Meet Maria Pappas, Vice President of Development at The Tech Museum
Q: Tell us about your time working with the American Heart Association?
MP: The AHA was a great training ground. I had an incredible experience and learned so much while I was there. My first two years were in the LA office, then I came back to the Bay Area where I was originally from. After about 6 years, I was promoted to Executive Director here in Silicon Valley. Then I had my first child and made a tough decision to go part-time. Stepping out of the ED role was hard, but I never regretted doing it. I stayed with the AHA for years working part-time staffing one major fundraiser which grew to over $600,000. The AHA was flexible in allowing me to work part-time, although this wasn’t something many did at that time. Since then, the organization has allowed many others to adjust their schedules, which has helped them keep talented staff.
Q: After 22 years with AHA, it must have been a difficult decision to move on … how did The Tech Museum show up on your radar?
MP: A friend and fellow development professional told me about the role and asked if he could pass along my name. My youngest was approaching high school, and it seemed like a good time to consider jumping back in full-time. President Tim Ritchie inspired me with his leadership, and it was clear to me that The Tech was at a pivotal moment in time. The opportunity looked exciting and challenging and the leadership was right, so I made the move.
Q: Can you share with us your responsibilities as VP of Development at The Tech?
MP: My first goal was to build a successful team, and I’m happy to say that we have a very strong development team. My overall goal is to ensure that we raise the necessary funds to fulfill our budgetary needs in the short and long term. We raise $6.5M annually, and we are in the middle of a $100M campaign. I work with our president, the board and the development team to set fundraising strategies and to execute on these goals.
Q: What have been some of your achievements at The Tech?
MP: When I was hired, we were in the early stages of a $50M campaign. We hit that target, which was a great accomplishment. Our priorities have expanded since then, so we have increased the campaign goal to $100M. As a team, we have also raised $36M over the past 6 years through our annual development efforts. I’m proud of the fact that my team has helped The Tech become financially stable—meeting our annual goals while building a reserve. I have also worked hard to create a volunteer-driven fundraising organization. We now have 5 volunteer committees helping with strategy and fundraising for our highest priorities.
Q: What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment thus far?
MP: Two things come to mind. When I was first promoted to ED at the AHA, I set a three-year goal. We almost hit that goal in the first year, which was a 40% increase over the prior year. I’d say my other greatest accomplishment would be longevity in the field. Here in the Silicon Valley, it is customary for people to move positions often. In development, people rarely stay in one job longer than 18 months. This is tough on the institution. Building long-term relationships with donors and volunteers is key to fundraising success. It’s also how I like to operate. Being able to stick with the same organization during good times and bad, being able to face the first day of a new fiscal year with a big goal and a blank slate and getting to the end of the year ready to do it all over again, is a big accomplishment.
Q: Can you tell us how you manage your work-life balance?
MP: If you go back to my decision to work part-time at AHA, that was all about work-life balance and prioritizing family. Raising two kids and having a stressful career can be a challenge, and I was fortunate to be able to take a step back during those years. I volunteered in my kids’ classrooms, took them on field trips, helped with events and then drove up to Sand Hill Road to meet with VCs about funding. I will always be grateful to the AHA for the opportunity to continue to make a great impact on the organization while working part-time.
Q: When you were 16, what did you want to be when you grew up?
MP: A teacher or a lawyer. I didn’t really know what lawyers did at the time. I had great teachers and always loved school and learning. Part of what I love about The Tech is the opportunity to fundraise for high-impact educational programs for classroom teachers.
Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
MP: This is an empowering time for women. Clearly women have faced challenges related to sexual harassment for years. My hope for women is that today’s increased awareness will make that a thing of the past. We still face the challenges of balancing our roles as a mom, wife and career professional. It is difficult to give 100% to each of those roles.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
MP: Find a good mentor when you are young. It is important to learn from those who have paved the way. Although you can learn from those who are not strong leaders, it’s more important to learn the positive lessons. It’s also very important to stay well networked. Most jobs are discovered through a personal contact, so stay in touch and do not burn bridges.
Q: What do you like the most about living in the Bay Area?
MP: I’m a proud California native, and I do love it here. It’s beautiful all the time. In the Bay Area, we are no more than an hour or two from the ocean, mountains, San Francisco, etc. I also love the culture and diversity of the area.
Five Things About Maria Pappas
1. If you could talk to one famous person past or present, who would it be and why?
I’d love to go to Pauley Pavilion and watch a UCLA game with John Wooden. He coached UCLA’s basketball team to 10 NCAA Championships, a record that no one has come close to since. He was a man of integrity, honesty and believed in strength of character. He was a great leader both on and off the court.
2. Who had the most influence on you growing up?
My family had a great influence on me growing up, and my parents moved to Cupertino because of the schools, so education has always been a value of mine. While in high school, a teacher approached me to take on an officer role for my class. That started me on a leadership path that grew through high school and continued on into college and stayed with me today.
3. Where is your perfect vacation?
Every year we go to Lake Arrowhead over the 4th of July week to a place called Bruin Woods. It’s UCLA’s Alumni family “camp” (more of a resort than a camp). We have been going for 15 years. We spend tons of times outdoors. We have gotten to be lifelong friends with many of the other families, so there is always something to do and someone to do it with. We all love it and will be there again this year.
4. What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
The 24-hour rule. If you have a big decision to make and are ready to act…. give it 24 hours, sleep on it and see if you feel the same way in the morning.
5. What’s your favorite part of the day … can you tell us why?
I love dusk, that hour or two between dinner and nightfall when it is still light, there isn’t a lot going on, it’s a good time to walk the dog or just relax.