The Donor Bill of Rights – did you know you had one? — What to do when those rights are violated or threatened.

Donor Bill of Rights - all donors have these rights and institutions have a duty to uphold them.
Donor Bill of Rights – all donors have these rights and institutions have a duty to uphold them.

The Donor Bill of Rights is a document adopted by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Giving Institute, an association of consultants for nonprofits.

The Donor Bill of Rights was developed so that donors — and the staff and volunteers who work with them — are aware of their rights.

Philanthropy

PHILANTHROPY is based on voluntary action for the common good. It is a tradition of giving and sharing that is primary to the quality of life. To assure that philanthropy merits the respect and trust of the general public, and that donors and prospective donors can have full confidence in the not-for-profit organizations and causes they are asked to support, we declare that all donors have these rights:

I

To be informed of the organization’s mission, of the way the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.

II
To be informed of the identity of those serving
on the organization’s governing board,
and to expect the board to exercise prudent
judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

III
To have access to the organization’s
most recent financial statements.

IV
To be assured their gifts will be used for
the purposes for which they were given.

V
To receive appropriate acknowledgement
and recognition.

VI
To be assured that information about their
donations is handled with respect and with
confidentiality to the extent provided by law.

VII
To expect that all relationships with
individuals representing organizations of interest
to the donor will be professional in nature.

VIII
To be informed whether those seeking
donations are volunteers, employees of the
organization or hired solicitors.

IX
To have the opportunity for their
names to be deleted from mailing lists that
an organization may intend to share.

X
To feel free to ask questions when making
a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and
forthright answers.

I believe in these rights.  As a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, AFP, I sign a code of ethics to support them.   I operated under this code when I worked for Sweet Briar College in the 1990s, and helped raise a number of leadership gifts which make up the current endowment.  I believe that the actions of the Sweet Briar Board of Directors to close the College and attempt to utilize the endowment for purposes other than that which the donor’s intended, is unethical.   Shortly before this post, Ellen Brower, Amherst County Attorney, filed suit asserting that this breaks Virginia State Law.

So what is the issue at Sweet Briar?  It comes down to a plan on the part of the President and Board of Directors to tap into the endowment.   Why is this a problem?  Read on….

Endowment 

Webster defines endowment as:

: a large amount of money that has been given to a school, hospital, etc., and that is used to pay for its creation and continuing support

: the act of providing money to create or support a school, organization, etc.

: a person’s natural ability or talent

Endowment:  Unrestricted and Restricted Gifts

As a donor, I have left Sweet Briar College in my will as a beneficiary of funds (this is currently being revised).  I have not left any particular purpose for those funds (this is currently being revised).  When someone makes a gift to an endowment and does not have a specific purpose for the funds, that is called “unrestricted”.  Unrestricted funds, pooled together, generate income used by Colleges, Universities and nonprofits for operating costs.

Restricted gifts to endowment are made to achieve specific goals.  Endowed scholarships (usually have a minimum) are created and the interest provides scholarships for students.  Endowed funds for specific purposes generate income for those programs annually.  Endowed professorships support a portion of a professor’s income or fund research projects.

As a former employee of Sweet Briar College, I worked with many donors who made contributions to the College’s endowment.  In fact, nearly ALL of the $13 million raised from Regional Campaigns around the country was to build endowment.  The agreements people signed at the time talked about funds being used for student scholarship, program enhancement and a few other priorities.    I feel a sense of duty to those donors with whom I sat thoughtfully and provided written agreements assuring them of the endowment’s strength and legacy.

Endowment Spending

Boards of Directors – fiscal agents for an institution – have spending policies that determine the amount that can be spent from the endowment.  A healthy spending rate is thought to be between 3-5%, even in good years.  The idea is that some years investments will be up, sometimes down, and a smoothing effect of taking a smaller amount ensures for the long-term success of the funds.

At Sweet Briar, the Board’s spending rate has been a higher 8% as the operating budget needed more income.  This is not healthy or sustainable, but there is nothing wrong with it.

Endowment Raiding

I never thought I would write on the topic of “endowment raiding”, but the intentions of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors forces me to do so.

The Sweet Briar College Board of Directors voted to close the College and “wind down operations” including seeking legal intervention in order to tap into its endowment to provide severance packages, debt payments and other things unrelated to what donors intended.  This action is also inconsistent with the mission of the College.

Apart from my being horrified at such a sudden move by the Board (I have written about this topic on another thread), I am personally and professionally sickened by this action.  It is unethical and unnecessary.  I picture the donors with whom I worked.  Many of them are no longer living.  Others are contacting me by phone and on Facebook imploring me to do something (one of the reasons I have written this post).   Many of those donors no longer trust the people they worked with in the Development Office.  Who would?

Donors who give to endowment give with the idea that they are creating a legacy and are making a gift in perpetuity.  The memory of many dear people will be violated if the Board of Directors is successful.

Pledge Forms, Memorandum of Understanding, Gift Contracts

There are legal agreements which back up major gifts to any institution.  That is also the case for Sweet Briar.  Campaign Pledge Forms are legal documents with donor’s intent captured and co-signatures by campus officials.  Memorandum of Understanding are draw up for more complex gift agreements.  Letters of Agreement are drawn up for many five and six figure contributions.  In short, to try to “unrestrict” an endowment, these legal agreements will need to be properly revisited.  It is also not the case that a College or University can go to the heirs of someone and ask that funds be revisited.  There are many examples of courts upholding an original donor’s intent and rejecting even signed agreements made with decendents (unless the original donors outlines those who can make decisions for them later).  Trying to get children or family members to sign something should not be grounds to use funds in a way contrary to a donor’s intent.  Yet, as I write, the staff of the College are doing just this.

