La Jolla, CA

Vice President, External Relations, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

The Organization

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world’s preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused on both discovery and mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.

Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.

Position Overview

Reporting to the President and serving as an integral member of the executive leadership team, the Vice President, External Relations (VP-ER) is responsible for the strategic vision and leadership of the development function, as well as all internal and external events at the Salk Institute. In close collaboration with the President, executive team colleagues, faculty, Board of Trustees, and other important stakeholders, this strategic development professional will further advance a robust, sustainable external relations operation and expand philanthropic capacity in anticipation of ongoing major fundraising campaigns and other innovations. Having successfully completed Salk’s first major fundraising campaign to support scientific research, which secured $360 million in 2015, Salk is now in the quiet phase of a $500 million campaign to build the financial and scientific resources necessary to move Salk into the future.

In the last decade, with an investment of resources and support from leadership, Salk’s external relations program experienced dramatic growth, a heightened level of professionalization, and a strong adherence to industry best-practices. This is evidenced by Salk’s earning the coveted four-star rating from Charity Navigator for strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency. Receiving the highest ranking for nine consecutive years puts Salk in a rare group of nonprofits, as only three percent of the roughly 10,000 nonprofits evaluated have achieved that status.

The VP-ER will have substantial executive-level leadership and management experience and a proven track record of frontline major- and principal-gift donor cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship in scientific, biomedical, higher-education or other non-profit research institutions. In addition, the VP-ER will demonstrate an understanding of and genuine passion for basic biological research. The VP-ER must be collaborative and politically savvy. A results-oriented professional with proven innovative and strategic leadership is also is critical to the success of this role.

Position Summary

 The VP-ER is responsible for providing strategic vision and skilled leadership of all aspects of private philanthropy and development, building a culture of collaboration, high achievement, and accountability that fosters strong relationships among team members and with researchers and colleagues across the Institute. In collaboration with executive team colleagues, the VP-ER will assess the Institute’s fundraising potential and current development operation, crafting a sophisticated multi-year strategy to substantially expand philanthropic support (including significantly increasing current annual donations of approximately $40 million) and reinforce a high- performing, sustainable development enterprise that supports the Institute’s priorities and advances its mission. The VP-ER will oversee an annual budget in excess of $6.0 million as well as staff in the following areas: major gifts; annual and planned giving; corporate and foundation giving; donor relations and stewardship; development information services; development operations; and benefactor relations. The VP-ER may also oversee staff in communications and public relations. This position will be keenly focused on developing pipelines for attracting six, seven and eight figure gifts to Salk.

While the Vice President will have primary responsibility for fundraising success, leading new levels of engagement with current and prospective donors, and strategically advancing the culture of philanthropy across the institution, the Vice President may also have responsibility for directing Salk’s external and internal communications team. These responsibilities will be determined commensurate with demonstrated knowledge, skills and abilities.



  •  Partner with the President to support key fundraising activities; utilize the President’s time effectively as Salk’s chief fundraiser; strategize about how to identify, engage, cultivate and solicit new donors.
  • In collaboration with senior leadership, successfully execute a multi-year fundraising strategy, to include a major fundraising campaign.
  • Serve as member of Salk’s Executive Leadership Team.
  • Provide appropriate qualitative and quantitative progress reports.
  • Develop and maintain close, effective working relationships with senior colleagues, academic leadership, key faculty, staff, the Board of Trustees and other stakeholders.
  • Partner with and support the fundraising activities of trustees and senior leadership, ensuring they are well briefed and their time spent is highly productive and personally rewarding.
  • Engage key scientists in the fundraising process, providing direction and professional insight; facilitate meaningful relationships between potential donors and scientists; ensure that faculty members receive appropriate staff support and that all donor and prospect outreach is carefully coordinated.
  • Act as a team player with colleagues across the Institute, particularly in finance, technology transfer and other key areas closely involved with development efforts; be responsive to the needs and concerns of colleagues.
  • Serve as liaison to the Board of Trustees Development Committee, preparing agendas and reports and implementing special projects. Sit on the Board’s Finance and Governance Committees.

Program Oversight

  •  Lead a high-performing, effective operation that reflects the same standards of quality and excellence that guide and motivate Salk’s research staff; optimize and strengthen processes, systems, and infrastructure.
  • Deepen alliances with existing donors; launch systematic initiatives to identify new individual and institutional donors capable of making significant contributions; create a robust pipeline of major- and principal-gift prospects that will provide a long-term, sustainable source of funding for Salk.
  • Direct planning and execution of high-visibility donor events, such as Symphony at Salk.
  • Provide leadership in identifying and using new technologies and initiatives for electronic and mail gift solicitation, acknowledgement and stewardship.
  • Ensure that donors are engaged and stewarded in a personally meaningful way.

