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Donor Impact Stories

Montclair State University Alumna Susan Head ’75 MA Brings Expertise in Finance and Philanthropy to the Foundation Board

After a highly successful career as a philanthropic specialist, Susan Head ’75 MA decided to turn her attention to what she is most passionate about: the arts and social justice. As a member of the College of the Arts Advisory Board and now as a new member of the Montclair State University Foundation Board, Head will focus on both, and on educating the community about the challenges faced by Montclair State students.

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Susan Head

Susan Head ’75 MA did not follow a straight path to success. “I studied psychology at Western Maryland College and planned for a career counseling children through play therapy,” she tells us. “But in my senior year, my father passed away. As the oldest sibling, I needed to come home to New Jersey to look after my family.”

Head took a job with New Jersey Bell Telephone but 18 months later left to earn her master’s degree in psychology at Montclair State. “I wanted to teach emotionally disturbed children, but the field was very crowded at the time,” she recalls. She began working with neurologically impaired children at a private school but the pay was low, making it hard to make ends meet.

“I worked at McDonalds and then found work with the human resources department at a local bank,” she says. “In 1981, I left for another human resources position with the bank that eventually became Wells Fargo, but I didn’t really want to be in human resources anymore. I wanted to be on the income producing side of the business.”

Her employer sent her back to school for an MBA and brought her into finance committee meetings to learn. “The next stop for me was going to be an account manager at the company’s Wealth Department in Newark, but a week before my new start, the bank decided to close the Wealth Department,” she says.

Head will never forget the conversation with her supervisor, when he called to tell her the news. “He told me I should always remember that out of chaos comes opportunity,” she recalls with a laugh. “And then he told me I was being sent to the Trust Department of the bank to become a salesperson.”

With no sales or trust experience, Head wasn’t sure what to make of this turn of events. “But it turned out to be a seriously pivotal moment for me,” she says. “I love observing people’s behavior, which is a great way to approach sales. I have a sincere interest in learning more about who I am talking to and how they are feeling and reacting to the conversation.”

As her new role evolved into sales management for the trust department’s not-for-profit clients, Head saw an opportunity to reconnect with her alma mater. “I was client manager for the Frank and Lydia Bergen Foundation, which was focused on supporting music education,” she says. “I helped build that relationship to bring funding into Montclair State. The Foundation eventually supported the John J. Cali School of Music Building Fund, the Cali Connect Program, and the Shanghai Quartet Scholarship. It was a very rewarding experience.”

Head found that she liked working with the University and began to get involved in other ways. “I provided gift planning training for the Montclair State Foundation staff, helping them understand how donors can use tax-smart financial instruments to make substantial gifts,” she says. In 2006, Head was recognized with the University’s Carpe Diem Award and in 2015 she received the Distinguished Alumni Award at the Graduate School’s Convocation ceremony.

When Head retired from Wells Fargo in 2016, she joined Penny Vance, a colleague in the banking industry, as a member of the College of the Arts (CART) Advisory Board. It was Vance, who has served on the Montclair State University Foundation Board since 2018 and who is now the Board’s Secretary, who recommended Head for a seat on the Foundation Board.

These days, Head provides a bit of consulting for nonprofit organizations, but she is really looking forward to pouring her energy into her volunteer leadership roles at Montclair State. “I have always been interested in music and dance, and CART has such wonderful programs,” she says. “But I am also very, very passionate about social justice issues. When Bob Gregory, Chair of the CART Advisory Board, asked me to serve on a new social justice committee – an idea that came about during this current chaotic time of the pandemic – I saw an opportunity to bring it all together.”

Head also plans to bring her psychology-informed approach to her work with the Foundation Board. “I know how to work with potential supporters to learn what they find most compelling about Montclair State,” she says. “When I find out what it is they are passionate about, I’ll work to find the area at Montclair State that will be most interesting to them.”

Head marvels at the events that led her to the CART Advisory Board and now the Foundation Board. She can’t help but be reminded of the advice she received so long ago. “Once again, chaos presented me with new opportunities,” she says.