two entities.  
  • As the Chief Communications Officer, provide the Vice President with timely updates on work in progress with clear updates on pipeline projects. The AVP will have the enviable position of prioritizing requested work; as such, s/he must be in continuous contact and lock-step with the Vice President and the AVPs of Annual Giving and Alumni Relations.

Qualities of the Ideal Candidate


The AVP can be expected to have the following personal characteristics and professional qualifications:

  • A minimum of 10 years of communications experience, ideally at institutions of higher education in an integrated advancement division. Demonstrated success in developing successful communications efforts, particularly in conjunction with a comprehensive campaign, resulting in measurable increases in dollars raised, donor participation and alumni engagement. Experience at a multi-campus institution is a plus, as is experience in working with athletics and/or multiple constituencies and varied audiences. Candidates with experience working with marketing automation software is highly desired.
  • Demonstrated personal interest in and affinity for a university like Rutgers. A deep passion for public education and a personal desire for the advancement of educational access and research is expected. A B.A./B.S. is required, preferably in a communications related field; advanced degree is welcome;
  • The ability to quickly gain substantive knowledge and comprehension of an ever-evolving multi-faceted University and the interest in translating those qualities to the philanthropic aspirations of new and existing donors. The maturity, judgment, and respect requisite to intelligently engage with leaders across the University; Integrity, creativity, energy, and independence; a collegial, understanding leadership style that values team members and institutional partners and allows an appropriate amount of responsibility delegation;
  • Evidence of strong interpersonal skills, particularly the ability to lead teams and to work effectively and collaboratively with various groups and diverse constituencies. Creativity and insight in identifying effective collaborations between institutional goals and needs and prospective donors. The ability to quickly and adeptly learn new concepts, and to then effectively communicate them to alumni and donor audience



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