Staff Leadership & Management

  • Directly supervise Senior Directors in the areas of Foundation Relations, External Relations Administration, Principal Gifts / Cancer Center, Principal gifts / Harnessing Plants Initiative, Planned Giving and Development Communications.
  • Empower and inspire staff through transparent communication; ensure that each individual understands their role within the context of Institute-wide priorities.
  • Foster a service- and achievement-oriented culture of excellence that rewards success and new ideas, builds confidence, strengthens team cohesion, and welcomes constructive input and feedback.
  • Implement best practices; set clear and quantifiable performance metrics that identify areas for staff growth; hold staff accountable and provide feedback and guidance; coach underperforming staff as necessary.
  • Recruit, hire, train and mentor new staff; provide regular opportunities for professional learning and growth; create a succession plan and clear career paths.
  • Manage and/or lead professional and administrative support staff; ensure that the teams are organized and staffed appropriately and are well prepared to meet the ongoing and future challenges and aspirations of the Institute.
  • Lead frontline fundraising staff by example, demonstrating effective fundraising techniques and working directly with staff in developing and executing effective donor strategies.
  • Plan and manage the operational budgets based on department strategies in alignment with Institute goals.


  •  Develop and maintain a select portfolio of high-level donors, personally cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding them; actively engage and interact with all members of the Salk community.
  • Develop a keen understanding of the scientific research conducted at Salk and its funding priorities; compellingly articulate funding priorities to current and prospective donors.
  • Appropriately engage academic partners in key prospect activities.
  • Ensure successful achievement of fundraising goals for each development unit on the team.

Communications (dependent on qualifications)

  •  Oversee and provide strategic direction to a communications office that provides both internal and external communications services including branding and messaging for the Institute, website and digital communications, publications, media relations, and multimedia resources.
  • Oversee communications and media relations programs to optimize effectiveness of outreach, awareness and donor conversations.
  • Increase the visibility of Salk’s research across key stakeholder audiences.
  • Assist the President in planning and carrying out executive communication.
  • Develop and execute crisis communication plans.
  • Create marketing/public relations strategy that will allow Salk leadership to cultivate and enhance meaningful relationships with targeted, high-level external audiences, including the media and key influencers.
  • Collaborate with Executive Team and other Salk colleagues to identify challenges and emerging issues faced by the Institute. Work with leadership team and staff to recognize internal and external communications opportunities and solutions, and define and execute appropriate strategies for support.


  •  Minimum of 10 years of progressively responsible frontline experience in individual fundraising in a non-profit setting; substantial fundraising and managerial experience in academic, medical, scientific research or higher-education institutions recognized for excellence.
  • Demonstrated commitment to enhancing equity and inclusion in science in a collaborative working and learning environment. Proven success in promoting equity and inclusion in the workforce and continual achievement of inclusive excellence.
  • Commitment to the highest levels of integrity and ethics; passionate about and able to compellingly articulate Salk’s mission.
  • Extensive national network of philanthropists and foundations and a demonstrated history of raising six, seven and eight figure gifts.
  • Demonstrated ability to provide appropriate and timely oral and reports and to achieve objectives in a focused, timely manner.
  • A thirst for and understanding of meaningful data, paired with keen analytic skills; ability to think strategically, critically, and creatively; proven success driving a strategic planning process and executing sustainable programs.
  • Ability to effectively advance and defend ideas and programs in an environment that respects conviction but demands intellectual and analytical rigor; a love of intellectual exchange and lively dialogue.
  • Demonstrated experience and success in significantly growing and leading a large existing development program such that the increased philanthropic support is transformative for an organization; success in increasing the effectiveness of a development program and staff through established objectives and performance standards.
  • Supportive and accessible management style that brings out the best in staff and fosters pride, ownership, and a sense of team effort; able to lead and motivate a diverse staff and foster growth and change in others.
  • A keen eye for operational efficiency and optimal use of resources; ability to develop, monitor, and tightly manage a budget.
  • Superior interpersonal, written, and oral communication skills; ability to understand and translate academic, technical and research information for all audiences.
  • Depth of knowledge in all key areas of development; demonstrated ability to plan, manage and successfully close a comprehensive campaign.
  • A track record of resourcefulness, tenacity, and creative problem solving; proven effectiveness in a dynamic, ambiguous environment.
  • Proven ability to inspire and encourage leadership, the Board of Trustees, faculty, and staff to embrace a culture of philanthropy and achieve fundraising goals and objectives.
  • An optimistic outlook, entrepreneurial spirit, and strong work ethic; an outgoing nature and unaffected style; willingness to pitch in wherever necessary to get the job done.
  • Ability to work flexible hours, including some evenings and weekends, and travel to meet with prospective and/or donors.
  • Successful writing and editing experience with a variety of print and online communications media preferred.
  • Bachelor’s degree or a comparable combination of education, training and experience required.

Salk Institute for Biological Studies is committed to providing equal employment opportunities and to considering all qualified employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, medical condition, physical or mental disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other non-job related characteristic.

Equal Opportunity Employer/Protected Veterans/Individuals with Disabilities

The contractor will not discharge or in any other manner discriminate against employees or applicants because they have inquired about, discussed, or disclosed their own pay or the pay of another employee or applicant. However, employees who have access to the compensation information of other employees or applicants as a part of their essential job functions cannot disclose the pay of other employees or applicants to individuals who do not otherwise have access to compensation information, unless the disclosure is (a) in response to a formal complaint or charge, (b) in furtherance of an investigation, proceeding, hearing, or action, including an investigation conducted by the employer, or (c) consistent with the contractor’s legal duty to furnish information. 41 CFR 60-1.35(c)

How To Apply

Please use link below to apply for the position:

Applicants should submit a current resume and letter of interest. Applications will be accepted until position is closed. 

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