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Meet Lela Diaz, Mayfield’s new Director of Development

Mayfield’s new Director of Development, Lela Diaz, whose passion for mission-driven work has generated impressive fundraising success, is energized by the opportunity to champion women leaders.
When longtime Director of Development Angela Howell ’76 was promoted to Associate Head of School last year, her focus shifted to spearheading strategic initiatives that will secure Mayfield’s future in perpetuity. After almost 30 years of legendary leadership as department head, it was a massive challenge to find someone to fill Angela’s shoes.

Mayfield was thrilled when seasoned fundraiser Lela Diaz accepted the position late last year after an exhaustive search. Most recently Vice President for Advancement at Loyola High School, Lela earned her B.A. in International Relations from USC, and her Master’s Certificate in the Advanced Study of Philanthropy from Loyola University Chicago. 

When it comes to the school’s sustainability and future-focused vision, Angela and Lela will work closely with Head of School Kate Morin to build bold initiatives that will ensure that Mayfield’s special brand of Holy Child education will continue to empower women of “Actions Not Words” for generations to come. 

“There are a lot of really smart, talented leaders here on campus who I think are shaping this institution into something that will be a model for the rest of the country—for institutions for women, run by women,” Lela said. “There's something very exciting about that.”

We sat down with Lela to talk about her philanthropic journey and how she came to join the Mayfield family. 

Welcome, Lela! What was your first experience of Mayfield?
My husband's two younger sisters [Jacqueline DeHoney ’02 and Allison DeHoney Najoan ’04] went to Mayfield! Colin and I met at USC, and so when I first met them, his sisters were a part of this community. I went to Mayfield volleyball games and graduations. So I’ve always known Mayfield intimately through them. 

What brought you into philanthropic and fundraising work?
I was exposed to the nonprofit world while I was a student at USC, and saw that it required volunteers to rally together to make things happen and raise money. Right after I graduated, I moved to Costa Rica and I did a service project down there, very much boots on the ground—digging trenches, teaching classes, serving the homeless, doing whatever was needed to get done in a humanitarian focus. I loved it. 

A few years later, in Chicago, I joined AmeriCorps, and worked with the American Red Cross, fundraising and writing grants. And I started grad school at Loyola University Chicago in the study of philanthropy. That was what I really wanted to be doing, but I simultaneously got a job to run a campaign for Access Living, one of the nation’s foremost disability rights organizations. Soon after, I worked for Campbell and Company, a fundraising consulting company, where I really honed my campaign skills, and ended up working for one of my clients, Feeding America. After I helped design their campaign they invited me to come in and actually kind of run everything.

I found my passion in helping others and giving back and doing mission-oriented work.

Did your faith motivate you to do this mission-oriented work?
Being very involved in my youth group at church [Our Lady of the Assumption in Ventura] made me realize there was a bigger world out there. And my parents always gave back. My parents owned a restaurant when we were growing up, so every holiday we would give food to people who didn't have dinner that night, or we would deliver meals to people. Giving back was part of our Catholic faith, very much core to who we are. And I quickly learned there was just a lot more I could do to help others and kind of raise everyone up—giving back versus pursuing my own self-gain. Coming out of college I knew I wasn’t going into banking, I wasn’t going to be a lawyer. I knew I was going into something that would make the world a better place, whatever that might be.

You went from Loyola in Chicago to Loyola in Los Angeles—care to explain how that happened?
My husband [Colin DeHoney] went to Loyola High School! We had been living in Chicago and I had been working internationally, advising clients all over the world, on large-scale fundraising initiatives. We decided to move back home to Pasadena. So we bought a home here because that's where Colin grew up, and we really liked the community here.

I decided I wanted to work with something I could see the impact a little closer, versus helping children in Zimbabwe or helping the Mississippi river basin or whatever—to see something a little more tangible from it. I had been advising clients in education and had been working in education on a global scale, so I was attracted to working at a school. The job at Loyola came up and it was just one of those serendipitous things that just worked out. They were looking for someone to come in and help them reinvigorate a campaign and to raise some dollars. Loyola was great. I've learned a lot from the Jesuits. In particular, learning the process of discernment and how we evaluate things that we really value. 

What brought you to Mayfield? 
Through my work at Loyola, I got to know Mayfield even better. I was able to get to know Angela [Howell] in particular because we shared similar roles at two different institutions. So we would meet and talk and share best practices and just talk about how things were going respectively in each other's institutions. It was a nice way to get to know Mayfield—more from a professional standpoint and particularly around fundraising.

I had an idea we might do a joint event together in New York with our alumni bases. So Mayfield and Loyola teamed up and we did an event geared towards young alumni, primarily those who were still in college. Mayfield alums could interact with some of the Loyola kids—a lot of them knew each other anyways, so it was like: “Let's share resources and bring these two groups together!”

Angela and I communicated very well together. We were good collaborators. We would share information, just trying to help each other. She has always been very helpful to me. When Kate made the decision to promote Angela to Associate Head of School, Angela was the first one to reach out to me to see if I'd be interested in this [Director of Development] position. At first I was surprised that she would reach out but then I thought it was a really good sign that she said, “I want to work with you and I think you’d be great for this position.”

How does your work intersect with that of Angela Howell? 
We are working very closely together as she transfers over many of her duties, making sure that the goals are accomplished and moving things forward. Angela remains an active member of our development and fundraising committees and we will be collaborating on some very important fundraising initiatives as we move forward.

As the Director of Development, I now oversee all fundraising and alumnae engagement for the school. Anything to do with raising money for the annual projects, for capital projects, for endowment, to just fulfilling our overall budget needs. Also working with our alumnae to keep them involved and engaged. That’s the simplest way to put it

What do you want to accomplish at Mayfield as Director of Development?
Being at Loyola definitely cemented that I like high school education. I did a program called “Leadership Women” there about helping women become leaders and really find themselves in whatever career path that they're meant to be in. So the idea of working at a place where I could really directly impact that, not only by being a leader on campus, but by raising financial resources to help this institution accomplish its goals, and ultimately help young women? That is really motivating to me. You know, if we just can create more people like the young women who come out of this school, only good things will come from that!
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 21 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.