Donor Bill of Rights Violated

Of all of the rights of donors (a full copy of the rights are above), those I think are most important are the following:

II
To be informed of the identity of those serving
on the organization’s governing board,
and to expect the board to exercise prudent
judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

III

To have access to the organization’s
most recent financial statements.

IV
To be assured their gifts will be used for
the purposes for which they were given

To make any attempts to unrestrict endowment is violating not only Section II of the Donor Bill of Rights, but also Section IV.  Furthermore, the behavior by staff or administrators to take these action is a violation of the professional code of conduct.

Board of Directors and administrators taking these actions shakes the very foundation of philanthropy.   Donors and prospective donors should have full confidence in the not-for-profit organizations and causes they are asked to support.   I feel my own professional reputation is harmed by the stated plans of Sweet Briar College.

The only way to protect donor intent in this case is legal action on behalf of those donors.  I am grateful that SavingSweetBriar.com is taking on the important stewardship of these gifts.  It is sad that the Alumnae Association has not made more public statements condemning the plan.

On the heels of this, it also seems appropriate to advocate for stronger State and Federal law to protect donors.  But that is for another chapter of Being UnLocked….

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
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To the Alumnnae Board of Sweet Briar College: Hello? Is anybody home?! (Open Letter & 10 Suggestions for the Alumnae Board)

silence

Anyone part of a College, University or nonprofit would like to feel that their Board of Directors has the institution’s best interests at heart.  It is hard to think this is true when a Board of Directors takes the shocking and extreme action of closing an institution.  This is the case at Sweet Briar College.

When this happens, the natural thing to do is to turn to your constituency group leaders.  In the case of students, to the Student Government.  In the case of faculty, to the Faculty Senate.   The faculty of Sweet Briar College voted unanimously to oppose the closing of Sweet Briar College.   In my case, I turn to my Alumnae Board. In the case of Sweet Briar College, the Alumnae Board has issued no response.  The President of the Alumnae Board, Sandra Taylor, is a member of the Board which voted to close the College and she sat on the call with alumnae shortly after the closure reiterating the President’s talking points.

I wrote the following  letter to the Alumnae Board (via a staff member in the office who promised to forward it) and have, to date, not had a response.  While I have addresses for individuals on the Board, I felt going through the office was the most respectful approach.  I am posting it here in an effort to invite a response from any of them individually or collectively:

Thank you for taking your valuable time to speak to me about the status of the Alumnae Association and the Alumnae Board.  As promised, I am summarizing the points (and questions) I’d like to make below:
  • Alumnae Association independence.  To what degree is the Alumnae Association independent of the College?  I recall when I worked at the College in the 1990s, the dues were eliminated (in order to strengthen annual giving). At that time, some staff were paid for by the Alumnae Association themselves and not funded by the College.  The VP at the time brought all the staff under the College.  
  • Ongoing funding for Alumnae Association.  I would like to see a return of an independent Alumnae Association funded by dues and, should the efforts to save the College not succeed, have equal consideration for funding along with other staff-related positions.  
  • Staff & Board.  I understand the STAFF are employees of the College, but the Alumnae Board are dedicated volunteers.  Shouldn’t the Alumnae Board have some leadership and messaging regarding the closure?  The absence of any statement is extremely disappointing.  An Alumnae Association Board should – even if it does not agree with all stakeholders — listen and respond to the feelings of their stakeholders.  I have heard that the Alumnae Association Board has been told they cannot speak due to the College’s legal counsel.  Surely this cannot be true.  
  • President’s statements and Alumnae Board President’s Role.  I would like to implore the Alumnae Board to speak out against the President’s comments that he has made verbally and in national media that strike many as sexist and racist (not just Sweet Briar alumnae either).  Current students and their families are reeling by the negative comments he has made about current students and the “changing demographics”.  I find myself continually apologizing for the President’s comments to my colleagues in higher education and national media — praying that there are people like the Alumnae Board who realize his comments are at a minimum insensitive and out of touch.  I would rather have Sandra Taylor as spokesperson – or some other woman who is not likely to make such comments. For a review of the comments people have cited, you can read my blog at:  http://beingunlocked.com/2015/03/how-not-to-speak-about-higher-education-or-women-or-diversity-in-2015/
  • Alumnae Board’s role in stewardship.  Given that the majority of the endowment has been donated by alumnae.  I feel the Alumnae Board has an important role to play in advocating on behalf of donors — that donor’s donations are used as intended.  I worked for the College and brought in some of the leadership gifts that make up the endowment.  I feel a strong responsibility that those gifts I help broker not be used against the donor intent.  I realize this may mean that the Alumnae Board would have to step away from the College’s position, but it I feel it has a duty to advocate for alumnae.
I realize everyone is very busy, but I would appreciate very much the courtesy of a reply.
 
Kind regards,
 
Stacey Sickels Locke `88
I have not received any response to my letter and I suspect I will not.
There is a post on social media of an Alumnae Association Facebook group (below).  Their letter is here, but I would assert is NOT the kind of action we need.  Shedding tears, listing and digesting news is not enough when you are a leadership group representing stakeholders.  Planning a Reunion is certainly admirable, but now is a time for ADVOCACY.

As your Alumnae Board, we learned an hour before everyone else about the Board of Directors’ decision to close the College this summer. We have spent the past weeks digesting that news, talking with classmates, engaging board members and shedding more than a few tears. We have been impressed by the passion and energy that alumnae are bringing to this moment, whether they are backing the legal strategy behind the Save Sweet Briar movement or supporting the Board of Directors’ efforts to bring an orderly closure to the campus.

