Beth Asnien McCoy was appointed national executive director of American Friends of The Hebrew University in May, becoming one of the only women to head a major Jewish organization in the United States. McCoy sat down with The Jewish Week to discuss the challenge of reaching a new generation of philanthropists, how fundraising differs in various organizations and her advice to other female professionals about how to get to the top.
Q: What are some of the challenges that you’re facing in taking this position?
A: I’m not looking at it as a challenge, I’m looking at it as: How do we involve more people, how do we expand our base? … I’m looking to reach the younger generation; I think that’s a challenge for all Jewish organizations.
How are you defining the younger generation?
I would say [people who are] 40 plus. … We have not had an alumni outreach, which is hard to believe. We have an alumni director and I’ve put, in the last two months, a tremendous focus on alumni. We have a very committed wonderful alumni chair, and I’m starting in Silicon Valley. I’ve actually found 274 full alumni that we had no idea about; it’s been terrific. We’re having our first event in October. … We really don’t have a strong alumni base, in general.
What’s your pitch when people say: Why should I give money to Hebrew University when there are so many other causes?
When I look at the Hebrew University, to me, that is the place that trains our future leaders and future innovators. … It’s investing in research, it’s finding cures for disease. It’s not only shaping Israel but it’s healing the entire world. … Let’s say you’re interested in Alzheimer’s research. To find a cure for Alzheimer’s or cancer or Parkinson’s — it’s a great investment.
You’re one of the few women who head a major Jewish organization in the United States. Why do you think this is?
I’ve never, ever looked at it that way. … I’ve built a very close relationship with our top lay leadership, our management committee as well as our staff. And how is one judged? You’re judged on the goals that you meet, and you’re judged on what you’ve accomplished for the institution for which you work. Our bar has always been very high. I’ve never looked at it from the perspective of being a woman — that it would in any way deter me from climbing ahead.
Do you think there are going to be more women in these positions? Do you think you are at the beginning of a trend?
I would like to think so — of course, absolutely. We should have more women. … I’ve been in fundraising for more than 25 years and I’ve never felt that because I was a woman I would have any disadvantage — or any advantage.
What advice would you give to high-level executives at other Jewish institutions who are women who are hoping to reach the top position someday?
Give 150 percent. Master your position. Really hire A-plus staff. You want the best. And you want to work closely with your lay leadership, because that’s when you really have a terrific partnership.
Did you find anything different between the culture or the techniques of fundraising between American Friends of Hebrew University and other organizations you’ve worked for?
I was regional executive director for seven years at the Muscular Dystrophy Association — I used to co-produce the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. That’s more of a grassroots effort. Here, you’re working with individuals who want to invest in research. You’re really working with philanthropists, and it’s targeted. … An individual may decide that their passion is Parkinson’s disease or cancer research. Their gift is designated for a researcher to work solely in that area, and then I’m able to provide a report on what their dollars did. I think that empowers the donor.