Jessica Leitner, Executive Director of Campaign and Leadership Giving
A key theme of Baruch’s Strategic Plan, 2013 - 2018 -- one that supports every college initiative -- is establishing fiscal sustainability. Fundraising plays a major role in strengthening the College’s financial foundation, and the most visible manifestation of this effort has been the Baruch Means Business campaign.
Begun in January 2007, the Campaign closed this past spring on time and in excess of its goal, raising over $157 million. Much of its success can be credited to Jessica Leitner, who joined Baruch’s Office of College Advancement in August 2007 as campaign director.
Leitner originally planned to go into social work; however, the Long Island native found she really enjoyed working on a telefund during her senior year at the University of Maryland. Upon graduation she took a position as a fundraiser at New York- Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. (Attending school part-time, she obtained her master’s in guidance counseling from NYU.) She subsequently worked as director of development at the East Harlem School, before coming to Baruch.
The dynamics of any long-running campaign will change over time, and Leitner cites two major challenges to Baruch Means Business. “The economic recession caused a lull in giving and we weren’t sure at the time how that would pan out, if we’d have to extend the campaign or change our goal. Overall giving declined but in time, started to come back.
“The other great challenge was a leadership transition in the middle of the campaign.” Mitchel Wallerstein joined Baruch as president in 2010. “To Mitch’s credit, he really jump-started the campaign again and he drove it to the finish line,” she adds.
This success was reflected in the recent 2013 Educational Fundraising Award, an honor bestowed on Baruch by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Leitner is understandably proud of the achievement. “It speaks to the efforts of the entire fundraising team and staff under the leadership of Mark Gibbel, vice president for college advancement.”
She sees the current Strategic Plan as a valuable blueprint. “Right now, the plan is helping to shape our fundraising priorities going forward, essentially putting dollar figures to each of the plan’s major areas. It’s timely because we’ve just ended this campaign and we can now refocus our efforts.”
Though another major campaign is not currently in the works, “The College continues to have critical needs for which we are always raising funds,” says Leitner. “We’ll perhaps have a series of mini-campaigns; focus on areas such as real estate, the plaza, scholarships, faculty and other programmatic areas.”
She finds many aspects of her position rewarding: “Seeing faculty programs come to fruition and seeing something tangible like the (Interim) Plaza … Getting to know the alumni and students and hearing their stories, especially when you know how all of this is ultimately for them, and will help them go on to succeed.”