Through meetings, phone calls and emails, we sense that all alumnae agree on a few points: Everyone wants to support current students, provide for faculty and staff, and preserve Sweet Briar’s legacy. The Alumnae Board hopes to provide a space where the entire Sweet Briar community finds common ground and works collaboratively.

We are also working to evolve the Sweet Briar Alumnae Association into an independent entity that can serve everyone with an enduring commitment to the ideals of Sweet Briar and the vision of educating young women.

Actually, we do NOT agree on much.  The fact that the Alumnae Board says they learned only an hour prior to the Board of Director’s decision means that the members of the Alumnae Board who serve on the Board of Directors must not have thought the Alumnae Board should have a voice or a role.   We do not all agree that the role of the Alumnae Board is to support current students, provide for faculty and staff and to preserve Sweet Briar’s legacy.    The role of an Alumnae Board should be bolder than all of that and focused on alumnae needs.
Here are a few suggestions for the Alumnae Board. PLEASE, be a leader and not a passive audience of the attempted dissolution of our College.  Consider the fact that if the #saveSweetBriar movement is successful, there may still be a College and alumnae to serve.  Which side of history would the alumnae board like to sit?
1.  Acknowledge there is a difference in opinion and strategy between the alumnae behind the #saveSweetBriar movement and the alumnae on the Board of Directors who supported the closure.   Even if you cannot condemn the decision (which I personally would appreciate), acknowledging the large number and passion of the women would be appreciated.  Recognize the amazing dedication of the alumnae being expressed.  Note the fundraising commitment.  Be part of this historic wave of alumnae connection and advocacy.
2.  Call publicly on the President to use more respectful language when speaking of the large movement of alumnae.  Using terms like “small” and “irrational” and “overwrought” is sexist and disrespectful.  “Well-intentioned” isn’t in the family of appropriate language either.   It would show leadership for alumnae, students and women everywhere to call out disrespectful language where it exists, even if that language is not intentionally sexist (many in the majority do not realize when they are being offensive).
3.  Acknowledge the pain expressed by current students and alumnae of color at the way the President has described the “changing demographics” of Sweet Briar  as negative.   Acknowledged that diversity is a strength of Sweet Briar and that some of his comments have been interpreted as racist by students, parents, alumnae and leaders in higher education outside of Sweet Briar.   It would show leadership for students, alumnae  and people  everywhere to call out disrespectful language where it exists, even if that language is not intentionally racist  (many in the majority do not realize when they are being offensive).
4.  Call on the President and Board to comply with the mandates by outside parties to preserve records and to respond swiftly to any possible legal action.
5.  Advocate for donor intent.  The majority of the contributions in the current endowment were made by alumnae.  Realize that the Alumnae Association has an important role to protect and defend the rights of alumnae donors.
6.  Call for better and more thorough research by independent parties rather than support the decisions of the Board of Directors which has relied on what may be questionable “research”.    Be public about what information the Alumnae Board has – or has not received – with respect to the Board of Director’s decision.  If a lack of information does not allow you to support their decision or make an official comment, state that.
7.  Exercise indepence.  Request a briefing by the Forensic Accountant when those financial findings become available.  Request a briefing by Professor Dan Gottlieb who has dug into the “data” submitted by the Board and raises grave and essential questions.   If the Alumnae Board has questions regarding the financial statements and conclusions used by the Board of Directors to close Sweet Briar, say it and request additional review.  Take back the Alumnae Board’s financial holdings within Sweet Briar and reestablish your financial independence.
8.  Recommit yourself to your charter and mission.  Re assert your independence of the College.   I would remind the Alumnae Board that you should represent the wishes and voice of the alumnae, not employees or any other stakeholders of the College, even if that is difficult given that the Alumnae Board is staffed by College employees.   You may have an independent role to play in the future, even if that future is only to gather alumnae.
9.  Review the mission of Sweet Briar College.  Consider the role alumnae leadership should play.  Articulate that role.   I would urge advocacy.  Current students and parents have a short-term need for their daughters to finish their education.   Faculty and staff are incredibly dedicated, but they also have a financial relationship as employees of the College. Alumnae have an important role to care about the long-term of an institution – they receive no “benefit” from their affiliation.  Alumnae have a critical role in saving the College now.
10.  Allow individual members of the Alumnae Board to speak.  Do not allow silence to be your message.  If you cannot speak as a unified Board, allow people to resign and speak individually.  Alternatively, issue a statement that you cannot agree and that there is a difference of opinion.  If necessary, disband yourself and acknowledge who IS speaking on behalf of alumnae (I would assert that the only alumnae leadership right now is Saving Sweet Briar and those stepping forward through social media).
Alumnae Board, your alumnae NEED you, your leadership and your independence right now.  Why the silence?  Let’s hope this quote is true for you:
“Silence is the most powerful scream” — Anonymous

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
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Bursting the Fundraising Bubble… (Insert Wealthy Person’s Name Here) Isn’t Going to Save Us

"Bursting the Fundraising Bubble" -- the idea that someone else is going to step forward and my support isn't needed.
“Bursting the Fundraising Bubble” — the idea that someone else is going to step forward and my support isn’t needed.

This post is inspired by the incredible outpouring of support in opposition to Sweet Briar College’s Board announcing they plan to close the College, but its themes can be relevant to anyone who has or is working on a fundraising campaign.

As a fundraiser for over 25 years working with all types of groups — schools, nonprofit boards, church stewardship groups, etc. some dynamics often occur.  I thought I would gather them together in one place for consideration (and debunking).

