San Francisco Art Institute- Vice President of Advancement

San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI)

Vice President of Advancement

Position Description

Painter Executive Search is supporting the San Francisco Art Institute in its search for an experienced VP of Advancement to grow annual support and prepare for a capital campaign that will facilitate long-term financial sustainability and increase access to the school to a diversity of promising artists.  

San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) founded in 1871 is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious schools of higher education in contemporary art. San Francisco Art Institute is dedicated to the intrinsic value of art and its vital role in shaping and enriching society and the individual. As a diverse community of working artists and scholars, SFAI provides its students with a rigorous education in the fine arts and preparation for life in the arts through an immersive studio environment, an integrated liberal arts curriculum, and critical engagement with the world. Committed to educating artists who will shape the future of art, culture, and society, SFAI fosters creativity and original thinking in an open, experimental, and interdisciplinary context. SFAI educates artists who become the creative leaders of their generation. Through this work the school shapes the culture of the Bay Area and transforms the world.

SFAI has deep history in San Francisco and its influence has helped define the region as a cultural destination. Among the Institute’s incredible alumni are artists Annie Leibovitz, Kehinde Wiley, and Barry McGee; Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow; entrepreneurs like Roxanne Quimby, founder of Burt’s Bees products; and even the Board Chair of Greenpeace, Karen Topakian. SFAI has been home to many Bay Area based art movements and its studios, galleries and public programming have spread ideas and influenced generations of San Franciscans. Across its two campuses, the historic Chestnut Street campus on Russian Hill and the new Fort Mason Campus which opened in 2017, SFAI continues to cultivate ideas and influence society. Its newest major is a BA in Art, Place & Public Studies which addresses questions of place and urban space as spheres of multiple experiences, cultural imaginaries, and material practices.

This is a dynamic and perilous time for art schools. Many art schools have failed to adapt to the realities of increased tuition and housing costs which drains enrollment, puts art education out of reach of many talented students and limits the diversity of thought and experience in the classroom. SFAI recognizes the need to transition away from dependency on tuition and is building a more robust revenue model that increases the philanthropic investment in the school and ensures equity of access.

The role of the VP of Advancement will be to execute a fundraising strategy that significantly increases the number of donors supporting the institution, grows the annual fund, and prepares SFAI for a transformative capital campaign which celebrates the school’s 150th anniversary and ensures the resources required to educate talented artists and creative changemakers into the future. Working together with a dynamic President and a small committed Board, the VPA will be part of a critical transformation that propels SFAI into its rightful place among San Francisco’s foundational cultural institutions.


Reporting to the President, the VP of Advancement (VPA) is responsible for leadership, strategic direction and management of all fundraising efforts of SFAI. As a member of the senior management team, the VPA will work closely with the President, Board of Directors and key management across SFAI to facilitate a culture of philanthropy and grow a sustainable base of support for the organization. The VPA will assess and execute fundraising strategies that systematically build capacity and grow new donors, sponsors, and funders while reinvigorating engagement among longtime supporters and across campus. Working with a strong, professional team, the VPA will be both a strategist and hands-on fundraiser who can direct fundraising efforts toward specific goals, mentor collective efforts and focus resources where they are most effective.  

In coordination with the Development Committee, the Committee on Governance and Trustees, the Chair of the Board and others, the VPA will be the internal fundraising expert and will develop a strategy and direct collective efforts to achieve both annual and long-term fundraising goals required for institutional sustainability. The VPA will increase the institution’s comfort with fundraising activities and deepen Board engagement and fundraising capability. The VPA is expected to grow the visibility and recognition of the value of SFAI in the region and to work with the President to embed fundraising strategy into daily decision-making and operations and capitalize on fundraising opportunities across the campus.

The VPA will collaborate with the President to develop and execute engagement strategies to increase the size and diversity of the Board and foster major donor and institutional partner relationships. He/She/They will facilitate the development of individual donor prospect portfolios for the President and key volunteers and ensure support of the Board’s fundraising efforts. Additionally, He/She/They will develop and maintain excellent internal relationships with faculty and department heads in order to support and understand departmental needs and priorities and to encourage and facilitate their engagement with fundraising efforts. 

