Dear Ohio State Mansfield Colleagues,
One month ago, I wrote a Bi-Weekly Report focused, in part, on my having participated in a conference that had provided a great deal of illumination to me about development and donor relations. Since that time, I have had the opportunity to interact with a substantial number of faculty, staff, board members, Capital Campaign committee representatives, and community stakeholders about a number of critical concerns that were covered extensively by presenters at that development conference. I would like to use this Bi-Weekly Report to discuss two of these key issues – annual giving and donor exposure to students and faculty members – that I believe are essential not only to the success of our current campaign, but are related to the long-term health and vitality of our campus.
Without exception, every presenter at the development conference vigorously asserted the contention that the clearest path to a successful capital campaign is founded on consistently strong annual giving. There is a simple logic to this: if you have a large group of individuals who invest very modest sums of money on a year-by-year basis, it is a relatively easy task to ask them to “bump up” their giving for a special cause in one distinctive year. In non-campaign years, the donor is expected to return to their more modest annual contributions, creating a continuous and ongoing record of giving. Unfortunately, development efforts throughout The Ohio State University as a whole and our Ohio State Mansfield campus more specifically have not emphasized this sort of “continuous/ongoing” model of giving. As a result, we are left with what we might term a “stop/start” model of development, where every 10-15 years we start asking for donor support through a capital campaign effort and then subsequently stop asking when our campaign goals are met.
There are many problems inherent to this “start/stop” model. The lack of giving history makes it very difficult for some potential donors to make a substantial contribution (a “stretch gift” in development parlance) to our capital campaign, unless of course that donor is of a mindset that it is our “turn” to receive such a donation. However, this typically is how foundations give to causes, not individuals, if only because foundations know beforehand how much money they are going to disperse in a given year. The idea that less affluent donors have been “saving up” for our campaign is not likely. In addition, the “stop/start” model does little to maintain relations with donors in between the intermittent giving periods. Although this can be offset by strong advancement programming that creates opportunities for potential donors to take part in campus activities (we have witnessed a great deal of this sort of activity on our campus, for example), I am not at all convinced that this sort of “in between” contact generates much giving enthusiasm when the time comes for a capital campaign gift.
Relatedly, and even more importantly, the capital campaign that is run on a “stop/start” model by definition creates the perception of more limited donor opportunities when the time comes to give. Let’s use our current Capital Campaign as an example. We have three main campaign goals: funding for our library renovation ($2M), three scholarship funds (totaling $500K), and a business and industry internship endowment (also $500K). What happens when a donor is not very interested in these three main campaign goals? For instance, what if the individual is more enthusiastic about the development of our wetlands instead? How does that individual see their passion as fitting inside of our capital campaign? While there are plenty of ways to affirm such a donor wish, this kind of question would not arise in a “continuous/ongoing” model of development, which is guided and directed by principles surrounding opportunities to create and sustain “joyful givers” who are not bound by timelines or objectives.
The subject of benefactor joy and passion provides a nice transition to the second issue I wish to cover in this Bi-Weekly Report: donor exposure to students and faculty members. Again, there was absolute uniformity by presenters at the development conference who professed the belief that contacts among potential donors, students, and faculty members are the very essence of any successful development effort. This is a fairly straightforward concept built on the knowledge that individuals who are willing to make an investment in something are also looking to make an investment in somebody.
Based on what I have witnessed as of late, I think it is fair to say that faculty and student contact with donors will trump any kind of connection with a dean or a development officer. In fact, the last community lunch that we hosted had created quite a number of donor-student contacts, at least one of which is going to result in a sizable capital campaign gift to our internship endowment that we were not anticipating. Still more student-focused events for donors are in the works, of course. As well, I have called on Susan Delagrange to help us redouble our efforts not only to provide tours of the library space to potential donors, but also to compile faculty statements about how the library renovation efforts will translate in terms of enhancing and expanding teaching efforts. These narratives will provide campaign committee members with important talking points that will highlight the immediate impact a funder can have on the learning environment we create on our campus. And inevitably there will be additional opportunities for faculty members to make these sorts of remarks in person to potential donors. I ask each of you to be open and willing to respond positively to these requests to meet with donors when you are asked.
In addition, I would like to make the request of our faculty and staff members to help our annual campus campaign move toward a more “continuous/ongoing” model of giving. Until this past year, our campus campaign historically has had only moderate participation –
somewhere between 30-45% in any given year – by faculty and staff members. Thankfully, this past year over 90% of you gave to the annual campaign, allowing us to communicate to the community at large that our campus “puts its money where its mouth is” regarding investments in Ohio State Mansfield. That level of giving was very helpful in terms of creating capital campaign communications about our very high rate of campus community participation. However, if we are asking community members to become annual givers, we need to be willing to give annually as well. In addition to the uptick in campus campaign giving this past year, we also can take heart from the modest but noticeably increasing amounts of annual giving that is coming from the community at large (we now receive over $10K a year from hundreds of small donations). The bottom line here is this: the giving that comes from our campus and from the communities that surround us all seem to be moving in the right direction.
Therefore, it is up to all of us to sustain this movement. Please remember that the expectation for annual giving is to give modestly, and to give to something about which you are passionate. Until I came to Ohio State Mansfield, my annual giving surrounded a graduate student scholarship endowment that was named after Patrick McKenry, a colleague and mentor of mine who died of cancer. Because that fund was fully endowed in the summer of 2011, I shifted my annual giving to our campus. Likewise, I would ask you to find a Mansfield fund – or any other fund across the university – that holds some particular meaning or significance to you, and make another small contribution this year, and every year forward. Information about many of these funds can be found in the campus campaign literature that will be distributed in the coming days and weeks. And if you cannot find a fund that matches an area that you wish to invest in, Nick Orosan and I will be very happy to provide you with additional assistance in this regard.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request to move our campus forward through the donations of your time, talent, and treasure. I am absolutely certain that we will be a more fully integrated campus and community as a result.