Executive Summary (a.k.a. My articles are long so I am summarizing for you here :))

  1. Warren Buffet or Knight on a White Horse will help us….Nope, while tempting, it is the key stakeholders of any Campaign who will ensure its success (or not).
  2. A Major Corporation or Foundation will help us….Not likely.  Corporations and Foundations have specific goals which often aren’t in sync with a charity and they have complex timelines and grant procedures.
  3. Bystander Effect…someone else will help us….If you think someone else will step forward — and you don’t have to – you are wrong.  Buck the trend and the bystander effect.
  4. Buy-A-Brick Efforts…and pretty much anything that has a fixed price tag….Cute, fun and good for public relations, but not a sustainable fundraising strategy.
  5. Major Gift Campaign & Baby BoomersMajor gift campaigns are critical, baby boomers are important, but all ages and demographics can and should be pivotal!

Now for the non Cliff-note version…..WHO can help a fundraising campaign be successful?  WHO is essential?  YOU!  Give now — to your favorite charity or if you want to help Sweet Briar avoid closure, give here.

Warren Buffet Syndrome

The "Knight on a White Horse" (artwork by Zetallis) Phenomenon
The “Knight on a White Horse” (artwork by Zetallis) Phenomenon (P.S.  It is REALLY hard to find images of women on a white horse)

The “Knight on a White Horse” or what I also call the “Warren Buffett Syndrome” (my term) occurs when a group discusses how to meet its goal and looks outside of itself.  It sounds something like this:

Who knows Warren Buffett (insert wealthy person’s name here who is not affiliated with the institution)? I’ll bet HE would support our cause.

It is true that those who can be the most generous are critical to any fundraising campaign’s success — 80% of the funds come from 20% of the people and sometimes it is an even narrower margin.  But in nearly all cases with only extreme exceptions, the supporters of a fundraising campaign are the stakeholders of that institution:  students, service recipients, parents, alumni, community.

The exception to this is when someone has a close personal or professional relationship to a celebrity or benefactor and can make a personal appeal.  I have ONLY seen this work when someone has a long-time personal relationship built on trust with reciprocity when their request for support is in alignment with the benefactor’s charitable goals.  A person not associated with an individual trying to get a message through has never worked in my experience.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying, but I would never want others to sit back and not think their own contributions were important when they hear of a possible “savior”….

The exception to this is when someone has a close personal or professional relationship to a celebrity or benefactor and can make a personal appeal.  I have ONLY seen this work when someone has a long-time personal relationship built on trust with reciprocity when their request for support is in alignment with the benefactor’s charitable goals.  A person not associated with an individual trying to get a message through has never worked in my experience.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying, but I would never want others to sit back and their their own contributions were not important when they hear of a possible “savior”….

"A Large Corporation or Foundation will help us..."
“A Large Corporation or Foundation will help us…”

A Large Corporation or Foundation will help us….

Charitable Foundations and Corporate Foundations are another often misunderstood source of support.  People hear of large holdings of Foundations and see large grants and think:

If ONLY we appealed to (insert name of famous Foundation), I’ll bet THEY would help us….

While it is true that Foundations and Corporations make generous gifts to institutions, it is always aligned with the core mission of those entities.  In Corporations, there is usually a return-on-investment goal meaning they give, but they also wish to boost their brand, hire talent, etc.  Foundations have specific missions to achieve and their grants come with complex reporting requirements which institutions often find onerous and sometimes realize to accept the funds they are diverting from their mission.  There are also timetables for submissions and often closed processes for inquiring about support.  In a fundraising Campaign with any sense of urgency, large foundations and corporations are rarely a solution.  Family foundations, on the other hand, are often a good solution to a short-term need; however, there is always a personal connection to someone serving on a family foundation for a gift to come.

Bystander Effect

Bystander Effect -- everyone thinks someone else will step forward (image courtesy University of British Columbia)
Bystander Effect — everyone thinks someone else will step forward (image courtesy University of British Columbia)

The other dynamic that causes fundraising campaigns to be sluggish is the phenomenon of bystander effect and bystander apathy.  This socio-psychological effect is when a bystander will offer no assistance to a victim of something if others are present.  The more people there are, the less likely someone is apt to step forward.  In fundraising, it is the idea that someone thinks others are stepping forward and their support isn’t needed.   The more successful the Campaign, the more people assume others have stepped forward.

Buy-A-Brick - great concept, but usually at the end of a successful campaign.
Buy-A-Brick – great concept, but usually at the end of a successful campaign.

Buy-A-Brick Efforts…and pretty much anything that has a fixed price.

People love buy-a-brick efforts.  And there is nothing wrong with them.  The problem is this:  Anything that has a price tag takes a donor’s charitable ability and reduces it down to a fixed price.  Successful campaigns rarely succeed on these efforts alone. I’ve seen fundraising committees thrilled that they got a $100 brick from someone when that individual is giving six and seven figure gifts to other charities.  Furthermore, usually the profit that comes off of an item is a small portion of what actually comes back to help a cause.  This is not to say that the efforts aren’t worth it, they ARE (particularly for public relations purposes such as anything visible that helps get the brand and message out for a cause).  It is just important to know that funds allocated to the cause itself and given outright and tremendously important and should be considered first before purchasing items where a percentage is given.  The other down-side to these efforts is that the portion that could be tax-deductible is usually negligible.

