Saturday, September 27, 2014

Foundation steps up fundraising efforts with new staff

The Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges has stepped up its donor recruitment and fundraising efforts to benefit students with the hiring of new staff members.

Heather Cavazos
Lisa Connor is the director of development, a job that entails connecting with potential major donors. Heather Cavazos has been brought aboard as a development coordinator to plan events for the foundation’s retiree network and alumni association, as well as finding ways to increase community involvement in the philanthropic organization.

John Valencia, associate vice chancellor of Advancement and Communications for the district and CEO of the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges, said that engaging the community is crucial to developing a robust fundraising program to bolster the colleges.

“People need to feel a connection with the campuses in order to give and we need to facilitate that connection,” Valencia said. “People who are engaged give to things they care about. This is a first and crucial step in a comprehensive fundraising program.”

With the new hiring, the foundation hopes to build on the strong community ties already existing and to become more strategic in its fundraising to help support the colleges meet student needs.

Connor has raised more than $25 million in the course of her 10-year career. She said the biggest fundraising difference between community colleges and the universities is that the two-year campuses focus more on aiding students and benefitting their educational efforts instead of research.

Her background and experience at cultivating million-dollar donors led to her selection as the foundation’s person to focus on building relationships with individuals capable of donations of $5,000 or more, Valencia said.

“In fundraising circles, it’s called pipeline development – taking someone who has been a small donor, determining whether there is the potential for larger donations and sharing with that person the various fundraising programs we have,” Valencia said. “It means really keeping them in the loop with our fundraising efforts, and developing them into the larger donors.”

Connor describes her job as being the “ultimate relationship-builder.” A resident of Uptown in San Diego, she brings to her new post extensive experience managing comprehensive development programs for nonprofits, most recently the San Diego Air & Space Museum and before that, the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California, San Diego. Until recently, she was also involved in a tech startup having to do with daily fantasy sports competition.

Lisa Connor
Connor’s wide range of skills also includes cultivating major gifts, running capital campaigns, grant-making, and community relations.

With a mother who is president of Virginia’s Tidewater Community College -- one of the largest community colleges in the nation -- Connor grew up hearing the mantra of community college’s access for all to higher education. She said she is excited to work for a cause close to her heart.

“I have always wanted to return to a community college and this is such a wonderful opportunity,” said the Pennsylvania native, who after earning her bachelor’s in Labor and Employment Relations from Pennsylvania State University, began her career in fundraising as a grants manager for two years at Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania.
She also took graduate courses in philanthropy and fundraising at New York University and in organization development at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Connor will oversee Cavazos as the point person behind finding new ways to engage the community in fundraising efforts. The El Cajon resident is an Orange County native who earned her bachelor’s in interpersonal communications from Ohio State University. She has over eight years’ development experience with non-profits, including the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the American Diabetes Association.

In addition to her skills in fundraising, marketing and community relations, Cavazos has done mass-market special event planning, as well as more intimate events.

“We are so pleased to have such a dynamic team as Lisa and Heather onboard with their experience and excitement to go out there in the East County and bring in the donors to support our colleges and students,” Valencia said. “We are confident our new staff will be able to increase the level of community engagement in our organization.”

For more information about the foundation, go to For more information about the college district, go to