David W. Robinson-Morris, Ph.D.
David W. Robinson-Morris is the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Xavier University of Louisiana and serves an Adjunct Professor in the College of Liberal Arts, Education, and Human Development at the University of New Orleans. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Research with a dual concentration in Higher Education Administration and Curriculum Theory, and an Education Specialist (Ed. S.) Certificate in Educational Leadership with a focus on applied research, measurement, and evaluation both from Louisiana State University (LSU).
David’s primary area of research critiques/deconstructs the current state of higher education and theorizes the equal privileging of ontology and epistemology—a balanced focus on being-becoming and knowledge acquisition—within the field of higher education. Dr. Robinson-Morris’ dissertation titled, “An Ontological (Re)Thinking: Ubuntu and Buddhism in Higher Education”— (re)thinks higher education and Western subjectivity through southern African (Ubuntu) and Eastern (Buddhist) onto-epistemologies. Moreover, it constructs an onto-educational philosophy, which (re)imagines a higher education milieu that educates both the heart and mind toward a deeper understanding of our shared humanity. Dr. Robinson-Morris’ dissertation was awarded 1st place in the 2016 American Association of Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE) Dissertation Award competition.
Additional research interests include: exploring the effectiveness of doctoral pedagogical preparation of future scholar-researchers; the incongruence of diversity and equity policy and practice in higher education; bringing awareness to the cognitive imperialism of the Western research community and exploring the indigenous philosophical roots of so-called “new” philosophical understandings; and pushing qualitative research paradigmic boundaries by exploring and innovating new qualitative methodologies.
In addition to graduate assistantships in LSU Community University Partnerships (CUP) in Equity, Diversity and Community Outreach, and LSU Campus Life, Dr. Robinson-Morris has served as senior publicist to the former mayor of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina; as a higher education administrator at Loyola University New Orleans, where he served for four years as the associate director of alumni relations; and as director of development (fundraising) for both the Capital One-New Beginnings Charter Schools Network and Breakthrough New Orleans at Isidore Newman School.
David serves as a member of the College Student Affairs Journal editorial board, copy editor for the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Developments Editorial Board, and a reviewer for the Journal of Curriculum Theorizing (JCT). He is a former member of the Bergamo Graduate Student Council (2015) and LSU Curriculum Theory Graduate Collaborative Leadership Team. Dr. Robinson-Morris has also held leadership positions as the founding vice president of the LSU Higher Education Student and Professional Association (HESPA), and the Scholarship and Fundraising Chair for the LSU Black Graduate and Professional Student Association (BGPSA).
Dr. Robinson-Morris is a member Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Kappa Psi, Omicron Delta Kappa, the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE), American College Personnel Association (ACPA), American Educational Research Association (AERA), the Association of Fundraising Professionals, (AFP), the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). Currently, David serves on the boards of the city of New Orleans Human Relations Commission, Forum for Equality Foundation (Louisiana), College Beyond (née College Bridge New Orleans), and is a member of the 2017 class of Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans (EPNO). He is a former member of the Son of a Saint Foundation Advisory Board, and is a founding board member of Propeller (née Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans).
David obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Communications – Public Relations from Loyola University New Orleans in 2006, Master of Public Administration (MPA) from the University of New Orleans in 2011, and Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 2015. He is a native of Galveston, Texas.
How did you get into fundraising?
Like most fundraisers or people who come to find themselves in the development profession, it was totally by happenstance. My first job out of college was as a senior publicist in the Mayor’s Office of Communications in the city of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. I was responsible for the public and media relations strategy for a number of departments (housing, economic development, and others) critical to the rebuilding of the city. It was quite a task for a bright-eyed, do-gooder 20-something year old; however, it was also the job where I was allowed to see first-hand the real needs of real people just trying to live in a world chocked full of systemic inequities. This was formative and stoked a flame that had grown from a spark during my years as an undergraduate at Loyola University of New Orleans.
Very long story short, I was approached by the president of my alma mater and former director of alumni and parent relations to come back “home”. Having met with them on a semi-regular basis they saw the work in the Mayor’s Office was taking a toll on my body and spirit. I took their advice and returned to Loyola as the Associate Director of Alumni and Parent Relations. This began my foray into friend-raising and fundraising. It was here that I realized relationship building was just a natural part of who I am; I am fiercely curious about people. I stayed at Loyola for a little over four years and honed my fundraising skills both in the office and through my work on various non-profit boards. I left Loyola to serve as Director of Development for a local foundation and charter school management organization, and I’ve continued to be drawn to development positions whose mission intersects with my philosophy of life.
What is one quality every development professional should possess?
