McLaughlin provides quiet campaign stewardship

When the running tally of Emory Campaign gifts and pledges nudged over the $400 million mark in November, it really wasn't much of a surprise for Helen McLaughlin, associate vice president for Institutional Advancement Services and the Annual Fund. Since joining the Division of Institutional Advancement nearly four years ago, McLaughlin has been tracking the campaign's progress closely to provide campaign leaders with the most up-to-date information possible.

Even though McLaughlin was confident the campaign would reach its $400-million goal, the precise moment that goal was achieved was crucial, because it allowed "the people on the front lines making the ask and writing the proposals to really take a breather and pat themselves on the back," she said. "Any delight I had in seeing those numbers was really a celebration of all those people who had worked so hard to make that happen."

Supporting the campaign

The eighth of 12 children (six girls, six boys), McLaughlin learned about the value of a coordinated team effort long ago. "I appreciate that my role is really back office," she said. "I'm comfortable with my support role."

Improving the data management support for the campaign leadership and development officers has been a high priority for McLaughlin. When she was named director of Institutional Advancement Services in 1992, it was taking eight to 10 working days to generate a set of monthly reports on the campaign's progress. "Our commitment now is two working days," said McLaughlin, who completed her MBA at Georgia State University last spring, "but we usually have it done after the first working day of the month. We just had to streamline some of the processes."

Promoted to associate vice president last April, McLaughlin oversees six areas: gift processing, alumni and gift records, prospect research, donor records, budget and business operations, and the Annual Fund. The University's primary alumni fundraising program, the Annual Fund was added to McLaughlin's responsibilities at the time of her promotion.

Accurate and ethical financial reporting has been a hallmark of McLaughlin's work with the Emory Campaign. "When we gave [Vice President for Institutional Advancement Bill Fox] the first number that showed we had gone over $400 million, Mary Middleton (McLaughlin's assistant) and I just looked at each other and said, `Yeah, we're sure.' We couldn't give him that number and come back later and say, `Oh, we screwed up.' Mary and I were more nervous than excited when we reported that number, but we knew it was right. It was still pretty amazing to see that number, even though we had been tracking it on a monthly basis at a minimum. In October and November, we were tracking it on a daily basis."

For the past year, McLaughlin has served as secretary to the Campaign Executive Committee (CEC), whose membership includes Emory administrators and trustees, as well as a number of prominent and active supporters of the University.

Fox, a CEC member himself, describes McLaughlin as one of the finest colleagues he has ever known. "Perhaps no one but I can comprehend the extent to which Helen has assisted me and this division during the course of the campaign," Fox said, "particularly since a great deal of her work has been done behind the scenes. But I can tell you that it has been inestimable. She is a remarkable professional, but even more, she is a remarkable and wonderful human being."

Respecting uniqueness

McLaughlin's commitment to Emory predates the Emory Campaign, which began in 1990. A former assistant vice president at C&S Bank (now Nations-Bank), McLaughlin has worked in three divisions of the University, first coming to Emory in 1985 as University bursar. "I had not heard the word bursar before," she confessed. McLaughlin initiated a faster turnaround for automated refunds to students (a process that had taken 30 days), began the practice of balancing to the penny every day (which she had done at C&S), and improved the bursar's office's communications with students about the office's procedures.

After a brief absence from the University for the birth of her second child, McLaughlin returned to Emory in 1989 as business administrator in the University Health Service, part of the Division of Campus Life. Mary Krueger, coordinator of health education, joined the University Health Service staff in 1991, and McLaughlin was the first person she met there.

"Helen was the person who had to schlep me around from interview to interview," Krueger said. "It was really a marathon during those couple of days of interviewing. One of the days, there was a gap between interviews of about an hour or so. Helen had a lot of work piled up on her desk that she needed to do, but she asked me if there was anything I would like to do. I said that I would really like to see the area around Emory and get some lunch. She handed me the keys to her car and gave me directions to several restaurants. As I was leaving I thought, `This woman doesn't know me at all and she's letting me borrow her car.' That's just Helen. She always assumes the best about people unless they give her a reason not to."

Successful management, McLaughlin believes, is highly collaborative and has few basic ingredients: a genuine respect for staff members, a general agreement about where you're trying to go, communicating that effectively, and having lots of energy. "I really believe the people closest to the work tend to have the best answers to problems," she said, "and you have to try and involve them as much as possible. It makes my skin crawl when people say, `If you do thing X to people, they will do thing Y in response.' It's not a science. We are all people, and I think everyone wants to have their uniqueness respected."

--Dan Treadaway