The VPA will oversee the daily activities of the development department including individual giving, institutional giving, alumni relations and prospect and donor stewardship, as well as managing fundraising operations, research and analysis. The current team of professional fundraisers includes a Director of Individual Giving, a Campaign Manager, a Development Officer/Institutional Giving, a Director of Alumni Relations, and a Manager of Advancement Systems. The department also contracts with an experienced event consultant. The VPA will work closely with the Director of Finance on internal and external reporting requirements, data analysis, and monitoring and forecasting revenues. 

Organizational History and Current Challenges

Since 1871, when SFAI hosted the first public showing of a moving picture (Eadweard Muybridge’s presentation of his Zoopraxiscope), the campus has been an incubator of ideas at the intersection of art, technology and social engagement. Mexican muralist Diego Rivera’s fresco The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City which graces SFAI’s Chestnut street gallery continues to remind us that art and labor are joined—that city building, and culture building are symbiotic. The influence of SFAI on the city of San Francisco and upon our experience of contemporary art is indelible. The fresh ideas formed from rigorous engagement in the classrooms and studios of SFAI have made profound and lasting impacts on the city and the culture of the region.

SFAI has historically embodied a spirit of experimentation, risk-taking, and innovation. Artists at SFAI have been at the forefront of the most important art movements of the last century and a half, including fine art photography, Abstract Expressionism, the Beat movement, Bay Area Figuration, Funk art, avant-garde film, Conceptualism, and video and performance art, and they continue to investigate and further define contemporary art and the role of artists in today’s global society. Throughout its history, SFAI has prioritized diversity and inclusion; it was the first art school to offer instruction to both men and women and attracts students of all backgrounds and cultures. Past faculty and alumni include Ansel Adams, Kathryn Bigelow, Elmer Bischoff, Stan Brakhage, Joan Brown, Enrique Chagoya, Imogen Cunningham, Angela Davis, Jay DeFeo, Richard Diebenkorn, Kota Ezawa, Karen Finley, Jerry Garcia, Yun Gee, Toba Khedoori, Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama, Paul Kos, George Kuchar, Dorothea Lange, Annie Leibovitz, Sharon Lockhart, Mike Mandel, Paul McCarthy, Barry McGee, Manuel Neri, Catherine Opie, David Park, Mark Pauline, Laura Poitras, Man Ray, Rigo 23, Mark Rothko, Larry Sultan, Clyfford Still, and William Wiley, among many others.

As SFAI approaches its 150th anniversary, it faces a combination of challenges including declining enrollment which compounds affordability and access, deferred maintenance, and rising costs that impact the institution as well as members of the faculty and staff. SFAI has relied primarily on tuition to support the school and that negatively impacts student debt and access by talented low-income students. In order to increase access to all aspiring artists and ensure the long-term viability of the school, SFAI needs to significantly increase philanthropic support and reposition SFAI among the core cultural institutions that define San Francisco.

SFAI is currently raising approximately $1 million dollars annually from donors. Recent efforts to build the annual fund resulted in 35% of gifts coming from first time contributors. Sustained efforts to build the annual fund, reconnect with alumni, increase the number and capacity of Board members, and make the case for deeper investment in the school’s capacity to teach all aspiring artists is required. The inspired and enthusiastic leadership of SFAI’s President has opened the school to deeper partnerships and aspirations for a transformative capital campaign. Recently a nine-month, comprehensive process resulted in a new strategic plan that was adopted by the Board in June 2019.  The strategic plan reaffirms SFAI mission, vision and values and sets a path for future sustainability. The success of the fundraising effort is critical to the future of the school. The leadership needed in this role is comprehensive and will be transformative for SFAI.

SFAI is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

VP of Advancement



  • Be a strategic partner to the President; support efforts to maximize his time toward building fruitful relationships and ensuring his engagements have strategic importance;
  • Serve as a member of SFAI’s leadership team providing guidance and expertise to inform decisions with fundraising expertise in service to SFAI’s overarching strategic and operational priorities;
  • Foster a culture of philanthropy across the organization through stronger internal relationships; infuse daily work with an enthusiastic invitation to include everyone in supporting the mission of SFAI;
  • Be a trusted partner to the Board; ensure maximum value from their diverse connections, effectively utilize their time and personal participation in fundraising efforts;
  • Together with advancement department staff and other internal leaders, develop, plan, and implement annual and long-range fundraising strategies to ensure SFAI achieves its funding goals for annual operating needs, and prepares SFAI for a successful campaign in celebration of SFAI’s 150th Anniversary;
  • Model and facilitate clear and open communication across all levels of the organization to ensure effective use of staff resources, alignment of efforts toward mutual goals and appropriate information flow;
  • Be a positive, inspiring and supportive team leader; identify and acknowledge quality work; value and celebrate individual and collective success; infuse day-to-day routines with optimism and a sense of collective accomplishment; 
  • Be a reliable and valued colleague who offers thoughtful analysis, thinks strategically and is practical and approachable;
  • Be visible and accessible to the donor community; represent SFAI and department initiatives by cultivating and deepening relationships throughout the San Francisco Bay Area philanthropic community;
  • Coordinate with colleagues across the school to ensure that development communications reflect and amplify SFAI’s brand and effectively engage current and prospective donors;
  • Support the Board and President in the identification, cultivation and recruitment of new Board members and assist in Board orientation, onboarding and continued mentoring.

