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Philip Thornton, Vice President of Development: From Art Student to Fundraiser to Greyhound


From the start, Philip Thornton, UIndy’s new Vice President of Development, breaks the mold. While most people would expect someone working in fundraising and public relations to have a degree in one of those fields, Philip took a different route.

Philip completed his B.A. at San Diego State University with a major in art, and more specifically, oil painting.  

“One of the key lessons to be learned from an art education, is it teaches you to push boundaries and challenge conventional ways of thinking. I’ve brought this mindset to fundraising and leadership.”

In addition to studying art, Philip also participated on the Men’s Rowing Team during his sophomore year at San Diego State. The team was on the water from five to seven in the morning, five days a week.

“Being a collegiate athlete is a very special experience. Waking up at 4:30 a.m. at 20 years old builds a great deal of character; and it’s a special bond that you form with your teammates. That was a very exciting time in my life. I’m proud to be associated with the great athletic tradition here at UIndy. I’m nowhere near as accomplished as the Greyhounds, but I can understand the dedication and the teamwork that goes into their success.”

So how does an artist and former rower become the leader of Advancement for a university on the other side of the country? Philip went on to earn his Master of Business Administration from the University of Arizona (that’s where his addiction to black coffee started: “I needed something stronger than Coca-Cola to get through my studies”) and was recruited back into the world of fundraising.

Philip’s work actually brought him to Indianapolis for the first time seventeen years ago.

“I first moved to Indianapolis in 2005. I moved here for a one year position working for my fraternity, Theta Chi, and then went back to California. Then I ended up coming back here ten years later, in 2015, almost to the day, and it’s amazing the amount of growth and change in the city of Indianapolis. There’s something special happening in this city these days.”

Philip worked as a fundraising consultant for higher education institutions across the country, including Abilene Christian University, Trine University, University of Southern California, Georgia Tech, University of Illinois, Northwestern University, and Texas A&M University. His work with these institutions, and Theta Chi, connected him with fundraisers from Purdue University, who eventually convinced Philip to join the Boilermakers and lead the development team for their School of Industrial Engineering. 

When Philip saw the opening at UIndy, he saw the opportunity to not only experience the excitement of the capitol city, but also to join a tight-knit community, dedicated to lifting each other up. “In fact, the reason why I wanted to work here is the people. I was truly blown away during my interview by how kind and welcoming everyone has been and I mean everyone.”

The overall goal of UIndy Advancement is to develop the resources necessary to fully realize UIndy’s mission. As Vice President of Development for the Office of Advancement, Philip serves as a member of the President’s Cabinet, where he advises President Manuel on how certain decisions and situations will impact alumni and philanthropic gift opportunities, and as the chief fundraiser for UIndy, who builds relationships with alumni, friends of UIndy, and partners in the city. 

“I’m very honored to be here. For me to be in this position, at 39, is very rare. So it is very humbling to be selected to be here, but also, I want to do the best work possible and to have the biggest impact on our Greyhounds. I think there’s something special about this University and I want everyone in the city of Indianapolis and across the country to know it.”

While he may not be a UIndy grad, Philip’s Pack Pride is already well-established. Looking ahead, Philip sees a bright future for UIndy and, in his new role, is eager to help UIndy grow its community and impact.

“We are the University of Indianapolis. We are this city’s university. I think there’s a great opportunity to grow our name, our reach and our impact across the entire city and state.”

While Philip has been with UIndy for only a handful of weeks, he is looking forward to meeting more faculty in the weeks and months to come. “Our faculty are our greatest strength. They are the one’s performing ground-breaking research and educating our students. I can’t wait to meet our deans, department heads, and professors from all corners of campus.”

Along with helping UIndy be all that it can be, Philip enjoys spending quiet weekends with his wife and fourteen-month-old son. He welcomes anyone to come visit the Office of Advancement to say “hello” and have coffee with the Advancement team.