RAISE Podcast: Mark Luellen, University of Virginia

On this episode of the RAISE podcast, Brent chats with Mark Luellen, Vice President for Advancement at the University of Virginia. 

Brent and Mike cover topics like hoagie sales strategies, building an alumni online community solution, creating a culture of co-investment with donors, and why intrapreneurs thrive on the UVA team.

Check the full episode here – or read on for the highlights.



Highlights from the episode…

On this episode, Brent mentions a post from Cornell’s Carol Packard that acknowledges the mentors who have guided and supported her. Mark is one of them. It’s a great post – catch it here.

A young Mark Luellen considered becoming a hoagie salesman, a JAG attorney, a psychologist, and a police officer before setting his sights on Allegheny College to become a school teacher. Eventually, a mentor and advisor at Allegheny suggested that, given his love for selling things and building relationships, he should consider a career in higher ed advancement.

Brent and Mark both grew up in small towns in the midwest, and they’ve both built online alumni community engagement solutions. That’s right – Mark flexed his entrepreneurial side working at the Affinity Connection after college. (Brent dug up this flyer. It’s good.)

When Mark was (happily) at Penn State, Bob Sweeney called to ask if Mark would be interested in joining the UVA team. Bob was completely transparent about the role at UVA and told Mark how much he’d get paid, the good parts of the job, the not-so-good parts, and told him he had until Christmas to make a decision. Mark called Bob on Christmas Eve (while wearing a Penn State sweatshirt) to accept the job. It was the best and most transparent recruitment experience Mark’s ever had.

Mark reflects on how team members Julie Featherstone and Cindy Fredrick led the rapid shift to a fully-digital context last year through new tech, revised strategy, and deep support across the team. He digs into how UVA became a go-to example of remote/hybrid success for advancement teams across the country.

Brent and Mark discuss how embracing modern sales strategies and new tech is key for advancement to evolve in an increasingly digital context. And they emphasize that we’re talking about the good sales, the kind of sales that bring a really positive mutual experience.

Reflecting on his decision to move from Penn State to UVA, Mark tells the story about how, right after undergrad, he and his wife went to a Penn State v. UVA football game in Charlottesville. Unexpectedly, UVA won. Knowing Mark’s deep affinity for Penn State, his wife asked him if he was upset at the outcome of the game. Mark replied, “Actually, I fell in love with this place. And if I ever leave Pennsylvania, there’s one place that I would go, and that’s Charlottesville.

More about Mark 

Mark Luellen was appointed vice president for advancement at the University of Virginia in May 2016. Charged with oversight of the advancement operation, he provides leadership for advancement programs and initiatives across the University, and is responsible for planning and directing the University’s comprehensive, $5 billion dollar philanthropic campaign – Honor the Future – launching in 2019. Luellen works with University, school, and foundation leadership to identify campaign priorities and define fundraising strategies that support the University’s mission of teaching, research, clinical care, and public service. He currently serves as the president’s representative on numerous leadership boards, including various University-associated organizations (Architecture, Education, Health, Commerce, and Athletics), and sits on the board of the UVA Foundation. In 2020, Luellen was awarded the Samuel R. Crockett Award for his service to UVA’s College at Wise.

Luellen previously served as associate vice president for development at UVA. In this role, he led the University’s central development efforts, managing a team of nearly 80 development officers and staff, and played a lead role in planning for the current campaign. He came to the University of Virginia in May 2014 from The Pennsylvania State University, where he first served as associate director of development for the College of Liberal Arts, then as director of major gifts, and finally as director of alumni relations, communications, and development for the College of the Liberal Arts. In that role, he led the College at Penn State to the successful completion of its $113 million campaign – surpassing the goal nine months ahead of the campaign close.

In 2014, Luellen received the McKay Donkin Award, given annually to the full-time member of the faculty, staff, or the retiree of the university who has made significant contributions to the “economic, physical, mental, or social welfare of the faculty” of Penn State. He and his Penn State advancement team were presented with the 2014 Outstanding Teamwork Award in the College of the Liberal Arts. Prior to Penn State, Luellen served in various leadership roles for Affinity Connection, which provides alumni relations and major fundraising services to university-based affinity groups and volunteer-driven organizations on more than 60 college campuses in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.

Luellen has been actively engaged in community and volunteer organizations. He served on the Allegheny College Alumni Council and has been a volunteer or committee member for various community organizations including the Pennsylvania Pink Zone, the YMCA’s Strong Kids Campaign, and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life effort. He served as vice chair of the 2018 MS Society Dinner of Champions, of which UVA President Teresa Sullivan was honoree, and is currently on the board of Habitat for Humanity in Charlottesville, VA.

Luellen received his bachelor’s degree in English, with a minor in elementary education, from Allegheny College. At Penn State he received a graduate certificate in project management. He and his wife, Beth Ann, and their two daughters, Mia and Emme, reside in Ruckersville, Virginia.

Want to work with Mark? UVA is hiring! Connect with Mark on LinkedIn or by email at mml2r@virginia.edu.

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