I have been absolutely delighted to see the outpouring of support in response to the Saving Sweet Briar College movement.  There is an entire website dedicated to all of the various things people are doing to help the College from t-shirts to stick-on nails to even tattoos.  This is absolutely wonderful and inspiring.  The important thing though is that people who purchase these things also make sure that they can – if they are able – make a direct and generous contribution to the cause itself.  Here is a sample of the amazing creative and dedicated projects devoted to Saving Sweet Briar:

https://www.facebook.com/Sweetbriaralumnaegoods

Major Gift Efforts & Baby Boomers…ALL ages and demographics count.

Baby Boomers represent 43% of giving, but that does not mean all ages can't be pivotal.
Baby Boomers represent 43% of giving, but that does not mean all ages can’t be pivotal.

It is true that 43% of total giving by individuals comes from Baby Boomers, but that also means that 57% comes from all other generations.  Millennials are an incredibly passionate generation volunteering for causes they care about at a faster and larger rate than all other generations combined.  Millennials are also generous.

Friends of Diversity is a movement within the Association of Fundraising Professionals -- successful because it recognizes the strength of diversity in fundraising success.
Friends of Diversity is a movement within the Association of Fundraising Professionals — successful because it recognizes the strength of diversity in fundraising success.

It is also false that “changing demographic trends” lead to less giving or an inability to conduct a fundraising campaign.

Sweet Briar determined in 2011 that the alumnae’s changing demographics made it impossible to effectively conduct a large-scale fundraiser, Sweet Briar’s vice president for finance Scott Shank told The News & Advance.

This. Is. Bunk.  In fact, diversity of institutions has strengthened giving and communities.  Furthermore, socio-economic diversity DOES NOT mean families and alumni cannot give or become donors themselves.  In fact, data shows that some of the most generous donors to Schools and Colleges are not from wealthy families, but rather are those who received scholarships and felt a duty to give back.  Scholarship recipients are also far more likely to be loyal donors — critical to an institutions long term success.

What is missing from the Saving Sweet Briar College efforts is a major gift effort.  Peer-to-peer, alumna-to-alumna requests to give, to give generously and to give more than the individual thought possible.  These types of efforts are the backbone of any strong fundraising campaign.  It is the next step in Saving Sweet Briar reaching its goals.  How can you give a major gift?  Give monthly, seek matching gifts, enroll your friends.

A small group of committed women can do amazing things, great example:

Saving Sweet Briar has raised over $3M since the Board announced its intention to close the College.
Saving Sweet Briar has raised over $3M since the Board announced its intention to close the College.

In the meantime,  WHO is the best person to reach a fundraising goal?

YOU!  YOU are the person who will meet the fundraising goal!
YOU! YOU are the person who will meet the fundraising goal!

If you have read this far, PLEASE make a donation at this link.

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

 

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How NOT to speak about higher education — or women — or diversity — in 2015….

James Jones
James Jones — the Commonwealth of Virginia requests his removal in its injunction.

“Argue for your limitations, and surely they’re yours.” — Richard Bach

The announced closure of Sweet Briar College provides much fodder for every stage of grief.  The current President and leadership’s statements continue to horrify many alumnae and the public at large.  Each time the President takes the microphone or speaks to press, the quotes get worse.  The President of the Board, the President, the President’s wife and other leaders: How is it possible in 2015 that people could speak this way?

Here is how NOT to speak about higher education — or women — or diversity — in 2015

 “Sweet Briar’s rich-girl days were long gone.”
— Sweet Briar President and Chair of the Board, Paul Rice

Rich girl days?  Really?  While every School and College may have a percentage of students whose parents are able to pay for tuition without any loans or grants being taken and provide for many of the extras, Sweet Briar has never been a majority “rich girl school”.  Even back to the founding days of the College there were scholarships for financial need and students were able to work in all types of jobs to provide for their education and expenses.

Jones told The New York Times that for students who entered Sweet Briar in fall 2014, 37% are first-generation college students, 32% are minorities, and 43% received Pell grants — federal financial aid grants for low-income undergraduates.

To use this statement as a reason for the College closing is one of the most egregious Jones has made and has generated widespread ire.  To have this statement made as a negative is extremely unfortunate. Some have picked up on this statement and repeated it in front of current students and their families both on campus and around the country — as if this is a negative.  Colleges and Universities across the country are THANKFULLY becoming more diverse in many ways — racially, socio-economically.  Mr. Jones’ wife describes it this way in a public Class of 1969 webpage:

Then you thought about the cost of four years of college today. That cost is far beyond what an average American middle class family can afford without great sacrifice and careful financial planning. But, Sweet Briar had a world-class riding program, so surely there were girls from super wealthy families attending, weren’t there?

Evidently not, Mrs. Jones.  The majority of families in higher education today are described by the statistics your husband quoted and the average middle-class family.  Sweet Briar should embrace these students and their families.  A school of “girls from super wealthy families” is never a goal for even families who are blessed with extraordinary wealth.   Diversity is a blessing to all.

Mr. Jones’ comments not only appeared in print, but on a call with thousands of alumnae he was bold to say:

“I guarantee you that the students of today and the students applying are not of the same caliber as your generations.”

This phrase has been repeated by some in support of closure and is extremely disrespectful for current students and their families.

Frankly, students who are bringing in Pell Grant income may be, in fact, contributing significantly to the bottom line. I raised a question to the former President when I visited for my 25th Reunion and she said, “It is the traditionally full-pay families who are sometimes paying the least – because they know they can negotiate. ”

Every school has a range of socio-economic diversity.  To blame the closing of the school on a change in the percentages is irresponsible and offensive.

Sweet Briar is no longer the “horsy school on the hill,” current professor.

