Grand Finale: Kathryn Nelson

By Robert Gelber ’92

Grand Finale

Strategic, visionary and passionate are just a few words that describe Kathryn Nelson. As vice president for institutional advancement for the past nine years, she contributed to some of the most consequential initiatives in Punahou’s history, including the 175th Anniversary celebration and historic Ku‘u Punahou Campaign, which raised more than $175 million for such initiatives as 100% need-based financial aid. In June, Nelson stepped away from her role to become Senior Vice President of philanthropy at the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, where she will continue inspiring positive changes for the broader community.

Of all your professional accomplishments, what stands out for you as particularly gratifying?
Of course, helping guide the Ku‘u Punahou Campaign to a successful conclusion is among the most gratifying. With over 12,000 families and 40,000 individual gifts, the Punahou community made history, and the School’s leadership will always be grateful. But I’ve been really gratified to see enormous progress in the work we do with our alumni volunteer chapters to connect alumni from around the world to each other and the School. I’m also delighted with our increasing capacity to communicate effectively – be it print or digital.  

Why do you think the School was able to achieve its goal? 
First and foremost, our success is due to our donors, whose generosity and genuine desire to move the School toward President Jim Scott’s ’70 vision has been inspiring. Jim’s vision for Punahou was big and required funds beyond tuition and the School’s endowment. His priorities had large price tags, and $175 million was more than had ever been attempted. We knew we were going to have to engage the Punahou community in Hawai‘i and far beyond to build excitement and commitment for Punahou’s future. Ku‘u Punahou would not have been successful without the leadership, commitment and generosity of Jim and the Trustees. Members of the Board’s campaign steering committee provided oversight and counsel, and also worked to bring in many important gifts. Principals Emily McCarren and Paris Priore-Kim ’76 gave generously of their time and expertise both in Hawai‘i and away from home. The Punahou advancement team deserves more accolades for the success of the 175th Anniversary Celebration and Ku‘u Punahou Campaign than this magazine could print. Every team member contributed to our success, some from behind the scenes and some from out in front. They believed in the vision, and they consistently went above and beyond to assure success.  

When you reflect on your time at Punahou, what will you miss the most?
I will definitely miss the people more than anything – my colleagues, the amazing alumni, parents and donors with whom I’ve had the privilege to work and get to know, and whose perspectives I’ve come to rely on. I will also miss working with my advancement team, who exemplify Punahou’s core values. 

As you look at the next chapter of the Punahou story, what are some of the big opportunities that lie ahead? 
As Punahou’s next president, Mike Latham’s ’86 aspirations will define the School’s next opportunities. Building on Jim’s remarkable tenure, I am confident Mike will chart a bright course for Punahou’s future. Noelehua Lyons ’91 Archambault will serve as the interim vice president for advancement. She has very capably led the development team, and I know she will do a terrific job. The biggest opportunity in terms of advancement is the authentic engagement of Punahou’s community in a shared vision of what Punahou can be. That intersection is where the magic happens. 

Kathryn Nelson.

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