Back to Where it All Started, the Journey of Jesse Marks

By: Adam White, @FOSAdam

Jesse Marks, Associate Athletic Director for Development for the University of Miami

Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Jesse Marks, Associate Athletic Director for Development for the University of Miami. A two time graduate from the University of Miami, Jesse’s path to his current position has been all but straight. A Cane’ through and through along with a consummate professional, Jesse is the perfect example of someone who has turned their commitment and passion into success. He was gracious enough to offer up his advice and insight into the world of athletic fundraising, what traits up and coming students should capitalize on and how important relationships are.

You have done your moving around like many athletic professionals. At one point you were at three schools in two years, what has your journey been like thus far?

It has been great. Obviously I had to move around to get where I wanted to be, but nowadays that is a common trend in our industry. I have learned some great lessons along the way including the fact that it is very important whom you work for. You want to work for good people who have the best interest of the institution, student-athletes and collegiate athletics in mind and who will teach and guide you to success. It is important when you are starting out to have someone to guide you, help you grow and assist you in creating and developing a path to your goals.

I have had great experiences along the way and every move I have made has prepared me better for the position I have today.

I am in a great position now and I am extremely lucky to have such a great Athletics Director and mentor in Blake James to guide me and allow me to continue to continue to grow as a fundraiser and administrator.

You went to school at UM [University of Miami] and you started your career at UM, what made you come back after you had left?

My whole family went to UM, my parents met here as well as my wife and I. I am a Cane’ through and through.

When I left UM in 2008, I had to prepare myself that I might never have the opportunity to return as an athletics administrator.

It was really the perfect storm in how I came back as UM had a new campaign they were starting for the Schwartz Center and they thought that because I have so many meaningful relationships in the community that I would be the best person to come back and lead that campaign. It definitely wasn’t what I expected at that time but it speaks to the power of relationships and keeping in contact with everyone.

Can you speak on what you do on a day-to-day basis?

To me, as a person in my position it is all about building relationships. Although I manage a team of seven people, a fundraiser’s job is to be out there building relationships and support for the program. Without meaningful relationships it is very difficult to generate lasting philanthropic support.

Tips for building relationships?

The best part about this industry is that everyone wants to help. It is all about helping the people whom you are coming up the ranks behind you. Everybody wants to see you succeed, as it is a very positive business. Our motto in the office is “Every chance is an opportunity and every opportunity is a chance.” You never know when you will be getting these, the more you shake hands, the more you introduce yourself and the more you stay in touch with people; the better your chances are of making connections. It is not just adding a friend on LinkedIn or sending a follow up email.

Handwritten notes are a great way to stay in touch. I will probably write 20 plus a week and that is the norm.

Sometimes all it takes is one call. Make initiative contact; don’t wait for them to reach out to you.

How to you find and cultivate these donors?

It all goes back to knowing your people. We have so much data about people from the value of their season tickets to the value of their home and everything in between. It is truly all about research. That research gives you an idea, but it doesn’t tell you the whole story. The research sets the stage for us to cultivate those relationships. You have to build a relationship and over time you will get the entire picture of a donor’s capacity (wealth), interest and charitable intent.

You have been at Miami for two major capital campaigns as well as an NCAA scandal. How were they all uniquely challenging? How did you grow from them?

Campaigns are always challenging because you set ambitious goals. Although it is challenging, it is a great opportunity to move the university forward. I love campaigns because it gives the fundraisers the momentum to move forward in a coordinated marketing appeal for the entire university.

In our latest campaign, athletics was the 2nd biggest unit of fundraising trailing only the medical school. We raised over $110+million dollars for UM Athletics.

With the NCAA investigation, we were not only coming out of that, but we were coming out of a pretty bad economy as well. During that time we were still able to raise $18 million for the Schwartz building as well almost $20million in annual support. We were able to do this because of great relationships and effectively communicating our needs to our supporters. That is it.

Sales and fundraising always need people and bodies. What would be your advice for those looking to get into that part of our industry?

If you can bring revenue to an organization, you will always have a job. How do you do that? You do that through hard work, initiative contact and building relationships. Sales and fundraising are very similar in regards to many things other than the sheer amount of patience fundraising takes. We just closed a gift in February that was four years in the making.

You just have to stay with people. Find your niche, whatever it may be, find it and follow your passion.

Work and develop your communication and relationship building skills. They are very critical.

Never give up on a lead. Successful sales and fundraising professionals demonstrate great resilience and persistence. For me, a NO means NO just for now. KEEP IN TOUCH. You will be surprised how many times the NO turns to a YES.

Favorite memory?

Being able to watch and see the success of our 2013 ACC Champion basketball team was great. It was definitely one of the highlights of my time here because no one thought we could ever win the ACC in basketball.

Personal goal and parting wisdom?

My personal goal is to always provide outstanding service not only to our Hurricane Club members and donors, but to our staff, students and university as well.

Be different and be yourself, that’s how you build real relationships. Take the effort to build a meaningful relationship. Do small things that set you apart. Go the extra distance and never wait for people to come to you, initiate your own contact.

We would like to thank Jesse for his time and insight and we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors!

You can follow him on Twitter here or connect with him on LinkedIn here!