Meares’ charge: Match donors’ goals with Carolina’s needs
Mark Meares majored in English – with an emphasis on creative writing – when he was an undergraduate at Carolina in the 1970s.
He eventually returned to Carolina in 1998 to join the University Advancement staff as associate director of Corporate and Foundation Relations and assumed his current position as director three years later.
Although he did not know it at the time, he said, in many ways the job would require him to become a student again. But this time around, he added, there was only one subject to study: “Carolina.”
After 13 years of University service, his mastery of that subject earned Meares a 2011 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.
In particular, Meares was cited for his work orchestrating the Innovate@Carolina Campaign, a $125 million drive aimed at making Carolina a world leader in launching university-born ideas for the good of society.
Nominated by two deans and three associate provosts and deans, Meares was praised for his tireless work ethic and an esprit de corps second to none.
Meares said he considers himself lucky to have a job that requires that he learn so much about the University and the great work happening here. It is the value of that work, he added, that adds meaning to his own work.
“It is really important for me to say that it is the content of this University – the quality of the people we have here and the work they do – that makes what I do possible,” Meares said. “It is not me. I just have to be out there, keeping my eyes open.”
Going the extra mile
It could be said that Meares has always been a keen observer of his surroundings.
He hails from Maryville, Tenn., in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. It was a place where men of faith took up snake handling to demonstrate their faith in God’s word.
His first year at Carolina, Meares wrote about the snake handlers for an English course.
To research the subject, he drove up winding dirt roads to Newport, Tenn., where he hoped to witness a Sunday night service delivered by Rev. Liston L. Pack, a noted snake handler. Meares found out about Pack when Time magazine wrote about Pack’s brother dying after he drank strychnine.
“Rev. Pack was quoted in Time that his brother must have died because he was a non-believer down deep,” Meares said.
During the service, Meares sensed he had caught Pack’s attention.
“Everybody was getting excited and throwing their arms up and waving and Liston Pack started saying, ‘I believe tonight there are some non-believers in church with us and I am very, very fearful that something terrible is going to happen to them.’ After I heard that, I threw my arms up and started waving, too.”
A desire to give back
Meares draws upon the writing and communication skills he learned at Carolina to do his work, but the range of sales experience he gained working for Village Companies in Chapel Hill has proven to be invaluable as well.
He worked for the company for more than 14 years, serving as general manager of Village Printing, publisher of The Leader Magazine, and general manager and executive vice president of The Village Advocate, Village Printing and the Triangle Pointer magazine.
In 1995, he joined the Hudson Belk department store chain as marketing director and was promoted to vice president a year later. Over time he became increasingly involved in public service and began serving on the boards of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation.
It was also during this period that he began thinking about what he could do to give back to Carolina. To find out, he scheduled coffee to discuss volunteering with Margie Crowell, a friend who then was associate vice chancellor of university development.
“She told me, ‘We have some jobs open. Maybe one of them would be right for you,’” he said.
Until that point, selling is what Meares had always done and was what he knew. At Carolina, his objective was not selling the University, but advancing it. He did that by raising money to pay for things that could make it better.
One constant in both professions is the importance of knowing your customers’ needs, Meares said.
His job is to match the foundation to the University department or faculty member whose work touches on those areas the foundation and the University are interested in advancing, he said.
The Ford Foundation, for instance, is interested in racial equality, Meares said.
“OK, what do we have going on at Carolina that it might be interested in? Well, we have the Civil Rights Center founded by Julius Chambers, one of the greatest civil rights lawyers in the history of this country,” he said.
“It is easy to see that there may be some things they can mutually help each other accomplish. Our job over here is to try to bring those two groups together and get them talking. Our goal is fundraising, but the way we do that is to manage and nurture these relationships in a way that allows them to find a good fit.”
Stephen Farmer, who heads undergraduate admissions, cited the central role Meares played in developing a proposal to the Jack Kent Cook Foundation that would create the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program.
The first of its kind in the state, the program has enabled low- to moderate-income students in community colleges to transfer to Carolina.
“Mark has been a tireless and extremely effective advocate of the University’s mission to serve the people of North Carolina, the nation and the world,” Farmer said.
But Meares said it is a privilege to have a job that requires him to learn something new about a place he will always cherish.
“What I love most about this job is that it requires of me that I am out there talking to faculty members to find out what they have been discovering,” Meares said.
“I am lucky enough to get all of this intellectual stimulation while trying to make those connections.”