“Between climbing routes at Little Stony Man Cliffs in Shenandoah, I picked up an unusual rock. A group of students suddenly swarmed the area, and since I heard their professor talking about the 570-million-year-old greenstone lava flows, I asked if they could tell me about this rock. When I learned they had just attended the Southeastern Section Meeting of GSA, I knew the job I had flown to Boulder, Colorado, to interview for the week prior was meant to be,” says the GSA Foundation’s Debbie Marcinkowski.
As an experienced fundraiser who has also seen some of Earth’s great geologic wonders while climbing, volunteering, and working around the world, joining the GSA Foundation (GSAF) nine years ago was the perfect fit for Debbie. Long under the spell of alluring mountain ranges, her appreciation for geology grows with her years at GSAF: whether hearing about your work and experiences at the Foundation booth, writing the stories of student grant recipients, or learning about geoscience career paths through discussions with industry partners, her work is rich and rewarding.
In April, GSAF’s Board of Trustees announced Debbie’s promotion to the newly created position of executive director. Her initial role in corporate partnerships was a shared position between GSAF and GSA. With a master’s degree in nonprofit management, she brought experience in funding, communications, and partner relations for global health, environmental conservation, and arts/education organizations. Strategic planning, collaboration to maximize funding opportunities, and relationship development with a wide range of people were key to her previous roles. Her work has always been in funding: from sponsors, campaigns, and advertising at a renowned arts center in the Washington, D.C., area to global partnerships for a Geneva-based organization that brought together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, private philanthropists, and corporate donors. One of her most interesting research and writing projects was a proposal to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi that helped secure US$33M matched by another US$33M from the Gates Foundation to fund vaccines for children across Afghanistan.
Debbie’s energy for fundraising—mixed in with some adventure—drives her individual as well as professional endeavors. She was a founding climbing team member and expedition leader for a nonprofit raising funds for cancer studies at a leading research university. Ascending the headwall of a peak in the Andes, curiosity about the strong odor of sulfur rising from the active volcano’s snow-capped crater gave her the final push to summit—and even greater marvel of the underlying geology. Her experience in strategy- and awareness-building earned her a spot on a Himalayan expedition through the Everest region funded by National Geographic, with two of their explorers studying glacial lake outburst flood hazards, while creating a plan to reach the international mountaineering and adventure travel industries regarding environmental stewardship. Debbie’s passion for conveying compelling messages that inspired funds to help build orphanages in Tibet (and far-from-standard funding practices to get the cash into the region) now helps communicate the significant impact of donations that encourage students to pursue the geosciences.
During the challenging past year, Debbie was inspired by the Foundation’s committed donors who leapt to assist student members, while maintaining their regular support of GSA programs. She is thrilled to continue working with you in her expanded role, with a vision for GSAF to make a leap, as you did, in its support of GSA’s priorities. As the world around us shifts, so do philanthropic movements. “Much of mountaineering is about a positive mindset; the same applies to effective funding work that is gratifying to donors and organizations alike. We will continue to seek creative avenues to encourage and provide funding while communicating how vital your support is—both to those who will fill future roles in the geosciences and to our professional members in their ongoing scientific discovery, communication, and application of geoscience knowledge.”
Caption: Marcinkowski at the 5897 m (19,348 ft) summit of Cotopaxi, Ecuador, one of the world’s highest active volcanoes and few equatorial glaciers.