It is difficult to name just one! More than anything, I would say that development professionals need to possess courage. A close second would be a drive toward excellence.
I have taken up the philosophy that courage, indeed, is the most important of the virtues. It is necessary to practice all of the others with consistency. Possessing courage allows a development professional to be authentic, to be vulnerable, to be persistently tenacious in the pursuit of that which they love, and more simply is allows them the wherewithal to make the ask and to be prepared to receive the answer.
Much like courage, the drive toward excellence is very necessary. Let me reiterate, excellence is necessary, but excellence is not perfection. Perfection is a state that can never be reached because all things are always in flux. In my estimation, it is a false ideal and used as a weapon of conformity in a culture of domination. No one or thing is perfect, but everyone can strive for excellence—everyone can search for how they can be in fuller service to their neighbor, can do more good, and be better.
Given your work at other educational institutions at various levels, what is unique about your experience at an HBCU?
For me, Xavier is a full circle moment! When I graduated high school, I entered the Josephite House of Studies as a novice studying to become a Roman Catholic priest. Simultaneously, we novices also attended Xavier University of Louisiana. As an 18-year, I prayerfully mustered up the courage to both enter and leave the seminary, and subsequently withdrew from Xavier. I returned home to Galveston, Texas and enrolled at Loyola University New Orleans the following fall.
At any rate, Xavier left an impression on 18-year old David. It was and is a community—a family—of people encompassing every shade of black, brown, and beige under the sun collectively striving for educational excellence and committed to doing their part in creating a more just world. It still amazes me with joy and gratitude!
Xavier in and of itself is a unique institution. It is the only Catholic and historically Black college and university in the nation. Even more amazing than our academic excellence is our rich legacy of vision and leadership. Our foundress St. Katharine Drexel had the vision to found a university in New Orleans in 1925 to educate African- and Native Americans and Dr. Norman C. Francis, the first lay president and now president emeritus of Xavier, expanded upon that mission and led the University for 47 years.
Under the leadership of Dr. C. Reynold Verret, current University President, Xavier is poised to fling open its gates even wider to meet the challenges of today and continues to build upon the rich legacy of academic excellence, social justice, and the better making of women and men. I’m excited to be here at this time in the University’s history to help it grow and expand its borders. Xavier is not just an institution, but it is an institution that has being—it is a spirit and has a soul. Imbued with the spirit of Xavier, I am able to communicate the soul of Xavier to donors and friends like no other place I’ve ever worked.
What advice would you give your fundraising mentee?
I would give my fundraising mentee the same advice given to me by my mentor.
Arm yourself with information and then do what you know how to do, the way how you know how to do it. Comparison is very truly the thief of joy. You see that peacock strutting in your office, in your organization; s/he struts because s/he can’t fly—you can.
I recently read an article by Toni Morrison in The New Yorker that really spoke to me regarding building a career and it is advice that I would definitely pass on to a mentee in the future.
“1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.
2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.
3. Your real life is with us, your family.
4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.” (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/05/the-work-you-do-the-person-you-are)
Finally, remember these words from Terence (190-160 BCE): “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.” These words have graced every office I’ve inhabited since my first job at the mayor’s office. Translated from Latin, they read, “I am human, therefore nothing human is alien to me.” Remember that you are encountering human beings in the fragile fullness of their humanity; approach everyone you come in contact with as such. This means that I am able to be myself and relate to the service staff in my office and the million dollar donor in the very same way. The goal is the same: mutual recognition, that is, all of us simply desire to be seen.
What is the best career advice you have received?
You are lucky if the job you do and the thing that feeds your soul collide in the same time/space. Many are not so lucky, so keep in mind that you are building a career, not just taking a job. Imagine where you hope to be in 5, 10, 15, 30 years and work towards that like everything depends on you and put your trust in the fact that the Universe unfolds always and in all ways exactly as it should.
What inspires you about the development profession?
I am inspired by the multiplicitous nature of the profession. Development professionals come from all walks of life and educational training; we bring the skills that we have learned and the totality of our experiences with us to every meeting and in every encounter with colleagues and donors alike. For many of us, our inner passion has become our sacred work; when this kind of energy is concentrated there is nothing that we cannot achieve.
Personally, I am constantly inspired by knowing that I am making a real difference in the lives of students. They may not ever know me and I may never know them, but I do know that we’ve all been paid for by ancestors known and unknown. It is my job; it is our job to pay for someone else, to help someone else achieve what they once thought unachievable.
I’ll end with another quote that has hung in all of my offices and inspires me daily by MLK, Jr. and drives my work. It reads: “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education, and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and justice for their spirits.” Inner passion, sacred work.