Horsy school on the hill?  Good grief.  One of Sweet Briar’s STRENGTHS which continues (based on this year’s award winning season) is its equestrian program. While a small percentage of Sweet Briar students ride horses and an even smaller percentage of students bring horses with them, to describe the College this way indicates a complete lack of awareness of the award-winning program as well as the successful athletes, including Lendon Gray, a three-time Olympian.  Our award-winning sports teams and incredible coaches are one of the hallmarks of Sweet Briar — and frankly any College or University.  Riding is something that gives us a niche and a good reputation.

Sweet Briar determined in 2011 that the alumnae’s changing demographics made it impossible to effectively conduct a large-scale fundraiser, Sweet Briar’s vice president for finance Scott Shank told The News & Advance.

2011 is a full enrollment cycle away from 2015 where we are now.  It is very unfortunate that the College did not conduct a professional feasibility study of its alumnae testing REAL issues and themes.  The last feasibility study of 200 alumnae was conducted by staff members (I have spoken to many alumnae who gave when I worked at the College and who participated in this study – they cited no confidentiality as staff were the interviewers; no theme of any concerns; no details about giving levels). This was a huge missed opportunity.  Alumnae assert that the College did not come to them and the fundraising ability they have shown — in incredibly creative ways — is inspiring (to this fundraiser in particular).

To say that the “changing demographics” made it impossible to conduct a large-scale fundraiser is completely offensive.  This was my reaction initially and then I heard from the editor of the leading industry publication in my field (when she read about Jones’ and Shank’s statements)

I didn’t attend Sweet Briar, but I have to say that as a person of color (and donor to causes I care about) this bit attributed to the institution raised my ire.

By the way — news flash — one of the most generous groups of alumni are those who received scholarships and support themselves because they feel a duty to give back.  Some of the world’s leading philanthropists did not come from wealth — someone helped them.  Chances are, your “changing demographics” may actually be the source of great support in the future.

In response to why the College couldn’t adapt or change….

Here’s more from Jones’ conversation with IHE earlier this month on Sweet Briar becoming co-ed:

Jones said that, at Sweet Briar, going coeducational did not seem like a simple solution. He said that such a move would have required lots of money for scholarships and facilities, and he wasn’t subtle about the purpose of the spending. “We would need scholarships to basically buy males,” he said.

Buying males?  Are you kidding me?  I have two sons, one college age.  He is not “for sale”.  He chose to attend a small, liberal arts College in the Midwest.  As a parent, I would have loved to have him consider Sweet Briar (albeit with a different male-counterpart name).  I imagine there would have been many more interested and they would not have to be “bought”.  Even if it is true that merit or scholarship support might be necessary in a greater percentage initially, to frame it as “buying males” is just disgusting.

The Chair of the Board, Paul Rice stated (when dismissing the possibility of going co-ed)….

Rice elaborated on the projected increased spending in The New York Times.

“You don’t just take ‘ladies’ off of every other bathroom door and put ‘men’ up,” Rice said. “You have to add programs and facilities, athletics. All of these things take significant investment and time.”

This is the Chair of our Board folks.  Obviously, a co-ed environment requires some adaptations.  There are men and women’s bathrooms in every facility on campus as it is.  How do you think we get through Reunions?  We have men and women in dorms, attending events and classes all across campus. It would not be terribly difficult to allocate a dorm for male students.   We have sons of current faculty and staff who attend Sweet Briar. With the new athletic facility, a key asset was available.  Furthermore, the College has capacity for far more students than it current enrolls, so even a small percentage of men initially could no doubt have been accommodated.  To hear this decision dismissed so callously down to labels on bathrooms doors is embarrassing and does not instill confidence in the decision making or deliberations  of the Board.

"Leave it to a man to destroy what a woman made" - banner hanging on the bell tower.
“Leave it to a man to destroy what a woman made” – banner hanging on the bell tower.

In the initial announcement about the closure of the College, the President seems to indicate that people just don’t chose a College like Sweet Briar anymore.  He wrote,

“While the College has long been part of my life, as my wife is a 1969 graduate…..The board, some key alumnae and I have worked diligently to find a solution to the challenges Sweet Briar faces. This work led us to the unfortunate conclusion that there are two key realities that we could not change: the declining number of students choosing to attend small, rural, private liberal arts colleges and even fewer young women willing to consider a single-sex education, and the increase in the tuition discount rate that we have to extend to enroll each new class is financially unsustainable.”

This statement is telling because it seems to be that there was just a small group of “key” alumni who convinced themselves there was no hope.  He then refers to them as “us”.  Clearly, he left out the voices of thousands of alumni and his own faculty and staff who had very brilliant ideas (and who debunk with facts and figures the statements of why they needed to close).

It seems President Jones, the Board Chair and others have forgotten that there are HUNDREDS of current students at Sweet Briar College who HAVE chosen to attend a small, rural, private liberal arts college.  There are also HUNDREDS of small, rural, private liberal arts colleges who are open and have smaller endowments than Sweet Briar.

Mrs. Jones, the President’s wife, uses some of the same language in the Class of 1969 webpage where she issues a public comment.

Why were the grounds not pristine as they had always been? You noticed the peeling paint, the shabby parlors, the rotting balcony about to fall off of Alumnae House, and that uneasiness grew…. Maybe you just wanted to let this new president know that it was not “the Sweet Briar way” to have the campus looking like this.

Shabby parlors?  “The Sweet Briar Way?” Actually, due to surging enrollment, many of the parlors had turned into dorms and office spaces.  That isn’t such a bad thing.  And, yes, deferred maintenance was a problem, but no one had thought to appeal to the alumna who have since offered to organize a Habitat-for-Humanity like work project along with funding to catch up.  Some people find older homes charming….

