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President's Message | Reports & Announcements

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MEMORANDUM
August 6, 2015

TO: AU Community
FROM: Neil Kerwin, President
SUBJECT: Courtney Surls Named VP for Development and Alumni Relations

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I am pleased to announce that, following a national search, Courtney Surls, currently senior vice president for development at the Newseum, will become AU’s new vice president for development and alumni relations, effective September 15, 2015. She is an experienced leader whose collaborative style and contagious enthusiasm combined with high performance at remarkable institutions will help us advance AU in unprecedented ways.

Surls will lead a fundraising and alumni relations program that has grown in size, scope, ambition and performance over the last few years. Surls and her team will work closely with AU’s leadership, schools and colleges, alumni, Alumni Board and Board of Trustees to build and enhance AU’s culture of engagement and philanthropy. She will help us leverage our significant momentum to support strategic priorities, attract new sources of funding, and deepen lifelong relationships between AU and its more than 120,000 alumni.

Surls knows how to lead complex organizations, understands what is required to plan and launch successful campaigns, and demonstrates collaborative leadership across units to align strategy and goals. She has a track record of cultivating, soliciting and closing major and principal gifts at the seven- and eight-figure levels; is a passionate advocate for strong volunteer engagement programs as the foundation for fundraising success; and uses teamwork to build a motivated, high performing staff.

Since 2012, Surls has served as senior vice president for development at the Newseum, where she provided strategic leadership for fundraising, membership, and stewardship; prepared the institution for its next fundraising campaign; and inaugurated a major gifts program that quadrupled new cash and pledges over a three-year period and recently yielded a $5 million gift. She implemented an aggressive plan for prospect engagement that grew corporate support by 63% and annual membership in Friends of the First Amendment by 20 percent from 2013 to 2014. She also engaged prospects across the nation in the Newseum mission.

Previously, Surls was at the University of Southern California from 2004 to 2012, where she rose to Vice President of Development, following progressively more responsible positions in development and external relations at USC’s Marshall School of Business. As vice president, she worked closely with USC’s president, provost, senior vice president for advancement and deans of 15 schools, and she played a key role in developing the plan and infrastructure for USC’s $6 billion campaign—the largest campaign in American higher education at the time. She also provided oversight for all school and unit campaigns and managed the university’s planned giving, corporate, foundation, parent, international and regional programs. Among her many accomplishments at USC is the closing of several eight-figure gifts.

Surls’s experience also includes positions in development and advancement at Loyola Marymount and as a teacher and development director at an independent school in Los Angeles. She earned her master of education degree in school administration from Loyola Marymount and her bachelor’s degree in music and music curriculum from Iowa State University.

In accepting the appointment, Surls said, “I am honored to serve American University at this remarkable time in its history. With strong leadership and exceptionally committed faculty and staff, AU is poised to achieve new levels of distinction in engaging alumni and attracting philanthropic support to realize its bold ambitions.”

I want to thank chair Mary Kennard and the entire search committee for their extraordinary work to develop an exceptional pool of highly qualified candidates, from which Ms. Surls emerged as the outstanding choice. The committee included:

  • Andrea Agathoklis Murino, President, Alumni Board
  • Fanta Aw, Assistant Vice President of Campus Life
  • Jack Cassell, Chair, Board of Trustees
  • Mark Duber, Vice Chair, Board of Trustees
  • Terry Flannery, Vice President for Communication
  • James Goldgeier, Dean, School of International Service
  • Mary Kennard, Vice President and General Council and Search Committee Chair
  • Raina Lenney, Assistant Vice President, Alumni Relations and Annual Giving
  • Betsey Mangone, Board of Trustees
  • Peter Scher, Board of Trustees
  • Peter Starr, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
  • David Taylor, President’s Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Board of Trustees

I also thank all other AU community members who met with candidates and shared their feedback. Please join me in welcoming Courtney Surls to American University.

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