February 4, 2021

News, Paths

Martha Callaghan became the university’s vice president for advancement in the spring of 2020 after serving in the role on an interim basis. She oversees alumni relations, career services, and fundraising. Her main charge is to build and sustain a broad-based culture of philanthropy and engagement that supports Richmond today and in the future. 

Interview by Matthew Dewald

I was a swimmer in high school here in Virginia and was fortunate enough to be recruited by Yale University.

I was lucky to receive significant financial aid that made my experience at Yale possible. I got an incredible education and made lifelong friends. My own experience gave me a deep belief in the value of a liberal arts education and the importance of philanthropy to make it possible for students like me.

After college, I worked as a special programs coordinator at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, starting up K–12 programs and helping design exhibits for the planned museum.

Halfway through my tenure, the president called me into his office and said, “Look, we’ve got to raise $60 million to build this museum. I only have one development person, so I have to add another.”

I said, “Let’s give it a try,” and started cold-calling people who might be interested. It was a crash course in fundraising, and I really enjoyed it. After a couple of years, I moved back to New Haven, Connecticut, to work in development at Yale, where I stayed until I came back home to Virginia and Richmond.


When I looked at what Richmond had done since I left Virginia, I was blown away by its progress.

Richmond’s ascendancy is unusual. We’ve had an incredible succession of leaders who have brought this institution along in a way that you rarely see. I am so happy that I can contribute to it in a real way.

The Spider network is incredibly close-knit and supportive. People here go out of their way to support each other. That’s part of what you get when you step foot on campus as a first-year student.

Our job is to connect alumni with each other and with the ways they can support current and future Spiders. That’s why we’re called Advancement, right? We’re here to help the institution step into the future, and we can’t do that without alumni support.

There are multiple ways that alumni can engage with the institution, and they’re all valuable. You can volunteer, attend events, hire Spiders, help recruit prospective students, spread the good word about the institution and, of course, give back.

I enjoy this work because of the relationships I build with people who want to support the university. I could never work for an organization I didn’t believe in. When I’m asking people to support UR, it’s because I believe it’s incredibly important — this experience changes our students’ lives.

I’ve talked to so many donors who, like me, received scholarships that made school possible for them.

The most poignant ones have stories like, “When I was a sophomore in school, my father passed away, and I wouldn’t have been able to stay in school if UR hadn’t come up with the financial aid to support me.”

Conversations like that are at the heart of why I do what I do. That is

the power of philanthropy — to say, “This is the experience that someone else made possible for me. I want to pay it forward to future Spiders.”

I’ve seen over and over that our alumni are loyal, proud, and will do anything they can for another Spider. If you believe in this place, love this place, and are grateful to this place, I hope you’ll join us and help in as many ways as possible.