May 26, 2024

Jan Clarke: Giving for a Living

Jan Clarke practices what he preaches. After all, he was an undergrad at Averett, a private Baptist college in Danville, Virginia, when got his first taste of fundraising working the phonathon. Not that Clarke is a preacher himself, but he is a philanthropist.

Assistant Vice President for Gift Planning Jan Clarke

UMW Assistant Vice President for Gift Planning Jan Clarke

As assistant vice president for gift planning at UMW, he helps fulfill the wishes of those who want to contribute to the future of Mary Washington – and the students it serves – through their estates. And Clarke, who makes monthly investments to a retirement account set up to benefit the University, is doing the same.

He was a year into a hospitality career when the vice president of institutional advancement at his alma mater offered him an opportunity. At the time, “I didn’t realize this whole fundraising world was really a thing,” said Clarke, who was a natural fit for the role, moving on to a similar position at Radford University before joining UMW in 2003.

“It never occurred to me how much grease it takes to spread over all the wheels to keep everything turning [at a university],” he said. “It’s so much more than the check the parent writes for tuition.”

Planned gifts – set up through donors’ wills, stocks, trust funds and insurance policies – can be substantial, with pledges in the millions of dollars. With that much at stake, the job calls for patience and a personal touch.

Givers come from all perspectives. “Some people want their name on the side of the building,” said Clarke, who takes great care of his clients, sending handwritten notes, delivering groceries or just stopping by for a visit. “Some people would rather die than have their name on the side of the building, but they still want to help.”

With enthusiastic Mary Washington alumni scattered far and wide, Clarke finds himself in constant motion – at least in non-pandemic times – traveling the country and beyond to meet with them. Then he matches donor dollars and passions with programs and initiatives across campus.

“We’re out there actively trying to cultivate relationships and align people’s interests with UMW’s needs,” Clarke said. “There’s a certain cross section of the population that understands the need for philanthropy and helping the next generation. That connection is meaningful.”

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Putting all the pieces together to help people fulfill their wishes for how they want to help Mary Washington, seeing them satisfied and watching a student benefit from what they’ve done.

Q: Most challenging?
A: When you know someone has the resources to be able to help but they don’t get why they should. I try to help people who don’t get it, get it.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: Just keep on keeping on. If something gets in your way, you find a way over it, around it or through it.

Q: What’s the most meaningful gift you’ve ever received?
A: After my grandfather passed away, my mother gave me the pocket watch he had with him every day. That was very special.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I like to work with my hands – carpentry, gardening. I bike and kayak. I’m not much of a cook, but I like to grill, and I make a mean mojito. They’ll sneak up on you; I’m telling you.


  1. Joni Wilson says

    Great to hear about about Jan. He is such a special human, and certainly an awesome asset to UMW and those he supports.

  2. Lisa Bowling says

    We are very fortunate to have Jan on our Advancement team. His professionalism, integrity, and kindness have drawn donors to UMW and made a significant impact on its fundraising success.

  3. Kathleen Mahoney says

    It’s been a pleasure working with Jan in my capacity as president of the Retired Faculty Women and Retired Faculty Wives Club these last few years. His organizational skills and attention to detail make my job a breeze. He is a genuinely nice guy and UMW is so lucky to have him!

  4. Susan Harvin says

    Great article about Jan Clarke. He is an all around kind and nice person. I was fortunate to work in the same building with him for 12 years.