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Career Retrospective: Marika Jones Reflects on 30 Years in Fundraising

I’ve always had a knack for building things.

My career began as an industrial engineer in my home state of Michigan. I worked through the ranks of the auto industry—from developing plant floor computer systems to financial analysis and program management for various manufacturers.

I eventually moved into philanthropy, channeling my affinity for building in a new way—to build up organizations and programs that improve lives.

From Automotive Industry to World of Fundraising

After receiving an MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, I accepted the role of managing director for the newly founded Tauber Manufacturing Institute at the University of Michigan. I was charged with building this new program from the ground up. I worked closely with development directors from the business school and college of engineering to connect students with local manufacturing and technical corporations.

I learned a lot from my development colleagues. They were the best fundraisers in the business. Their mentorship influenced my decision to make a full pivot into the world of fundraising.

I stepped into the role of associate director of corporate and foundation relations for the University of Michigan. I cultivated relationships with corporations, foundations, and individual donors to raise millions of dollars. I’m particularly proud of our partnership with a leading computer company to provide computers to the Detroit Public Schools system in the mid-1990s.

This was a time when most homes in the area did not have personal computers. Companies were just beginning to see the value of contributing to student development by investing in K-12 education. Gifts like these leveled the playing field and provided meaningful encouragement in communities where this technology was otherwise inaccessible.

Marika Jones presents at the 2023 Health Partners Summit, University of Utah Health.
Marika Jones presents at the 2023 Health Partners Summit, University of Utah Health.

Impacting Education and Health Care

My experience at University of Michigan prepared me well for my next role as executive director of corporate and foundation relations at Iowa State University. I helped spotlight and raise funds for Science Bound, a program that introduces STEM topics to underserved groups. Students who complete requirements receive a full ride scholarship to Iowa State. The program proved successful. Hundreds of students entered the world of higher education, some going on to complete advanced degrees.

Additionally, I was involved in spearheading Iowa State’s first billion-dollar campaign. To raise this monumental amount of funds, the school needed a robust corporate and foundation relations group. I took on the task of organizing this group, building from the ground up once again. I sought potential connections and stewarded donor relationships. I raised more than $25 million from companies and foundations, helping my team reach their billion-dollar goal.

Another move landed me in Illinois at UnityPoint Health - Trinity, where I directed a new foundation for the hospital group. Over the next six years, I designed and implemented a comprehensive development program. Giving revenue increased by more than 10-fold annually, and I helped the foundation launch its first capital campaign. With key internal structures and skilled colleagues in place, we raised enough funds to build a new state-of-the-art emergency department and heart center.

Career Capstone at U of U Health

As avid hikers, skiers, and golfers, my family enjoyed spending time in the Mountain West. When I learned U of U Health was hiring for a chief philanthropy officer, I was eager to apply. I remember stepping off the plane and immediately falling in love with Salt Lake City and Utah. I never looked back.

I was thrilled to join the advancement team at U of U Health and take part in advancing education, clinical care, research, and outreach.

Coming into an established program, I needed to understand staff roles at every level in order to implement key strategies for growth. I embraced the opportunity to enhance our internal culture by focusing on transparency, trust, and flexibility.

People want to have input before big decisions are made. I encouraged my team to speak up and share ideas. It was important to involve team members at all levels in our strategic planning. I wanted everyone to understand the road map and how they individually contributed to our success.

From left to right: Wendy Hobson-Roher, Marika Jones, Kellie Esters, and Meg Johnson.
From left to right: Wendy Hobson-Rohrer, Marika Jones, Kellie Esters, and Meg Johnson at the President's Holiday Party, 2022.

Major highlights from my experience at U of U Health include: 

  • Increasing community engagement through efforts like the Grateful Patient Program. The Johns Hopkins Medicine Philanthropy Institute and Association of American Medical Colleges recognize the program for its ethical patient fundraising guidelines and training. 
  • Reaching more alumni outside of Utah through our regional travel program. We have connected with thousands of new alumni since the program’s inception in 2022, increasing donations by $8.5 million. 
  • Participating on the team that secured a $150 million gift to create the Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI) followed by a $110 million gift to name the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine. HMHI is creating awareness, reducing stigma, and increasing access to mental health care. An endowment established with the naming gift for the future medical school building provides long-term financial support for medical education. This work provides resources for our community with tangible, lasting impact. 

It doesn’t always have to be a major gift or significant financial contribution to make a difference. At the end of the day, relationships matter most. Hopefully, I’ve been able to change some lives along the way.

Keep on Building

A career in philanthropy is incredibly rewarding. It’s meaningful to make a difference for people through scholarships, health care initiatives, or funding valuable research. There is a higher objective—a real mission behind this work.

My team at U of U Health brings me the most joy and pride. They are a remarkable group of individuals who are deeply passionate about their work and dedicated to the mission. It's been an honor and privilege working with them, and I will miss them dearly.

As I embark on my retirement journey, I have high hopes for improving my golf game, traveling, visiting family, and picking up a few new hobbies like painting or photography. No matter what the future holds, I’m determined to continue building up the world and people around me.

Marika Jones

Marika Jones, MBA

After an impressive 38-year career, Marika Jones retired as Chief Philanthropy Officer for University of Utah Health in May 2024. Jones led fundraising operations in support of educational, clinical care, research, outreach, and multidisciplinary initiatives. She worked closely with senior advancement leaders to integrate and streamline strategic fundraising operations for the University of Utah.  

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