Executive Director for Gift Planning

Texas, United States
Salary Commensurate with experience
Apr 01, 2021
Apr 30, 2021
Employment Type
Full Time

The University

The vision for Southern Methodist University (SMU) has always been bold. It is an enduring aspect of SMU’s character, exemplified by its mission to create, expand and impart knowledge through teaching, research and service, shaping world changers who contribute to their communities and excel in their professions in a global society. Founded in 1911, this nationally ranked comprehensive research university with a liberal arts tradition empowers the bold, curious and creative with limitless opportunities to effect real change and solve 21st-century problems. 

As president of SMU since 1995, R. Gerald Turner is leading an era of unprecedented progress. President Turner’s tenure has included two highly successful major gift campaigns: The Campaign for SMU: A Time to Lead (1997 – 2002), followed by SMU Unbridled: The Second Century Campaign (2008 – 2015). Together, these historic major gift campaigns raised more than $1.6 billion for student scholarships, endowed faculty positions, academic programs and capital projects, including new academic, student life and athletics facilities.  SMU is about to embark on the public phase of a third comprehensive campaign.

The optimistic outlook of Dallas is at the heart of SMU, and SMU’s enterprising spirit has helped shape Dallas into a global gateway for people of all backgrounds who want to change the world. The 234-acre main campus near the heart of Dallas is a vibrant environment of energy and creativity. Through its eight schools, SMU boosts intellectual capital and shapes future leaders by attracting exceptional students, faculty and staff. The spark of innovation powers an academic enterprise that spans the arts, business, engineering, humanities, law, sciences, teaching and theology. It also promotes data literacy across disciplines and ignites the vast potential at the intersection of data science, high-speed computing, gaming, virtual reality and artificial intelligence to fuel research, creative scholarship and transformative teaching. As Dallas’ university, SMU offers students life-changing access to the future-forward momentum of Big D – one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions – for incredible learning, research, social and career opportunities.

Campus Profile

Today, SMU is home to a student body of more than 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students – from all 50 states and 83 countries who take advantage of small classes, hands-on research opportunities, leadership development, community service and innovative programs. Students of color constitute more than 31 percent of the student body. Forty-nine percent of undergraduates and 48 percent of graduate students are female. More than half of undergraduates are from outside Texas. Three out of four undergraduate students receive grants and/or scholarships. Among students reporting a religious preference, 28 percent are Catholic, 14 percent are Methodist, 46 percent are from other Protestant denominations, and 12 percent represent other faiths (including Judaism, Islam and Hinduism).

As home to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, SMU is the only private university with a presidential library on its main campus. The Bush Center serves as a resource for the study of the life and career of the 43rd president of the United States and promotes an understanding of the Presidency, American history and important issues of public policy.

Well into its second century of achievement, SMU upholds a steadfast commitment to its mission. The aspirations and optimism that led to the school’s founding more than a century ago continue to drive the future-focused academic enterprise, shaping world changers – the problem solvers, the influencers and the leaders who will make an impact around the globe.

Under the leadership of President R. Gerald Turner, SMU has made unparalleled progress in academic quality, infrastructure and financial strength, and seeks to advance even more in the years to come. To that end, the school’s Strategic Plan 2016 – 2025 outlines University objectives to be achieved by 2025 and maps six enduring goals: to enhance the academic quality and stature of the University; to improve teaching and learning; to strengthen scholarly research, creative achievement and opportunities for innovation; to sustain student development and a supportive campus experience; to broaden global perspectives, and to increase revenue generation and promote responsible stewardship of resources.

The Opportunity

SMU seeks an Executive Director for Gift Planning.  The ideal candidate is an innovative, dynamic leader adept at both strategy and operations and passionate about life-changing opportunities on a personal, career level as well as more broadly in terms of impact.  This role affords such candidate the opportunity to join SMU in the launch of an exciting fundraising campaign that will catapult the University to the next level in shaping world changers. In addition to holding a prospect portfolio, the Executive Director for Gift Planning will lead, develop, and manage efforts to utilize planned and endowment giving to further the vision and priorities of SMU and achieve the school’s fundraising aspirations. 

Reporting to the Assistant Vice President for Principal and Major Gifts (AVP), this individual will work closely with executive directors, fundraisers, deans, and other colleagues within Development and External Affairs (DEA) to plan and implement the marketing, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of planned and endowment gifts primarily at the principal and major gift levels.

