Q & A with Kate Hilton, JD 1999, Assistant Dean of Advancement, Faculty of Law

On fundraising, fiction and saying farewell to the law school

Kate Hilton '99By Lucianna Ciccocioppo

From the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Nexus.

LC: Many believe we’re not destined to have one career – you could be the ‘poster child’ for this! Tell us what you’ve done since you graduated from the Faculty of Law?

KH: Law wasn’t my first career; I actually started out in publishing as an editor. When I graduated in 1999, I intended to become a litigator, and I articled at Gowlings. But it turned out that practicing law wasn’t for me.  Ron Daniels recruited me back to the law school while I was studying for the Bar Ads and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. My first post was as the director of special projects, doing strategic planning, writing and managing complex files for the Dean’s Office. It was an amazing learning experience. Then in 2004, I was appointed the assistant dean of advancement, and all of a sudden I was a major gift fundraiser. I’ve been running the fundraising and alumni relations arm of the law school ever since.

LC: How have the fundraising and alumni relations programs changed in your decade at the helm?

KH: They've changed enormously, because we - like every other public institution in the country - have had to adapt to new realities: cuts in traditional sources of funding, a poor economy, the rise of digital and social media, and an increasingly crowded charitable sector. We've had to become more sophisticated in how we approach fundraising, and more creative and responsive in how we design alumni communications and programs. For example, it used to be that our alumni programs consisted of Reunion, the Distinguished Alumnus Dinner and a handful of public lectures. Alumni would tell me that they felt disconnected from the law school even though their time as students had been formative. I recognized that we needed to tailor our programming to provide different kinds of opportunities for engagement - events for families, for women, for LGBT lawyers, for alumni in particular neighbourhoods, and for young alumni - and to give graduates more contact with current students. Today, our Alumni-Student Mentorship Program places 300 students each year with alumni who want to provide guidance and support to the next generation of lawyers.  

LC: What about communications?

KH: Nothing in fundraising and alumni programming has changed as much as the way that we communicate with people. Ten years ago, I spent a lot of time writing letters. Now email seems old-fashioned. The Advancement Office devotes a lot of energy to social media, to our website and to our e-newsletter. Nexus magazine is still the cornerstone of our communications strategy, but it's changed too. We surveyed alumni extensively about Nexus and learned a lot about their interests and preferences. We still cover faculty research, but we put it in a broader context so that readers can understand its relevance to larger social issues. And we put a huge emphasis on alumni profiles, so that readers can see the power of a U of T law degree and the extraordinary range of possibilities that open up once you graduate.

LC: And now you’re leaving us. To do what?

KH: My first novel, The Hole in the Middle, is out from HarperCollins and is available in stores. It’s a comic novel about a working mom having a midlife crisis (entirely fictional, of course). It’s been so well-received that I’ve decided to spend more of my time writing fiction. And I’m also planning to do some fundraising consulting in the non-profit sector. I love working with organizations that are trying to build something new or to reimagine themselves. It appeals to my creative side.

LC: Your story about your book publication is a story in itself. What happened?

KH: I wrote The Hole in the Middle on Sunday afternoons over a three-year period. I wasn’t able to find an agent for it, so I decided to self-publish. I designed a social media campaign around a Mother’s Day launch, and it was successful beyond my wildest imaginings. Within the first month, the book was downloaded 13,000 times. It caught the attention of an agent, Beverley Slopen, and a publisher, HarperCollins. And there’s a law school connection: The Hole in the Middle found its way to my agent through a law school classmate who read the e-book and loved it.

LC: Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of at the Faculty of Law?

KH: I’m incredibly proud of our successful campaign for the new building. Raising $54 million in a recession was a very tough assignment, and many people thought (and said) that it couldn’t be done. The design for the new building is just incredible, and it is going to transform the student experience. I love that I was part of creating something that is so important to the Faculty’s future. Every time I look over at the construction site across the parking lot, it gives me a thrill.

LC: Favourite law school memory?

KH: Falling in love with my classmate (and now husband of 13 years), Rob Centa.

LC: Have you started working on your second book? What’s next?

KH: I’ve started an outline. I’m really looking forward to being able to spend more than three hours a week on writing! As for what’s next, I’ve always wanted to write something set in a law school….

LC: What’s the first thing you’re going to do after your last day at the Faculty of Law?

KH: Walk my son to school.

LC: What will you miss?

KH: So many things! The law school has been a huge part of my life for 17 years, since I arrived as a first-year student. In many ways, I feel as though I grew up at the Faculty. So many of my deepest friendships were formed and are still rooted here. As much as I love my home office, I’ll miss having close friends at work every day.   

Follow Kate on Twitter @katemhilton and on Facebook at Kate Hilton Author.