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Chief Development Officer

The Aspen Leadership Group is proud to partner with the Van Andel Institute in the search for a Chief Development Officer (CDO).

Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996, the Van Andel Institute (VAI), located in Grand Rapids, MI, is committed to improving the health and changing the lives of future generations, through biomedical research and science education. In the twenty years   since its founding, VAI has grown into a premiere research and educational institution that supports the work of more than 360 scientists, educators, and staff.

The CDO and Development Department will coordinate with faculty and leadership of these institutes to secure corporate, foundation, and individual gifts that support the Institute’s mission and priorities. The CDO will directly report to the Chief Operations Officer and manage a staff of eight. The Institute envisions the CDO as externally, nationally focused with demonstrated skill in foundation relations and major gifts ($100,000 and above). The Van Andel Institute enjoys “co-fundraising” relationships with organizations such as Stand Up To Cancer, local hospitals, Cure Parkinson’s Trust, and other major national cancer centers. The CDO will play a key role in managing these highly collaborative relationships.

The Development team is poised at an exciting inflection point supporting the Institute’s new strategic plan and helping fulfill the legacy and vision of the Van Andel family. This small basic science institute aspires to go from $3 million of philanthropy funding per year to $20 million per year to free up resources to move faster and more significantly impact human health. In order to build upon its current success, Van Andel Institute’s fundraising will focus on three initiatives over the next three years: VARI-developed and sponsored clinical trials placed at major national cancer centers; a Research Innovation Fund to advance basic science; and a distinctive web-based science investigation tool designed to teach science teachers how to teach science most effectively.

The CDO will be expected to advance Van Andel Institute’s fundraising capacity in four ways: by building a foundation relations program that regularly secures grants from national foundations; by exposing Van Andel Institute and its work to a broader national audience; by building a more robust major gifts program; and by preparing Van Andel Institute for a potential major capital campaign.

The right professional will recognize and work with the talent assembled within the nascent Development team plus the Institute more broadly, and add to it. The successful candidate will introduce the Institute onto the national stage through foundation relations and major gifts and will be able to see that this small organization has huge potential— and help it realize that potential.

The successful candidate will not be daunted by the fact that the Institute is not a university so does not have engaged alums, nor the fact that it is not a clinical facility so it does not have grateful patients. The incoming CDO will bring the creativity needed to understand basic science and how to leverage collaborative relationships to advance Development. The successful candidate will be externally focused and actively manage a portfolio of major and principal gift prospects.
The Chief Development Officer will:
  • work closely with the Development Department and research and education leadership to engage and support relationship-building and other fundraising work designed at increasing, diversifying, and enhancing the resources of the Institute;
  • exhibit both excellent leadership and extraordinary followership skills as well as the ability to build collegial relationships across the Institutes;
  • establish and execute strategies that result in continuously rising standards and expectations in fundraising goals, as well as individual and institutional levels of giving, to significantly improve the Institute’s current annual philanthropy baseline;
  • cultivate, manage, and solicit high-level donors and foundations who make leadership gifts—including six and seven figure gifts—to the Institute;
  • working with leaders throughout the Institute, lead the development of case statements and tailor them to appeal and impact donors whose interests intersect with the Institute’s capabilities;
  • manage current relationships and forge new relationships with donors and philanthropic organizations to build the Institute’s non-profit visibility, impact, and financial resources;
  • partner with the Director of Communications and Marketing and other colleagues to develop compelling messages for donors and to raise the Institute’s visibility and reputation within the philanthropic community;
  • be a spokesperson within the philanthropic community for the Institute and its work
  • effectively collaborate with internal stakeholders.

The ideal candidate for the position of Chief Development Officer will have:
  • national fundraising experience;
  • capital campaign and foundation relations experience;
  • a collaborative/group win approach, team focus, high energy, and the gravitas to succeed;
  • exceptional donor cultivation/foundation relations skills and a track record of personally securing six and seven figure gifts
  • basic science/independent research institute familiarity (preferred).
  • At least ten to fifteen years of fundraising experience with seven to ten years of major gift/foundation relations experience is required for this position as is a bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree and Certified Fundraising Executive Credential are preferred.

Before sending your résumé for this position, please read it over for accuracy. Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the successful candidate has been selected.

To apply for this position, visit:
To nominate a candidate, contact Tim Child: