Position Opening: VP, Development and Communications

by | Nov 25, 2015

William Boyce Thompson founded the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) in 1924 on the premise that basic plant research leads to real benefits for people. BTI’s mission includes environmental responsibility and outreach to teachers, students, and community members.

BTI, an independent research institute on the Cornell University campus, invites applications for the position of Vice President, Development and Communications.  BTI is part of the Cornell campus in Ithaca, a culturally diverse and vibrant town in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York.


Reporting to the President, the Vice President (VP), Development and Communications serves as a key leadership team member and an active participant in making strategic decisions affecting BTI. In partnership with the President and the Board of Directors, this position is responsible for all development and communications activities. The successful candidate will help forge new relationships to build BTI’s visibility, impact, and financial resources.

Development (70%)

The VP, Development and Communications will design and implement a comprehensive plan for developing key external alliances by cultivating individual and institutional philanthropic support.

The VP, Development and Communications will have primary responsibility for establishing and implementing the infrastructure needed to grow a $16 million annual budget through the solicitation of major gifts, state grants, special events, and corporate and foundation support.

S/he will expand and diversify BTI’s donor base and prospect pipeline and work closely with other team members to secure funding for new initiatives. In addition, the VP will work closely with the Board of Directors and support board members as they take on a more active fundraising role.

It is expected that the amount raised by BTI will increase in future years as the VP, Development and Communications systematically and effectively strengthens the organization’s overall fundraising capacity by meeting targeted goals and benchmarks.

Communications (30%)

The VP, Development and Communications will work with team members to implement an integrated strategic communications plan that advances BTI’s brand identity, broadens awareness of its mission and impact, and increases the visibility of its work across key stakeholder audiences, particularly in support of the development and fundraising efforts.

The position will oversee the creation of a marketing/public relations strategy that will allow leadership to cultivate and enhance meaningful relationships with targeted, high-level external audiences, including the media and key influencers, particularly to advance the fundraising efforts.

The position will identify challenges and emerging issues faced by the organization and work with the leadership team and departments to recognize internal and external communications opportunities and solutions, while defining and executing appropriate strategies to support them.

The position will oversee the development of all BTI communications including but not limited to: External communications: press releases, external stakeholder communication, brand and member communication; Internal communications: team member branding and communication.

The position will serve as a spokesperson, as the lead point person on media interactions that help promote and/or impact the organization. They will oversee the development of media opportunities, preparation of talking points, speeches, presentations and other supporting material as needed. Working with the communications department; prepare leadership, project leaders, and others to work with media, public speaking and other external opportunities.

They will actively engage, cultivate and manage press relationships to ensure coverage surrounding BTI research, special events, public announcements, and other pertinent BTI news items.

Oversee the day-to-day activities of the communications function including budgeting, planning and staff development. Manage BTI’s relationships with agencies and other external communications providers.

Essential Job Functions

  • Work with BTI President to ensure consistent and methodical approaches for all philanthropic giving.
  • Identify, cultivate, solicit and steward potential donors including current and retired BTI staff, BTI board members and friends.
  • Oversee the effective maintenance and management of the donor database.
  • Serve as a member of the BTI Senior Leadership Team.
  • Plan and manage the development and communications budget.
  • Write or assist in writing grant proposals and all other fundraising materials
  • Ensure a favorable position vis a vis peer institutions, Cornell University, corporations and community organizations.
  • Oversee the BTI website
  • Oversee the writing, design and production of major BTI print media including all associated activities such as photo shoots, interviews and research.
  • Seasoned professional with development, communications and public relations expertise as typically obtained during 10 years of experience in progressively senior positions, preferably in the academic or science research field
  • Proven experience in managing comprehensive strategic communications, media relations, and marketing programs to advance an organization’s strategic mission and goals
  • Desire to educate and collaborate with internal stakeholders on the development initiatives
  • Solid expertise especially in the areas of media relations, crisis management, media advocacy, celebrity initiatives and internal communications.
  • Demonstrated track record of influential speech writing and engaging spokesperson experience on regional/national media level
  • Solid content development and management experience, including the ability to optimize all forms of communications to achieve strategic objectives, to build brand awareness and loyalty, and to grow market share
  • Solid experience in building, managing and coaching a team of communications, PR, and fundraising specialists
  • Proven experience in using marketing analytics to make informed business decisions
  • Demonstrated success in sustaining and growing development campaigns and initiatives
  • Ability to handle complex personalities with conflicting priorities

Experience and Knowledge

  •  7-10 years of experience in the areas of fundraising, alumni affairs, communications or a related field. Must have experience in the development and implementation of annual fundraising campaigns. A demonstrated ability to exercise proper judgment in interactions with donors, board members, prospective donors and others is necessary. Experience managing a budget.
  • Demonstrated advanced knowledge of communications planning, community relations, graphic design and production, broadcast/multi-media, graphic standards/corporate identity management, media relations, news media spokesperson techniques, publications, website development and maintenance, special events, executive speech writing, sponsorships, telecommunications, research, and advertising
  • Strong business acumen and exceptional analytic skills with the proven ability to provide innovative solutions to complex problems and to meet customer-driven business objectives
  • Working knowledge of selecting/hiring third-party talent for creative services, graphic design and production, publication development and management, market research and advertising
  • Understanding of and experience working with science communications


  • Professional writing and editing skills; excellent spokesperson skills with the ability to articulate a vision while exhibiting a positive public speaking presence
  • Ability to energize, mobilize, and influence by fostering productive and collaborative working relationships with internal and external constituencies, including the effective management of resources
  • Demonstrated ability to synthesize information and ideas across a variety of subject matter areas and to create plans that generate an engaging and positive donor and constituent interactions
  • Solid budget and finance skills, with the ability to negotiate effectively with staff, senior management, vendors, media partnerships, external agencies and organizations
  • Competency in Microsoft Office suite, including working knowledge of graphic design, data management, and statistical analysis software; experience with relational databases
  • Must possess excellent written and oral communication skills. Requires an ability to write standardized reports and correspondence, foundation grant proposals, brochures, solicitation letters, and meeting minutes, and policies. Must be comfortable speaking either one-on-one or in groups, whether large or small, or to an internal or external audience.

Education and Certification

Bachelor’s degree required, Masters strongly preferred

Supervisory Responsibilities

Strong supervisory skills required. The position has a team of six including Development and Communications staff.


Extensive travel required- generally 2-3 trips per month. Overnight travel will be necessary.

To apply

Applicants should submit a cover letter that describes their strategy for the position, resume, and the names of three references to: Meredith Dessoye, VP Search Committee, Boyce Thompson Institute, 533 Tower Road, Ithaca, New York 14853.

Applications can also be emailed to:
Meredith Dessoye, Human Resources Manager,

Position will remain open until a suitable candidate has been identified.  Additional information about BTI can be obtained at

BTI is an equal opportunity employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status or any other characteristic protected by law.

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