Development Leader Thrives on Building Relationships

Kristen Williams was no stranger to Collegiate School when she came on board as vice president of development in 2016. Her husband, Preston Williams ’88, is a Cougar, as is her sister-in-law, Beverley Williams Curry ’91, and her mother-in-law, Meade Howarth Williams ’63, who helped launch the Cougar Shop in the lobby of Jacobs Gym in the 1980s.
Since she’d been surrounded by green and gold lore for years, she said, “it was really exciting to say to my family, ‘I’ll soon be having my own Collegiate stories and memories!’” The Williams’ children, twins Elly ’24 and Carter ’24, also came to the school that year. Now in 8th Grade, they often stop by the development office with their classmates to see their mom, or to get a piece of candy.
“I love that the development office is located in the heart of campus, so we’re around students every day,” Kristen said.
Seeing philanthropy in action — the recent renovations to McFall Hall and Oates Theater — then seeing firsthand how those spaces are used and enjoyed, and hearing from teachers about faculty professional development experiences when they return from summer break, or learning about the numbers of students who benefit from financial assistance or research opportunities enables her to share with donors the impact of their philanthropic dollars.
When she’s not on campus, Kristen can be found out at Robins for Carter’s soccer and Elly’s field hockey games. She also enjoys jogging in the early morning before she starts her day. “It helps me clear my mind,” she said. She loves spending time with her dogs, Lilly, a Boston terrier who was born on Easter, and Rizzo, a yellow Labrador named for Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Kristen’s career in development began soon after she graduated from Ohio University. Her first position at Georgetown University was overseeing the senior class giving and young alumni program, and eventually overseeing the undergraduate annual fund and class programs. She remembers fundraising for President Clinton’s reunion and the class party that was hosted by the Clintons at the White House. She earned a master’s degree while at Georgetown and met her husband at a party there. Following a brief stint in Richmond after getting married, the Williamses moved to Chicago, where Kristen served as director of development for the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, the largest of the undergraduate schools at Northwestern University.
“Then we had twins,” she laughed. “We were living in the city in a fourth-floor walk-up, and missed being close to family and, of course, the Richmond climate.” While they love Chicago, they decided in 2011 to return to Richmond. (Amazingly, three of the 10 people who work in the Collegiate Development Office are parents of twins.)
Kristen worked for five years at University of Richmond as director of volunteer board relations before leaving higher education to come to Collegiate. She was excited to make the transition, but recalls the challenge of following in the footsteps of Alex Smith, who served the School for 47 years. Alex graciously made key introductions to the community and she soon felt the closeness of the community in a way that differed from university settings. “One thing really impressed me,” she said. “People look back and talk so with such affinity and emotion about teachers who got to know them and understand them, who motivated and encouraged them. The teacher-coach mentor role is really a hallmark of Collegiate and one of the things that really makes this place special.”
She now works with Head of School Penny Evins and the Board of Trustees to set the strategic fundraising direction for the School, overseeing alumni engagement, the Annual Fund, capital projects, endowment giving, planned giving, special events, stewardship and other programs. In the 25 years that she’s worked in development, she’s seen some of the fundraising tactics change, especially with the explosion of technology and social media to share stories and connect with each other. Giving Day, for example, is such a fun way to celebrate the collective power of philanthropy and instill pride around the role development plays at the School. “But the heart of fundraising has remained the same, and that’s really about personal relationships and understanding what motivates and inspires people,” she said.
“When people come together — alumni, parents, friends, faculty and staff — because of a shared love of a school, a place that really helped develop them, their professional path and their friendships — that’s exciting to be part of,” Kristen said. Her office is full of such people; among her team are coaches, parents and alums. “We all have a personal and emotional connection to Collegiate and we share a strong passion for making sure the School continues to be a leader both locally and nationally,” she said. “We’re all personally invested.”
– Haley Nolde ‘92