Operational and Staff Management

  • Recruit, nurture and challenge a highly qualified and motivated professional staff and support their development individually and as a team;
  • Work in partnership with the Director of Finance to develop contributed revenue goals, track variances and develop forecasts, as well as develop and manage departmental operating budgets;
  • Manage the daily activities of the Advancement Department including individual giving, institutional (corporate and foundation) giving, fundraising events, fundraising systems, and planned giving;
  • Establish a strategic framework for fundraising activity so that individual staff and collective department goals can be established, attained and celebrated;
  • Ensure donor cultivation and recognition activities and special events are well-received, achieve stated fundraising goals, and stay within established budgets;
  • Supervise and expand an effective prospect research program and build a systematic effort to increase SFAI’s base of support;
  • Oversee records management: including gift processing, donor acknowledgment, and development reports. Build data analysis capabilities and maintain accountability and compliance standards for donors and funding sources.

Personal Fundraising

  • Embrace the priorities, goals and vision of SFAI and effectively represent the organization to a wide range of prospects, donors and the general public;
  • Personally identify, cultivate and successfully solicit major gift prospects; Make effective use of colleagues and faculty in building donor commitment to the work of SFAI;
  • Mentor staff and volunteers and facilitate appropriate preparation for fundraising solicitations, including planned gifts; be a partner to SFAI leadership; develop methods for best using their talents and networks.


A successful VP of Advancement candidate will likely have:

  • Successful leadership demonstrated by achieving fundraising goals in a nonprofit organization of similar size and complexity; experience in higher education and/or arts organizations highly valued;
  • Strong strategic skills with an ability to manage and implement growth; someone who can motivate and mentor staff while increasing individual and team performance;
  • Personal success in identifying, cultivating and soliciting individual major gifts;
  • Experience with developing and maintaining achievable financial projections and budgets;
  • Technical knowledge in a variety of fundraising areas, including development communication, major gifts, annual giving, gift planning, foundation and corporate grants, capital and endowment campaigns and the event planning;
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills; ability to influence and engage a wide range of donors and build long-term relationships;
  • Experience fostering deep relationships with volunteers and valuing their contributions of time, expertise and passion;
  • Ability to work well under pressure and adapt easily to changing situations and priorities, exercise good judgment and stay focused on overarching goals;
  • Knowledge of local, federal and state legislation, and of accounting and tax laws, regulations, and rules affecting charitable giving;
  • Bachelor’s degree; an advanced degree is preferred.


  • Deeply aligned with SFAI’s vision to provide a powerful learning environment for students which prepares them for a lifetime of critical inquiry and creative engagement;
  • A gifted mentor and team-builder; able to encourage and grow talent and collaborative work in service to great ideas;  
  • Able to motivate and direct diverse partners while establishing open communication, accountability and overarching success;
  • A good listener; inspires trust, creativity and cohesiveness;
  • A warm and approachable person interested in learning—open to new ideas and change;
  • Superb poise; substantial communications, presentation, and public speaking skills;
  • A hard worker; a ‘doer’ with a willingness to work hands-on with a high energy level;
  • Exercises high ethical standards; demonstrates intellectual depth, moral integrity, and entrepreneurship;
  • Genuinely enjoys engaging donors and the fundraising process;
  • Superior organization and time-management skills;
  • Demonstrates strong problem-solving attributes—drive, flexibility and creativity;
  • Strong work ethic and the willingness and ability to regularly participate in evening events and to travel, as required.

For additional details or to submit your experience for review, please contact:  

Nancy Painter

(415) 202- 6240