The Executive Director will be a key member of the DEA leadership team and will play a significant role in developing the execution plan for the University’s next comprehensive campaign.


Prospect Portfolio Management:

  • Lead and oversee management of the Gift Planning program and prospect portfolios. Partner with other fundraisers and Development Research and Prospect Management team members to identify, qualify, cultivate, solicit and steward planned giving prospects and donors.
  • Collaborate closely with the AVP and DEA leadership to ensure assignments and activities are communicated throughout the division. Maintain a portfolio of approximately 25 principal and major-gift-level planned giving donors and prospects.
  • Partner with and share expertise with other fundraisers on principal and major gift solicitations.

Administration and Project Management:  

  • The Executive Director will be responsible for the annual plan of action, goals, budget, and personnel management of the Gift Planning team and will provide strategic support in the management of all gift planning and endowment projects and priorities.
  • In collaboration with the AVP, the Executive Director will serve as a liaison with the Offices of the General Counsel, Treasurer, VP for Business and Finance as well as the Vice President for DEA and other DEA leadership.
  • Manage one planned giving officer and one administrative staff member to provide services to colleagues and planned giving, and endowment donors and prospects; work with colleagues and donor representatives in negotiating and drafting necessary documents, articulating the vision for endowment gifts through marketing strategies, accurate solicitation proposals, and gift documentation.
  • In collaboration with the AVP, provide guidance and direction on acceptance, receipt, and valuation of gifts. The Executive Director will have oversight for the development of Gift Planning marketing materials, including web page content, external and internal communications. He or She will communicate with and train fundraisers, leadership, and others regarding gift planning and endowment giving processes, reporting, and requirements.

Stewardship Management: 

  • Work closely with Donor Relations to develop strategies for stewardship of all planned giving and endowment donors, to define Dallas Hall Society structure and membership, and to ensure accurate preparation of all documentation and appropriate recognition for gift compliance. Donor Relations is responsible for executing, in communication with the Office of Legal Affairs and the Office of the Treasurer, the annual endowment reporting process to assure data integrity. He or She will work with Program Services in the preparation and execution of donor events.

Volunteer Management: 

  • Represent and advocate for SMU's vision and priorities, as well as the planned and endowment giving opportunities that support them, through the management of the SMU Planned Giving Advisory Council, seeking to build strong relationships with members of the estate planning professional community.
  • The position will be called on to think collaboratively, strategically, and creatively while participating in senior-level decision-making.

The Ideal Candidate


An innovative leader able to execute actionable fundraising strategies.

A strategic thinker with the ability to translate concept into action as part of building and inspiring a strong team of staff.

A leader capable of cultivating a professional and open environment in which information is readily shared with a variety of constituents, and integrity and collaboration are essential attributes.

A hardworking, self-motivated individual who fully dedicates his or her energy to a cause and is willing to “go beyond the job description”, including extending extra effort when necessary to see projects to successful conclusions.

A service-oriented person who engenders support among colleagues, staff, and the community by virtue of her or his knowledge, experience, creativity, vision, and dedication to the mission of SMU.


A minimum of ten years of professional work experience; at least seven years in planned giving or endowment experience, is required.

Knowledge regarding the legal and tax implications at the federal and state level of planned gifts and endowment gifts.

Higher education or non-profit experience preferred.

Experience with budget and project management.

Relationship management experience with principal-gift-level donors and volunteers preferred. 

Proven direct and successful fundraising experience preferred.

Familiarity with Dallas area estate planning professional community preferred.

Experience using a constituent database such as Blackbaud Enterprise CRM preferred.

Skills & Knowledge

An in-depth understanding of gift planning, with deep subject matter knowledge of the various charitable-giving tools that can be integrated into a donor's financial and estate planning goals.

Highly developed relationship management skills grounded in superb communication and effective listening.

Ability to steward donor relations toward impactful partnerships thereby moving the mission of SMU forward.

Written communication skills and the ability to prepare proposals, reports, and correspondence.

A functionally fluent leader with the ability to provide focus and motivation to a professional staff in a goal-driven, fast-paced, and changing environment.

An insightful, articulate, accomplished, and persuasive leader committed to the support of university advancement.

Proficiency with Microsoft Office (Word, Excel).

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