The President’s wife went on to say,

Even though you knew the demographics information: students in 2014 were turning away from single sex colleges, they were flocking to schools in urban and suburban areas that offered more vocational type curricula, they were more concerned about spending their education dollars to be trained for a job than looking for a broad liberal arts education.

Mrs. Jones, you forgot to add the important lack of a Starbucks that your husband was quoted as saying on the call with alumnae about the closure.  Seriously though, there ARE people who choose small Colleges and liberal arts education still thrives.

The announcement of Sweet Briar’s closure ends with a quote by another 1969 alumna, Elizabeth H.S. Wyatt ’69:

“If we make the decision to close now, we will have a better opportunity to conclude academic operations in an orderly, compassionate and ethical way that pays homage to those who are here today and to those who came before us.”

This sounds like someone with their hands folded in their lap, speaking to a child.  Perhaps it was expected that Sweet Briar alumnae would behave like “good girls” and just take this decision and go quietly onto other interests.  But, no, President Jones describes our reaction this way:

“emotional, overwrought, irrational”

Patronizing has never had a better example than this.  This is classic male behavior and language.  “Irrational” is such a convenient word for men, perpetuating their sense of superiority.  This is CLASSIC sexism used to describe essentially what is a different way of being.  One of the reasons we attend Sweet Briar is to learn such things (I was a Psychology major).  Men tend to think they are logical and not use feeling words; women aren’t afraid to express and use their emotion. Emotion is the antithesis of logic. When men perceive women as being too emotional (or a way you don’t want us to be), men say women are being irrational. Crazy. Wrong. Overwrought.  Minimizing somebody else’s feelings is trying to control them. If they no longer trust their own feelings and instincts, they come to rely on someone else to tell them how they’re supposed to feel.   I suspect this is how a percentage of our alumnae are feeling right now (I’ll refrain from using decade generalizations) because they have people around them telling them how to feel and pointing out those who resist in negative ways.  I hope they can free themselves of this path and find their voice.

The press release regarding the President and Board’s refusal to step down refined the term to describe the #SaveSweetBriar movement as:

“well intentioned”

The number of alumnae who turned out to welcome students back from their spring break — traveling far and wide — outnumbered the entire population of campus.  The funds raised in 10 days exceed the entire fundraising goal for the year.  The faculty unanimous voted in opposition to the Board and President.   Dismissing this energy and commitment shows how out of touch the President is with the stakeholders of the institution.

To CBS, Mr. Jones was asked by the interviewer, “Was there anything anyone could do?”  Mr. Jones replied,

“No, there was nothing anyONE could do.”

Mr. Jones doesn’t think there was or is anything anyone could do because he is surrounded by such a small group of pessimistic people.  In fact, once alumnae, faculty and parents learned of the President and Board’s decision, THOUSANDS have rallied and raised MILLIONS.  Clearly he does not see the future and sees nothing that could be done.  The logical thing for him to do is step down and allow those who see a future and have more creative ideas to lead.

These are just a few examples of how NOT to talk about women, diversity and education in 2015.  Certainly not as leaders of an institution with current students, parents, faculty, staff and thousands of alumnae hanging on your every word.

This alumna is embarrassed by your comments and have found myself apologizing to people well beyond the walls of Sweet Briar — including leaders in higher education and the national media.

Who speaks for me?  Saving Sweet Briar!

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
James Jones
James Jones

Here is some suggested reading on this topic (and to avoid further embarrassment):

Business Insider:  Dan Gottleib’s Analysis on the College Closing

10 Words Every Girl Should Know

How Not to Sound Like a Sexist Jerk

How to Stop Sexist Remarks…One Conversation at a Time

Example of a Male Senator Using a Phrase Offensive to Female Senator

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Response to Jan Jones `69 (wife of the current President of Sweet Briar College)

To help my readers and friends understand my passion for Sweet Briar College and to lay a context for the advocacy I share, I offer these comments from the wife of the current President of the College and my response.  The following was posted by Jan Jones on a 1969 public website:

It would be hard for me to imagine an alumna of Sweet Briar College who is not heartbroken over the college’s closing. It is one thing to read about the loss of countless small, liberal arts, residential colleges across America either to closure or merger or absorption by a larger university. It is quite another when it is the school you love, the school that just a few years ago seemed to be thriving because you heard about new buildings and new programs. You heard that your school was one of only two women’s colleges with an ABET-accredited engineering department – WOW! Then you returned to campus for 2014 Reunion and started to feel uneasy. Why were the grounds not pristine as they had always been? You noticed the peeling paint, the shabby parlors, the rotting balcony about to fall off of Alumnae House, and that uneasiness grew.

On the 2014 Reunion schedule was a State of the College session with the President, Jo Ellen Parker, so you made a note to add that to your agenda. Maybe you just wanted to let this new president know that it was not “the Sweet Briar way” to have the campus looking like this. Maybe your uneasiness was growing and you wanted reassurance. You went to the session, listened to the report, looked at the graphs and charts that gave you the current statistics on applications, yields, number of students on financial aid, faculty/student ratios, deferred maintenance, and alumnae giving. It was all there. The President answered questions honestly without being hysterical or giving false hope. It was what it was, and you realized that this school, your school, was falling victim to all the trends that had resulted in the loss of so many other women’s colleges.

