RAISE podcast: Dori Sonntag, Gonzaga University


On this episode of the RAISE podcast, Brent chats with Dori Sonntag, Associate Vice President for Organizational Effectiveness at Gonzaga University. Check out this recap featuring our favorite takeaways from the episode, and then tune in to listen to the conversation.



Episode summary

Almost 20 years ago, Dori was completing her master’s degree in counseling psychology and planned to wrap up her role on the Annual Giving team at Gonzaga to become a school counselor. 

Instead, she discovered that she enjoyed the goal-driven nature of annual giving work. Plus, she had just become a first-time mom and was granted big flexibility with her schedule by Gonzaga’s VP. To top it off, she loved everyone she worked with. 

So, Dori told herself that as long as she was still having fun, she would stick with the Gonzaga advancement team. Over 20 years later, she is still at Gonzaga, and she is still having fun.

Dori’s main job at Gonzaga is to empower and improve the Three P’s. Because as Dori knows, your People can’t Perform well with without good Processes.

Some of our favorite takeaways

Dori’s first job after undergrad was at a life insurance company. She talks about the parallels between life insurance and planned giving, and how it’s difficult to talk about what will happen after you pass. But, it’s necessary, and it’s about your legacy. 

Annual Giving is the arm of the advancement shop where intrapreneurs can really thrive. You can take risks, be innovative, test new approaches, assess results almost immediately, and iterate. 

Dori argues that innovating in higher ed advancement isn’t hard. Here’s the recipe: Make a really good case to leadership. Show the potential ROI. Then, deliver on it. (And, to build your credibility and your impact, repeat.)

Dori started out as an Assistant on the AG team. Since then, she’s been the Director of Annual Giving. The Director of Development. The Director of Operations. The Assistant Vice President for Development. And now she’s the Associate Vice President for Organizational Effectiveness. She has run the gamut of advancement roles, and it gives her empathy and credibility with her team.

Dori reminds us (and herself) that it’s not one person’s responsibility to keep a pulse on and uphold team culture. Find your culture champions and build a Culture Committee. 

We should all strive to make the hiring process as un-salesy as possible. It’s so much better (and less expensive, less painful, more honest, etc.) to focus on whether the job and the candidate are a true mutual fit.

Gonzaga’s president just sent out a bunch of personalized ThankView videos. It made us think of Cameo. Your president, deans, and faculty members are your campus celebrities. Utilize them to surprise and delight your donors!

About Dori

Dori Sonntag is the Associate Vice President for Organizational Effectiveness at Gonzaga University, overseeing strategic planning, system enhancement, and talent management for University Advancement. She has been with Gonzaga for 23 years, serving in a variety of roles within advancement. Dori has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Master of Arts in counseling psychology, both from Gonzaga University, and she is also a certified leadership coach.

Want to work with Dori? Gonzaga University is hiring! Connect with Dori on LinkedIn or by email at sonntag@gonzaga.edu.

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[…] on People, Process, and Performance (here’s looking at you, Dori Sonntag!) to “flatten” UT, grow the bottom line, and make more […]