Stephanie Buckley knows just how valuable a university's advancement office is. That's because she was once one of the students that benefited from the generosity of donors as a law student at the UCLA School of Law. For the past seven years, she has worked in Pepperdine's Center for Estate and Gift Planning, bridging the gap that exists between a student and his or her education. Now, as the new associate vice chancellor at the School of Law, Buckley will apply her highly successful track record to helping aspiring law students fund their education.
Find out how she got her start in planned giving and how she plans to make a difference in the lives of Pepperdine law students for years to come.
You have made a career of raising planned and major gifts on behalf of nonprofits. What about that line of work interests you and how will you apply that to your new role as associate vice chancellor of the law school?
It is really fulfilling knowing that your work is making a difference in someone's life. When I was in law school, part of my financial aid package included a small scholarship. It was only a few hundred dollars, but as a young student who had just gotten married and was paying for my own education, that small amount made a really big difference. I remember what it was like being a student with no real source of income and the mounting student loans. Knowing there was someone out there who had no obligation to help me with my education, but chose to do so, really made an impact. I realized that there were others ahead of me who were lending a hand so that I could get ahead and that, someday, it would be my turn to do the same.
What inspired you to enter the world of planned giving? What has been the most fulfilling aspect of that career?
When I was seven years old, I decided I wanted to be an attorney. I really didn't understand what that meant at the time, but I set a goal and was going to achieve it. The summer after my first year of law school, I worked at a public interest law center and it was not what I expected. When I started my second year, I enrolled in a newly created business law program at my law school. One of the required courses was tax law, but I didn't know anything about the subject area and really wasn't aware of its existence as an area of practice. I fell in love with it. The professor was amazing and the subject just clicked in my brain. I ended up taking every tax course that was offered except for gift and estate tax. After graduating, I found a job working for a company that produced planned giving software. Even after interviewing, I really had no idea what this job entailed or what planned giving was, but I did understand that it somehow involved tax law and working with nonprofit organizations. I figured I would give it a try and if I did not like it I would find something else to do. Well, 14 years later I am still working in the same area and loving it!
What brought you to Pepperdine in 2006 and what has kept you here?
As I mentioned, when I graduated from law school, I started working for a planned giving software company. Pepperdine University was one of our clients. From that relationship, I got to know Claudia Sangster, who was in charge of the Center for Estate and Gift Planning at Pepperdine. Claudia was (and still is) one of the leading experts in the field. In getting to know Claudia, I also got to know Pepperdine. Pepperdine has one of the most sophisticated planned giving programs in the country. Working at Pepperdine presented a unique opportunity to take the skills I had learned and apply them working directly with Pepperdine's donors. Also, working at a place that shares my Christian faith was important. Coming to Pepperdine was a unique opportunity to work in a very high-level office and to also have a place where faith is valued.
What about higher education interests you?
Education is a great equalizer. I was the first in my family to go to college. I was very blessed to have parents that understood the value of higher education and who were determined that I would get a college degree. Helping to make the cost of college and graduate degrees more attainable is important to me. It is one way I can give back to those who helped me get where I am.
Can you discuss the role of fundraiser and why it is important at a university?
The price of tuition does not fully cover the cost of education. That difference is made up by generous people who are willing to invest in our students. My job as a fundraiser is finding those people who are willing to invest in Pepperdine, its students, and in education. Increased fundraising provides more student scholarships and helps to keep Pepperdine on the cutting edge in education by allowing us to create new programs and opportunities for our students.
What are your most pressing priorities as associate vice chancellor at the School of Law? Overarching goals? Can you discuss any new initiatives that are on the horizon?
Raising money for student scholarships, engaging alumni, and helping to find employment opportunities for graduates are the highest priorities. Our advancement and alumni team are working on some new initiatives so stay tuned.
What advice would you give current law students about the diverse landscape of opportunities available to them post-graduation?
Having a law degree is a valuable asset. Some will use it for the practice of law, but there are so many other available opportunities. During law school, I heard about the importance of networking, but I did not truly understand and appreciate its importance. Doing well in law school is important, but so is getting out and meeting people. Set aside time to study, but also make time to network with alumni and other people in the legal field.
Alongside your legal career, you also work closely with the Heifer International Foundation. Can you talk about why that cause is so important to you?
Heifer International and its Foundation do very important work. I was honored to serve as a trustee of the Foundation. Being able to provide a living for your family is so meaningful. Heifer International helps people in third world countries do just that. By providing animals like oxen that can be used for farming or dairy cows that produce milk, the families are able to have wholesome food to eat and extra that can be sold to pay for an education, clothes, and other needed items.
Has there been a particular role model or mentor that has encouraged you throughout your career?
My parents have been very important. They demonstrated that success was attainable through hard work.