RAISE Podcast: Stephen Rodriguez, Brandeis University

Stephen Rodriguez Brandeiz

On this episode of the RAISE podcast, Brent talks with Stephen Rodriguez, Associate Vice President for Development at Brandeis University. Stephen shares his experience playing saxophone on a cruise ship, taking 200 dives in 18 months to get his scuba diving cert, and the path to his first job in development.

Other topics on the menu are: Cryptocurrency. Blockchain. NFTs. (Are they the keys to making philanthropy more efficient and sustainable?) Also: How to make money off the things that genuinely interest you, and how to break presentation mode and get into listening mode with your donors.

Catch the full episode – plus some highlights – below.



Highlights from the episode…

“Education has always been at my core.” Stephen’s philanthropic career began early when he and a childhood friend sold candy to raise money for new library books. Later on, Stephen continued on the fundraising path and became a student caller at Lawrence College. 

“I realized that, even if music wasn’t my profession, there was a way to make a big difference for things I care deeply about.” After grad school, Stephen played saxophone in a band on a cruise ship. After a year on the boat, he decided that he wanted music to remain his passion, but not be his profession. Accepting a job as a Development Coordinator at Berklee College of Music aligned his love for music with a meaningful career path. 

“Turn off presentation mode and turn on your ears.” Stephen stresses that being in presentation mode with donors is dangerous because it doesn’t leave room for you to ask questions and – most importantly – to listen. 

“If you are an advancement professional and you’re listening to this podcast and you have zero dollars of your personal net worth in crypto, that’s probably the wrong number.” Instead of commuting, Stephen used his spare time during COVID to learn more about cryptocurrency. Organizations like MyGiving are navigating the intersection of philanthropy and digital currency, and opening up doors for new donors. Philanthropy is about taking action and making an impact – and maybe Blockchain and NFTs will allow for more efficiency and sustainability within this space. 

“Learning never stops.” Stephen is a full-time AVP of Development, father, and husband. He’s also a part-time MBA student at Syracuse university. He is thrilled that his son will get to watch him complete his MBA – and hopes to pass his deep love for education to his own children.

More about Stephen… 

Stephen is currently the Associate Vice President for Development at Brandeis University where he leads major and principal gifts, leadership annual giving, planned giving, and direct marketing. He is playing an integral role in shaping the direction of a future campaign to support the aspirations and goals of the Brandeis community.

Stephen previously served as the Senior Director of Development, Major Gifts, at Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences where he oversaw a team of 15 gifts officers and the direct marketing team, raising over $40 million annually through major gifts, planned gifts, and innovative strategies to build the pipeline.

Prior to Harvard, Stephen was the Director of Annual Giving at Phillips Academy, overseeing Andover’s work with engaging alumni in support of the Academy’s priorities. During Stephen’s time at the Academy he revamped the volunteer management structure, launched a loyalty giving recognition society, leveraged two Giving Days that resulted in almost $3 million raised for scholarships from over 7,000 gifts, and positioned the Annual Giving team to be successful gift officers, engaging alumni and volunteers in thoughtful and direct conversations about their impact on campus.

Prior to Andover, Stephen was the Director of Annual Leadership Giving at MIT where he developed the structure of leadership giving at the Institute, which lead to a record number of leadership giving society members and formed effective partnerships with colleagues across the Institute. Stephen was also the Director of Annual Fund Leadership Gifts at Boston University where he similarly was charged with enhancing leadership level support across the University.

Stephen began his fundraising career at Berklee College of Music where he served in a variety of roles from coordinator to Director of the Berklee Fund and Alumni Affairs while the college launched its first ever comprehensive campaign.

Stephen, originally from Oregon, is a graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and completed studies towards a masters degree in jazz studies from New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He is 9 days away from finishing his MBA at Syracuse University. A keen interest of Stephen is the intersections of philanthropy, blockchain, and innovation, exploring the ways more missions can be impact by philanthropic support. Stephen lives in Reading with his wife, 7-year old son Aidan, and 18-month old daughter Ella, along with Dexter the cat.


Want to work with Stephen? Brandeis is hiring! Connect with him directly on LinkedIn, or check out open job postings on the Brandeis Institutional Advancement team.

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