Women in Business Q&A: Beth McCoy, National Executive Director, American Friends of Hebrew University

Beth McCoy

Ms. McCoy was named national executive director of American Friends of Hebrew University in May, 2014. She first joined AFHU in 2003 as Executive Director of the Southeast Region, where she initiated and led AFHU's Palm Beach mission to Israel, among other achievements. She launched the Annual Leadership Educational Forum (ALEF) in Palm Beach, Florida, showcasing Hebrew University expertise and increasing public awareness of the university's contributions to Israel and the world.

In 2007, Ms. McCoy became AFHU's National Director of Development. In this leadership role, she supervised AFHU's regional Executive Directors and spearheaded high-visibility fundraising campaigns in support of The Hebrew University's priorities on all four campuses. Ms. McCoy has played a pivotal role in advancing the national campaign, which has raised an average of $50 million annually.

Her efforts have included focusing on major and principal gifts and revitalizing planned giving outreach. She established a close working relationship between AFHU and Hebrew University's leadership. This fruitful partnership, which also brought together AFHU lay leaders, supporters, and the organization's professional team, has propelled the work of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, and the Mandel School for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, among other initiatives. Ms. McCoy helped to build AFHU's National Campaign Committee and Regional Campaign Committees, strengthening ties between leaders and supporters from diverse U.S. communities.

Ms. McCoy has twenty-five years of experience working on behalf of cause-related missions. Prior to joining AFHU, she served as the Arizona Regional Director of Development for the Anti-Defamation League. She has past experience serving as the Executive Director of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (Arizona) and as the Tri-State Regional Director of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (New York). Ms. McCoy received her Bachelor of Science from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Married to Mr. Dennis McCoy, the couple has two sons.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My father was a towering role model; he was kind, supportive and told me that I could make a difference in the world. Later in life, when a family friend developed ALS and I saw the impact of the disease, I became professionally committed to cause-related fundraising. As the Tri-State New York Regional Director of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, I co-produced the Jerry Lewis telethon in support of MDA for several years. I saw firsthand how a nonprofit organization could improve a person's life and how my work could have a tangible impact.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at American Friends of The Hebrew University?
Working for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Arizona, I focused on board development and the importance of establishing strong lay leader/staff coalitions that could carry fundraising campaigns forward and build awareness of a cause. At AFHU, I served as the national director of development prior to becoming the national executive director; this provided me opportunities to learn diverse aspects of business operations and executive management. I hired first-rate regional executive directors and other senior staff members -- A-type players motivated to succeed. I developed an instinct for identifying and cultivating talent in others, and I really enjoy mentoring people. I learned to think outside the box and devise new ways to showcase The Hebrew University, such as via educational forums and fundraising missions. I'm an analytic person but it's useful to approach fundraising from creative angles.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure with AFHU?
Hebrew University is about 7,000 miles away. It can be challenging to raise awareness and funds for a world-class institution that is physically removed from the American public. And yet HU innovations in such fields as agriculture, brain sciences, and computer science help people everywhere. The work also entails many exciting international collaborations. The Hebrew University and the Smithsonian Institution are collaborating to propel STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and innovation. This builds on the legacy of Albert Einstein, who was a founder of HU. Another new partnership between Hebrew University and the Cleveland Clinic focuses on developing nanomedicines to treat cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking a career in the non-profit space?
Be optimistic and always strive for excellence. Don't hesitate to set higher goals for your organization and develop a logical, systematic plan to achieve them. Learn as much as you can, meet as many thought-leaders as you can, and don't be afraid to ask for input from the people you trust and admire. No one succeeds without a competent, loyal team in place and dedicated board members willing to partner with you in support of a major cause, whether the cause is higher education, medical research or communal service.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?
I get up every morning at 4:45 a.m. so I can get some work done before my family gets up at 7:15 a.m. I have a terrific husband and two sons, and we aim for quality time. It gives me pleasure just to take one of our sons out for lunch by himself or to go on a family vacation together. When I travel on business, I call each of them every day. I am proud to be AFHU's leader, but I wouldn't elevate that role above the sheer joy of having Dennis, Daniel and Matthew -- they are my true strength.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I rarely, if ever, think in terms of gender issues and haven't felt any career impediment based on my gender, certainly not in the nonprofit sphere, where lots of talented women thrive and make valuable contributions. I am pleased to be working with Hebrew University leaders on a timely initiative: "Women in Science." These efforts are designed to break down barriers so that more women post-docs can continue their careers in basic and applied sciences and become part of faculties that traditionally have been male-dominated. This is another way that fundraising promotes social good: we are creating more high-level opportunities for Israel's outstanding women scientists.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship provides critical benefits to individuals striving for excellence, and I have been fortunate to have a special mentor in my life, Barbara Mandel. Barbara is incredibly skilled at running international fundraising campaigns. A businesswoman with keen instincts, she always makes herself available for consultation. Barbara is a woman of valor who expects excellence, honesty and respect; she is also understanding and nurturing as we work to achieve ambitious goals. I have grown tremendously in the last twelve years because of Barbara. Her inspiration helps me to serve as a mentor for the next generation of communal leaders.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
As I mentioned earlier, I don't view the world through a gender lens. My career has evolved through exposure to outstanding women and men. Nonprofit work is a co-ed profession and the people I admire tend to be high-achievers who believe not only in getting ahead, but also in giving back and creating a legacy that will help future generations of people. Any leader who upholds this philosophy is an individual I can admire.

What do you want AFHU to accomplish in the next year?
We're developing a robust Hebrew University alumni association in the U.S., with activities that will help to expand our community and contribute to the university's continued growth. AFHU is working to boost Hebrew University's visibility, showcasing the many achievements that currently benefit our entire world. I intend for support to increase through expansion into new demographics. We also have launched a bequest campaign: Planning for the future is vital, because AFHU, which already has a strong fundraising record of success, is determined to ensure that HU maintains its powerhouse status.