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On Leadership with Patricia Jackson

A Conversation with Patricia (Trish) Jackson Vice President for Development, Brown University

In early May, we reached out to longtime colleague Trish Jackson to talk about leadership. We started the conversation by asking her to describe any special attributes an aspiring leader in advancement should cultivate. As we talked, a theme that emerged was the concept of “fluency” and how that applies on many levels in the lives and careers of advancement professionals.

Trish refers to fluency in a metaphorical sense to mean being conversant in the language and culture of your organization, as well as the many and varied constituents whom you serve and with whom you work. Mastering the many “languages” of faculty, students, alumni, prospects, your board and president, and your community is an essential challenge and invaluable skill in the business of advancement, in Trish’s view.

The term surfaced again in the context of a remembered comment by Peter Gomes, former chaplain at Harvard Memorial Church, reminding advancement careerists to “get a life” because living life fully makes you a more rounded, interesting and knowledgeable individual, and as such a more “conversant and fluent communicator.”

Trish advises that an aspiring leader should cultivate the ability to “read one’s environment through careful listening, close observation, and hearing what is not spoken.” This, coupled with a deeply held belief in the mission of the organization will lead to success, she believes.

Other attributes of a great leader include being both willing and flexible. ”Put up your hand for any assignment, and adopt the attitude of ‘no job too big or too small,’ ” Trish advises. She also emphasized the importance of being aware of how one comes across to others. Such self-awareness requires that we seek input and feedback from our co-workers, and are willing to ask others to help identify any blind spots or other areas where performance can be improved.

On the topic of technology and how that has and is changing the nature of our work, Trish observes that our jobs have become more complex due to our “24/7 culture” where built-in timeframes for reflection have been greatly diminished and there is an expectation of immediate response. So deciding how to “choreograph one’s energy,” and being intentional about seeking time to reflect and deliberate, and deciding how and when to respond are important leadership tactics, in her opinion.

When asked about strategies she’s found to be effective with her own teams, and any final bit of advice she might have for aspiring leaders in advancement, Trish advises us to:

  • Give people lots of opportunities to try new things;
  • Assign people to be part of unexpected teams;
  • Ask people to voice their aspirations for professional development and then provide opportunities to help them fulfill their visions;
  • Inculcate a culture of sharing ideas, failures, best practices, and key principles.

The conversation ended with these final words of advice: “Surround yourself by people you admire, ask questions about their journeys, and make it a habit to listen more than you speak.”


Patricia (Trish) Jackson has over 30 years of advancement experience at a wide variety of higher education institutions, most recently as chief of staff for the central advancement division at Dartmouth College. Previously, she served as executive director of college and foundation partnerships at the Fullbridge Program in Cambridge, MA where she sought to embed the company’s programs at colleges and universities throughout the world, and coordinated with philanthropic partners to ensure that no one was denied access to career-readiness programs due to financial constraints.

In February 2013, Trish completed her eight-year tenure as vice president for development at Smith College where she managed all fundraising initiatives including the $450 million Women for the World: The Campaign for Smith, oversaw executive education, and served as an ex officio member of the Smith College Alumnae Association Board of Directors. Prior to joining Smith in 2005, Trish was associate vice president for development at Dartmouth College, and served as vice president for education at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) from 1998-2001 where she was also served as the primary philanthropic spokesperson for the organization. Trish has also served on the development staffs of Wheaton, Mount Holyoke, Claremont McKenna and Scripps colleges.

She is an alumna of Scripps College, and serves as a board member for her alma mater. She also has her MBA with an emphasis in economics of non-profits from the Drucker School of Management at The Claremont Graduate University. She currently serves on the boards of Christ Church at Dartmouth College; National Priorities Project; and, as chair of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly School of Philanthropy


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