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Winning With Women Wednesday: An Interview With Heather Barberi, Executive Director for the Ocean County College Foundation

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Heather Barberi

Today is Winning With Women Wednesday and this week we had the pleasure of interviewing a local mover and shaker in Ocean County, Heather Barbieri. Heather is the Executive Director for the Ocean County College Foundation located in Toms River, NJ. 

Get To Know Heather:Heather Barberi, Ocean County College Foundation

Name:  Heather S. Barberi

Education:  Graduated Magna Cum Laude from York College of Pennsylvania, with BA in Public Relations in May 2000. 

Organization: Ocean County College Foundation

Position: Executive Director

Time with organization:  14 Months

Organization headquarters:  Toms River, NJ

Total number of employees: 3

Number of employees she oversees: 2

1. Heather, in your own words please share what it means to take on the role of Executive Director at the Ocean County College Foundation? What responsibilities and duties do you oversee and partake in?

I am absolutely thrilled to have taken on the role of Executive Director at the Ocean County College Foundation. I spent the first six years of my career in the non-profit sector before switching to the corporate world. While I absolutely loved my corporate time, there was always a piece of me that missed the non-profit and philanthropic space and I am so glad to be at OCC! I have the opportunity to make an impact on students’ lives and that is so rewarding.

As Executive Director I am tasked to oversee all the day to day operations of the organization, as well as develop and carry out the strategic fundraising plan for the Foundation to generate revenue and create productive and supportive relationships with the community, local businesses, organizations, and shareholders. The thing I love most about the position is that every day is different. One day I might be preparing financials for a board meeting, the next day meeting with a potential donor and the next planning for a fundraising event. I am constantly challenged to figure out how to fulfill our mission more effectively and efficiently and to reach people in new, innovative ways.

2. How did you discover the Foundation?

After working for seven years in marketing for the financial sector, I knew in my heart I wanted to make the change back to the non-profit world. It was at that point, I made one of the most challenging decisions of my career – of my life, really. I decided to leave a workplace that I loved, where my career was going incredibly well, to pursue my passion.

Soon after I left, I learned that the Executive Director position was open at the Foundation. Ocean County College has always been a staple in our community, and an organization where I knew I could create positive change for the students. I decided to apply – and I am so glad that I did!

3. Do you have a quote, mantra or tip regarding how our audience could manage their one-to-one personal interactions better?

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

In today’s world, we are constantly battling with cell phones, computers, and that “next” meeting. We are a society that has gotten to be excellent at multi-tasking. However, I think there is something to be said about taking the time, without distraction, to truly have conversations with one another and be active listeners. People are often thinking about what they should say next, without taking the time to truly listen. Believe me – I have to work on this all the time. When you’re an engaged listener, you make the other person feel like they are being heard, which helps to build much stronger connections.

4. Who was an influential boss/mentor for you and in what ways did they shape you to become the leader you are today?

My first position out of college was as a Major Gifts Officer at the American Red Cross. To be honest, I didn’t know the first thing about fundraising. Hillary Cummons was the Public Relations Officer at the time and to this day I credit him as being one of the most influential people in my professional life. He was a master networker and could manage a room unlike anyone I have ever met. He pushed me outside my comfort zone at every event we went to and taught me to network up, down, and sideways, be open and take a genuine interest in all those I met, be an active listener, and that relationships take time to build. So many of the skills that I learned from him have gotten me to where I am today – I will be forever grateful. He was one of a kind and such an inspiration!

5. What do you think the greatest challenge is for Community Colleges today?

I’m going to answer this question from the perspective of the Foundation and our work with scholarship recipients. A huge challenge is finances. Many of our students are working full-time or part-time to support themselves. For many of our non-traditional students they are supporting their families as well. It’s a constant juggling act between work and school. While OCC is very affordable in comparison to 4-year institutions, it is still extremely tough for many of our students. For them, it’s not only figuring out how to pay for their classes and books – it’s how can they get back and forth to class and keep a roof over their head. Stressful financial situations at home are less than ideal for academic success. It is our goal to try and alleviate some of this burden and provide scholarship support. With this type of support, there is a much greater chance that students will finish their degree program.

6. What is the highlight of your work week?

I have the opportunity to engage with incredible people on a daily basis – my employees, the Ocean County College staff and faculty, the students, the Foundation Board of Trustees, our donors, business owners, and the public at large. With a staff of three, we can’t do it alone. There are a whole host of individuals that come together to support us with their time, their talent and their financial assistance. They are the ones that allow me to answer this question. The highlight of my week: The look on a student’s face who receives a scholarship which enables them to fulfill their educational dream – it’s priceless!

7. How would you characterize your management style?

I have a very transparent management style and always try to lead with both my head and my heart. I think there is something to be said about being analytical and strategic, but also connecting with your team. I am always looking for ways for us to progress and develop as a Foundation, and individually as professionals as well. I encourage the flow of ideas, active participation, and also encourage my team to feel empowered to make decisions – I will always be there to support them.

8. When looking for potential job candidates where do you turn to? What types of qualities would one need in order to be successful within a your organization?

I have an incredible team at the Foundation, and fortunately have not had to look for job candidates during my tenure. However, I would say that in the non-profit space and especially when philanthropy is involved, a successful candidate would be high energy, have the ability to motivate, be a good listener, love the mission, be organized, have high integrity, be collaborative and thoroughly enjoy building relationships.

9. What is it about your current role at the Ocean County College Foundation that sets it apart from other community colleges?

All the community college foundations and advancement offices across the country work incredibly hard each and every day to provide scholarship and programmatic support to their associated institutions. They all face different challenges, and have unique opportunities. Like many of my colleagues in community college advancement, I am fortunate to work with a wonderful team of employees, a dedicated Board of Trustees, incredible faculty and staff, and community members that support and believe in our mission.

10. How to you stay abreast of hot topics within your industry?

Social media and the internet are fantastic outlets for staying on top of hot topics in the non-profit sector. There are a number of blogs and message boards that I follow on a daily basis that are specific to fundraising, as well as to higher education. I also belong to organizations such as the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), which often have educational sessions and distribute white papers on trending topics. Locally, the Monmouth-Ocean Development Council (MODC) has a non-profit committee that is wonderful for interaction and idea-sharing with my peers.

11. When speaking to others about the Ocean County College Foundation, what is the most important message you want them to take away from your conversation?

Ocean County College provides high quality education at an affordable price, and is a value to our local community. Despite the College’s best efforts to contain costs, many incredible students still have a tremendous need for financial assistance and a scholarship is their only hope for attending OCC. The Foundation is dedicated to raising funds to broaden the base of our scholarship program and provide much needed support to our students. Last year alone we distributed over $500,000 in direct support. It is our goal to help all students achieve their dream of a college education – and we need the support of our local community to continue to help these very deserving students.

12. If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?

Great question! I absolutely love to cook, so I might be travelling around Europe taking cooking classes!

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