Creighton Conversations: 'Philanthropy Is in Our DNA'

Creighton Conversations: ‘Philanthropy Is in Our DNA’

“This is a dream job,” says Matt Gerard, who oversees fundraising and alumni relations as Creighton’s vice president for University Relations. He was named to the position in February, but he is no newcomer to Creighton.

Gerard worked in various fundraising capacities for the University from 2004 until January 2016, when he accepted a position as vice president for development at Children International in Kansas City, Missouri, a nonprofit child-sponsorship organization fighting global poverty.

An Omaha native and avid runner, Gerard earned a track scholarship to the University of Iowa, graduating in 1994 with a degree in journalism. He then completed a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of Oregon, and taught high school English and coached track and cross country at both the high school and collegiate levels before joining Creighton in 2004. He worked on the highly successful Willing to Lead campaign, and served as the staff lead on the Ignite the Greatness campaign for the Heider College of Business.

Gerard and his wife, Melissa, a physical therapist in the Methodist health care system, have three children, ages 13, 12 and 9. Creighton magazine had a chance to talk with him this fall.

When you came to Creighton in 2004, you initially worked in fundraising for the School of Medicine. What was that experience like?

I was fortunate to have a front-row seat to what makes Creighton different — the way the curriculum is designed and the types of doctors we produce. The medical alumni I worked with shared stories of being exposed to hands-on patient care early in their training, and how this made them better doctors, instilling a willingness to continue volunteering in local shelters and underdeveloped countries. This is just one example that goes to the essence of Creighton: You’re in the community, you’re learning and you’re doing service.

Later, you were involved in the Ignite the Greatness campaign, which included the naming of the Heider College of Business.

That project really highlighted the relationship and partnership between Creighton and Omaha. It showed the brain-gain that the business college brings to the city, and spotlighted the tremendous partnerships all of our schools and colleges have throughout Omaha and the region. Because of the transformational gift from Mary and Charles Heider, the college’s enrollment increased by 50 percent, with almost two-thirds of its students now coming from more than 200 miles away to receive a Jesuit-inspired business education at Creighton.

How can alumni lend their support to the University?

There are three areas in which our alumni continually impact Creighton. First, they are our greatest ambassadors in carrying the Creighton message to high school students seeking a Jesuit, Catholic education. Second, they continue to be one of our greatest conduits for internships. We were recognized again by U.S. News & World Report for being one of the top universities for internship opportunities, and our alumni are a big factor. Third, our alumni help guide their alma mater’s future through their incredibly generous philanthropy. The gifts they invest in our students are often the difference that allows someone to pursue a Creighton degree.

What is your priority in terms of fundraising?

The president and the Board have a vision for the University, and my team works hard to match donors to the prioritized objectives for all of Creighton’s schools and colleges. That said, scholarships are so important in helping us recruit students who would most benefit from a Creighton education. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than sharing letters from student scholarship recipients with donors and seeing the joy it brings to those donors, knowing they are making a difference in the lives of these young students.

What has it been like being back?

The personal relationships formed here are incredible, and we are fortunate to have Fr. Hendrickson, who has a clear vision for Creighton’s future. This will happen because of our alumni and friends who believe in what Creighton does for students and the community. Creighton was founded by philanthropists. Philanthropy is in our DNA. This is a tradition that goes back to 1878, and every student who has come here has been a beneficiary of this legacy. It’s a tradition that makes opportunities possible for students today and into the future.