Bennie L. Harris, PhD
Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement
Morehouse School of Medicine
We caught up with Bennie Harris to discover more about him, what he’s up to, and what we can learn from him.
Briefly describe your current role.
I lead the fundraising and alumni relations departments for Morehouse School of Medicine, a 45-year-old, historically Black institution known for its dedication to the social mission of medical education and to creating and advancing health equity. Another critical part of my job is building philanthropic opportunities that create innovation and boost revenue for the school.
Briefly describe your career journey and what led you to institutional advancement in academic medicine.
I graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in industrial engineering, but soon after I realized this was not my passion. I was fortunate to receive a job opportunity at Washington State University in human relations, where I became the Director of the Center for Human Rights. In that role, I was responsible for affirmative action, equal employment, diversity programs, faculty and exempt employee recruitment, and hiring for the university. After five years of enormous success in helping the university increase its employee diversity and inclusion, I was recruited to work in corporate and foundations relations for the WSU Foundation. Three years later, I accepted a position at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to support the University’s $350 million campaign. My assignment was in the School of Education. After completing my PhD and growing the School’s fundraising, I accepted a job at DePaul University as Assistant Vice President for Corporate and Foundation Relations and Campaign Director. There I initiated and led the University’s $250 million campaign. I next accepted the position of Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations at Lipscomb University. This led me to my position at Morehouse School of Medicine, which moved me with its mission of health equity and diversity, and for the last seven years, I’ve worked in academic medicine.
What achievement in your current job are you proud of?
I’m most proud of the team I’ve built. This is a functioning and sustainable organization that focuses on major gifts, annual giving, stewardship, volunteer engagement, campaign, advancement services, alumni relations, and development communications.
What success have you achieved with limited resources?
Giving to the institution, under my leadership, has shot up 267 percent over a six-year period. We also have grown our alumni-giving rate to 25.6 percent from 14 percent over that same period, which surpasses a vast number of our peers. And during the pandemic, as many institutions struggled to raise money, we have been able to raise more than $50 million in the first two quarters of our fiscal year. We have done all of this with a small shop and limited resources.
What innovation or trend in the field inspires or motivates you?
I’m inspired by creativity and innovation, informed by data. Having the right data allows me to make the right allocation of resources and invest in the right programs. Maybe it’s the former engineer in me, but data motivates me and inspires me. All of this allows me to make better connections for donors and Morehouse School of Medicine. It’s exciting to be able to take donors’ greatest aspirations and make them real through philanthropy.
What is the best career advice you were given and how have you used it?
My best career advice is to love what you do and to love serving the faculty and the community your mission supports. This passion will fuel your work and lead to excellence. Also, I recall the advice my mother gave me: “Live life with an empty cup. You can always learn from others; that’s why God gave you two ears and one mouth, so you could listen twice as much as you talk.” She was teaching me lessons of humility. Humility and passion are the two things that give you the cutting edge when working with people.
What advice do you have for other institutional advancement professionals in academic medicine?
COVID-19 has amplified the mission of academic medicine and the people we are preparing to offer care and make scientific discoveries that can change and improve lives. The work we are doing truly is a matter of life and death. Allow that reality to inspire you to do your very best work.
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