In the Loop
Staff News : Sep 12, 2019

College of the Arts appoints new Director of Advancement

By Brandon McKinley (BMUS BSPR '17)

A creative relationship manager and a champion of philanthropy, Lula Dawit joins the University of Florida College of the Arts as its Director of Advancement.   

Dawit will be responsible for implementing a broad range of fundraising activities. As the college’s chief fundraiser, she will oversee the development and execution of a philanthropy program that fulfills the financial needs of strategic initiatives for the College of the Arts and University of Florida Advancement.  

“Lula is a proven fundraiser and a dynamic and engaging communicator,” said UF Executive Director of Advancement Brian Danforth. “She will bring a strategic approach to elevating the college’s advancement program to secure philanthropic resources that support Dean Ozuzu’s transformational vision. Lula’s passion for the arts and philanthropy, in addition to her unique skillset, positions her well for this important role.” 

A Gainesville native, Dawit is a first-generation American. During the Eritrean-Ethiopian War, her parents moved from Eritrea to Florida when her father earned the opportunity to finish his doctorate in chemistry at UF.  

Dawit attended school in Gainesville and is a three-time graduate of the University of Florida. She received a Master of Laws in Taxation and Juris Doctor from the Levin College of Law as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and English from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  

During her time at Levin, she specialized in estate planning, probate administration and fiduciary law. 

After starting her career as an attorney, Dawit left law practice to pursue a career in philanthropy at Spelman College. 

“I really don’t know when the spark started for me," Dawit said. "I think it’s a combination of my family’s story emigrating to the United States as refugees, the kindness they received from institutions and individuals while making that journey and building a life in a new country, and my experiences volunteering with Key Club and Chain Reaction in grade school. I’ve always been interested in people, helping others and philanthropy. It’s the reason I pursued a law degree—to help people.”

The beginning of her philanthropy career at Spelman was marked by an exciting time of growth for the college. Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, who Dawit called an arts changemaker and innovator, had just begun her tenure as Spelman's president. 

"The college was growing and ascending to great heights," Dawit said. "I felt like it was the right opportunity to have some impact, create growth and help ensure financial security for Spelman for generations to come.”  

Dawit returns to Gainesville from Atlanta, Georgia, where she served as the director of planned giving at the Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center. As the nation’s third largest arts institution, Woodruff is home to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Alliance Theatre, and High Museum of Art.  

At Woodruff, Dawit successfully revived a decade-long dormant planned giving program and developed and implemented a comprehensive strategy for all blended giving efforts—planned and outright gifts—across Woodruff’s departments. She created all print and digital collateral materials, uncovered new prospects using data analytics, and ignited four different legacy societies, which grew to over 300 individuals at the end of her term. 

Her role at Woodruff included interacting regularly with donors, prospects, and the greater philanthropic community to effectively communicate the depth of the center’s work around art access, education and its impact on audiences.  

An active volunteer, Dawit engages in multiple community organizations and serves on a variety of boards, including her role as president of the Georgia Planned Giving Council and immediate past president of the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art advisory board at Kennesaw State University. She also regularly volunteers with the Eritrean community as a liaison and advocate for newly arrived immigrants and refugees.

“I'm really looking forward to finding volunteer opportunities in the Gainesville and North Central area,” Dawit said. “After living and working in Atlanta for almost 10 years, coming back to where I was raised feels right. I look forward to finding impactful and creative ways to add value to this growing community and region."

Dawit said she was first exposed to the arts in elementary school and since then has always gravitated towards the expressive and creative community that arts and humanities offer.  

“The arts generate billions of dollars for the U.S. economy each year," she said. "The true necessity and power of the arts are both impossible to quantify and impossible to underestimate. The arts provide a way for self-expression, make us full human beings, and bring people together regardless of your background. That's what I love most about the arts. It strips away the things that divide us, brings nuisance to light, and opens up different ways of looking and seeing.” 

In her new role at UF, Dawit said she looks forward to the opportunities to advocate for arts education, connect with alumni and friends, and share stories about the impactful work happening at UF.  

"The heart of being an effective fundraiser is listening, having an open mind, and building sound relationships with your supporters and colleagues," she said. "You must listen with empathy and kindness in order to really understand the things that matter to an individual and/or their family and how they want to shape their philanthropy and legacy. I am a firm believer that transformative philanthropy is built on relationships, not transactions.”

Dawit begins her position on Oct. 14. In addition to her fundraising responsibilities, she will also manage the college’s advancement team.  

“I am fully confident that Lula will lead our team successfully through the remainder of the Go Greater campaign and through our college’s strategic initiatives in the coming years,” Dean Onye Ozuzu said. “Her efforts will help foster important creative research, student opportunities and community work.” 

Dawit views her role as an honor to cultivate opportunities for artists and creatives.

“I am so excited to be a part of this great team and help UF and the College of the Arts build and grow its philanthropic strategy and capacity," she said. "The opportunity to drive measurable impact within the college community and support the avenue to produce more people that have a creative approach to solving some of our world’s biggest problems is a privilege."

If you’d like to learn more about Lula, she invites you to send her a message. She is excited to talk to you and eager to meet with the College of the Arts' community of alumni and friends.