Q &A with Worcester State’s new Development and Alumni leader Felicia Riffelmacher

April 8, 2024
By: Deborah Alvarez O'Neil

Worcester State University recently welcomed Felicia Riffelmacher to the Advancement team as the new Executive Director of Development & Alumni Relations. Riffelmacher brings with her more than 16 years of higher education and non-profit fundraising and leadership experience, most recently as Senior Vice President of Organizational Advancement at RFK Community Alliance.

She has gathered extensive higher education experience locally at Clark University, Quinsigamond Community College, and Framingham State University. Felicia is a CFRE-certified strategic planner with extensive experience in annual giving, major gifts, stewardship, donor engagement, prospect research, corporate and foundation relations, as well as work in campaign environments and advancement services. A passionate advocate for improving and empowering lives through fundraising, she is committed to leadership excellence and mentorship.

Riffelmacher earned her associates degree in occupational therapy at Quinsigamond Community College, bachelor’s degree in business from Becker College in 2005 and received her MBA at Suffolk University. She briefly attended Worcester State as an undergraduate. During her time at the university she was active in the university’s chorale program with now retired professor Christie Nigro and performed in Spain with the chorale.

She recently sat down with Worcester State News to share a little bit about her vision for fundraising and alumni engagement.

Q. You have a deep background in higher education and non-profit fundraising. Can you tell us a little bit about how you approach your work?

A. I would characterize how I approach my work fundraising as very relationship based. When I’m working with either alumni or donors, I understand the privilege I have to listen to their stories. The first thing in approaching the work is just to understand everyone’s experiences and where they come from. Each person’s path is unique. The binding tie is that Worcester State played a role in their journey. I’m a naturally curious person and I enjoy listening to the stories of what led an individual to the school and where that journey has taken them.

For donors–whether they be alumni or someone who wants to support the University–I want to deeply understand what motivates them and then connect them to the funding opportunity that aligns with their passion. I’m equally as committed to bringing joy to a donor as I am to securing resources to assist our well- deserving students and equip the university to do life-changing work.

In higher ed, what’s so satisfying to me is I have primarily worked at state universities and everyone is so thankful for the education that they received. And I love it when people say, ‘Oh, it was only a hundred dollars a year when I went here,’ but those people have gone on to build successful careers. Maybe they were first-generation college students and they now have children with doctorates. I love being able to sit with people and hear their stories, and then share what we are doing now at the university. We have an opportunity to partner with our alumni and donors to help our students get an excellent education, change their families and live their best lives. I really have a heart for not only higher education, but particularly public higher education.

Q. What are you most excited about as you enter your new role?

A. I am so excited that I get to work at a university that is in the community that I have made my home for the past 30 years. I’m committed to helping produce the next generation of educators, health care workers, scientists, law enforcement personnel, business leaders and the many other careers that benefit not just myself but our entire community. I’m excited to witness the growth, diversity and transformation of Worcester. Our graduates tend to stay in the area and supply the workforce as well as contribute to the economic resources that are needed to sustain a healthy community. In my own way, doing what I love to do, I believe I am contributing to building a better society.

In addition to this, I’m excited to find the resources that help students reach their highest potential and all of their dreams. For students who are perhaps first generation, come from marginalized backgrounds and/or have the responsibility of paying for their own education, through fundraising I have the joy of helping to relieve some of the burden. By connecting student needs with the generosity of donors, it produces this symbiotic relationship that uplifts students as well as the donor.

The idea of philanthropic joy is real! When we think of philanthropists, we think of the Mackenzie Scotts or David Geffens but the truth is when you invest in the ability for another human to elevate their own lives using their own intellect, creativity, and God-given abilities, you are a philanthropist–whether it be ten dollars or a billion. There is a difference between charity and philanthropy. To spin a well known proverb, charity is giving someone a fish and philanthropy is teaching someone to fish. Our donors are philanthropists. I’m excited to continue to foster a culture of philanthropy and play a role in the legacies we have the opportunity to create at Worcester State.

Q. What are your priorities and goals in the coming months?

A. The first priority that I have is to learn where we are as an institution. What are we doing? What are we doing well? I want to meet with donors, board members, foundation board members, and alumni and determine what’s important to them about the work we do. I want to connect and ask, “What are your aspirations for the university?” “What do you think the university can be?” “How do you see yourself contributing to the work of the University?” I want to be inquisitive but mostly listen.

I want to connect with faculty, staff and students to understand what their needs are and their vision is for their work and lives. When I have opportunities to meet with prospects or donors, I’m actually the conduit in that I relay what the University’s needs are and connect them to the things that donors want to fund. One of the things I will ask prospective donors when we’ve progressed in a relationship and they’re ready to support the university, I ask, ‘What do you want your life to say?’ And that’s where the magic begins. I feel like I’m very blessed to be able to have these conversations and do this work.

Q. As I’m sure you have already heard, we have a fantastic alumni community and many of them live and work in Central Mass. How do you hope to engage our graduates?

As a University with a long history, I recognize that we have alumni who represent different time periods. So events that might be of interest to someone who graduated in the 1950s or 1960s, may look very different from someone who graduated in 2020 during the pandemic. I want to understand what’s really important to each individual and build engagement opportunities that resonate with them.

For instance, younger alumni may be interested in career development events and opportunities. Alumni who are well established in their careers or who are retired may want something entirely different. Perhaps events that reconnect them with former classmates is what is most important to older alumni. In any case, I aim to meet alumni where they are and build a menu of engagement opportunities that deeply interest them.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your hobbies and interests outside of work?

A. I am a theaterphile. I love musicals and plays–especially Broadway shows. I make a joke that I’ll be working until I’m 110 because I spend all my money on Broadway. I just love a good story and in the work that I do, you have to be a good storyteller. I love being the recipient of a story well told.

Worcester State gave me my first travel opportunity outside of the country, and now travel is a big part of my life. I have an entire bucket list and I’m slowly advancing my way through. And, I am all things PBS. I used to think that my dream job was to be that person during their fundraising season who motivates people to give and share why it’s so important to support public television. I guess it tracks because I now recognize how passionate I am about information and education being available to everyone.

My family is my joy and my faith keeps me centered. I absolutely love being at home, reading or chilling to smooth jazz. However, the person, well, I would say the entity that runs our household is the beagle. I have a beagle named Eli, and let me tell you something, he lets us live in his house. He just brings us so much joy. Most people show you pictures of their kids. I’m like, ‘This is Eli.’




Leave a Comment

See for yourself what #woolife is all about.

The best way to learn about Worcester State University is to tour our beautiful campus. Be sure to let your student tour guide know your interests so they can personalize your tour.

See the tour schedule