Recently, I had the privilege and honor of participating in the pomp and circumstance of inaugurating Brandeis University’s, my alma mater, new president Frederick Lawrence. As I sat in the audience, I was impressed by many threads of President Lawrence’s inaugural address. His comments to the students in the audience, “you are a student here for four years; you are an alum for the rest of your life,” resonate strongly with the scope of this forum.
While simple in statement, his intent was deep and meaningful. And, it is a message that is beginning to permeate through higher education culture. An Associated Press article last summer titled “Colleges see prospective donors among new students” focused on the same message and found its way circulating through many news outlets across the country. The article quoted representatives from schools such as Emory University, University of Pennsylvania and University of Michigan, among others.
While part of this broadening agenda is about educating future donors to the financial needs of an institution, this is not just about the money, it is also about engagement. As quoted in the AP article, in the words of Elise Betz, executive director of alumni relations at University of Pennsylvania: “We are unapologetically laying out expectations for their [the students’] relationship with Penn.” She goes on to say specifically that “it really isn’t just about giving … it’s about staying connected.”
As for Brandeis’s President Lawrence, his comments stretched beyond money too, encouraging both students and alums to connect with one another and to connect back to school. His charge to alums:
“We are relying on you. Our future is very much in your hands. Find a way to connect or reconnect with your school. Mentor a student, hire our graduates. You have rights as a member of this family, but you have responsibilities as well. Remember who you were when you were here and connect with that person and with us”
President Lawrence and Penn’s Elise Betz understand that while many alums may (and do!) support their schools financially; alums also spent their transformational years at their alma maters. It is about understanding these emotional ties that help move individuals to be (and stay) connected to organizations over time. And to accomplish lifelong connections I believe it is about building a holistic, 360 degree vision of who a person is as he or she relates back to a specific organization. After all, Philanthropy is broader than just the money.
The question then is how? How do we develop a culture of philanthropy amongst student populations? And how do we continue to foster that relationship after students move on to become our alums? I have some of my own thoughts, but I’d love to hear some of yours as well. Feel free to either post directly to this blog or send me an email. In my next entry, I will provide some concrete examples for all of us to consider.
*Melissa Bank Stepno is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.