It was a victim of nearly fifty years of the co-education of the formerly all-male colleges and universities and the concurrent, drastic shift in the demographics. Even though you knew the demographics information: students in 2014 were turning away from single sex colleges, they were flocking to schools in urban and suburban areas that offered more vocational type curricula, they were more concerned about spending their education dollars to be trained for a job than looking for a broad liberal arts education. But, how could any woman go elsewhere after seeing the Sweet Briar campus and spending even a day in this caring community? And, hadn’t the school added business and engineering degrees? Then you thought about the cost of four years of college today. That cost is far beyond what an average American middle class family can afford without great sacrifice and careful financial planning. But, Sweet Briar had a world-class riding program, so surely there were girls from super wealthy families attending, weren’t there? Sadly the numbers and answers to these questions told a different story.

Virtually no student at Sweet Briar pays full tuition and fees, and this has been true for years. So, what direction could your beloved school take: Co-education? – too late if ever it might have been feasible; Merger? – there is no financially strong, geographically close institution;   perhaps Absorption by a large stable university? Surely the large universities, which always seem to be expanding, would love a small, beautiful campus with historic buildings, a riding center, lake, etc. But, no, even large universities have to carefully watch their own finances, and it would not be “strategic” to take on a school with over $53,000,000 in debt and deferred maintenance combined, especially at a time when state subsidies are being cut.

I interrupt this reading to draw attention to the paragraph below.  Jan Jones is the wife of the current President.  A President who stands to gain financially by the closing of the College through severance packages he plans to pay to faculty and staff out of the endowment, including restricted gifts.   One of the primary roles of the Board is fiduciary responsibility which includes “care, loyalty and obedience”.  A primary definition of loyalty is that a Board acts independently of its President.  It disturbs me that the President’s wife makes these statements – which clearly indicate inside knowledge – as well as the fact that a number of her classmates are on the current Board.

So, the Board of Directors who are charged with making all major policy decisions, by the dictates of the will of the founder of your college, is faced with the hardest decision a board ever has to make. Four of the members of that board are women who were students when you were a student; they are sisters and friends. I can only imagine the heartbreak that permeated every minute of every day during their deliberations. But, they are smart, and they are strong, and they are making a decision about Sweet Briar College, the school they love. All but three on the Board are Sweet Briar Women, so the path they choose is the most heroic, honorable path available. Knowing that they have worked to increase enrollment for over a decade and that they had explored possible fund-raising ideas from every angle, they choose not to continue the downhill death spiral until every dime is spent, and the school is left with no way to help ease her students and employees into their futures. Instead, They vote to close while there is time to help students find another school and while there are still funds to pay severances to faculty and staff. The board heroically, in your opinion, chooses a closure path that honors the core values of the college: Honor and Dignity.

By now you know this is not theoretical, this is our Sweet Briar College story. If you have email, are on Facebook and/or have attended one of the recent regional alumnae gatherings, you know there is a movement afoot called #savesweetbriar. It is a small movement making a great deal of noise about nothing more than trying to block this closure. The group has no “vision statement,” and there is no consensus about how to change Sweet Briar College so that it will be a financially viable institution in today’s world. Their words and actions have become very ugly, spiteful, and irrational. They are ready to “fight” and haven’t yet realized that the Directors and current Administration are NOT the enemies. The “enemies” are intractable historical forces in American higher education that have now been working against schools like our beloved Sweet Briar for a half of a century.

From all of your comments I think the ladies of the class of 1969 “get it” and, along with many others, are willing to stand up in support of the college’s decision. We could not be more proud of Elizabeth Wyatt and Sue Scanlan who were faced with actually making this indescribably difficult decision! For these reasons I am immensely proud and thankful to be a member of this class!

Martha Brewer and I were recently reminded of the dramatic changes our class set into motion on the campus between 1965 and 1969, changes mainly in dress codes and social rules. We succeeded in removing the social rules from the Honor System and eventually removing them altogether. An alumna told us that our class was “legendary” in starting the movement that brought Sweet Briar College into the real world. She said that the classes of 1970, 1971 and 1972 had just followed our lead and built on our work and that all the following classes looked up to us for that.

I can only hope that the current women who have become stuck in the denial phase of grief and are spreading such venom across social media will quickly come to realize that the class of 1969 is again leading the way. We are grieving too, but we are looking to the future. We know that our friendships will endure, that we will still support each other through tragedies and celebrations, and that we will gather in small and large groups whenever possible. We will tell the story of a caring, nurturing community in a stunningly beautiful rural setting in central Virginia and how generations of women received an excellent education preparing them to be “productive members of society.”   Then, when the second volume of The Sweet Briar Story is written, it will be recorded that the school closed as it had lived: with Honor and Dignity.

I would like to share with you the wise words of a very young alumna, Carol Ferguson, class of 2012. She is a Sweet Briar daughter and a third or fourth generation legacy:

“Grieving, but giving thanks for the family that brought me there and the family I found there. We thought we only had to bear the rose, but it turns out we are charged with bearing the seeds as well. Let us plant them wherever we are, so that the whole world might become a little more supportive, a little more unified, a little more intelligent, a little more curious, a little more confident, a little more bold, a little more fabulous—in short let us plant a bit of Sweet Briar in everything we do!!”

And, while we are following Carol’s advice, might there be a way for us to continue to honor Indiana Fletcher Williams’s vision of educating women? Perhaps a Sweet Briar Foundation set up to provide scholarships for women? Be bold and be creative- We are the class of 1969, and I for one am ready to plan our 50th reunion!!

Jan Sheets Jones ‘69

My response:

Dear Jan,

I have read your post with interest. I hope you will give me the courtesy of reading mine. A diversity of opinion and perspectives is critical at this time.

It is nice that your Class of 1969 has its own website. It is also nice that you have some of your classmates who are expressing support for you and for your husband. I am sure this is difficult for your family.

Initially when I heard of this news, I bought the talking points you are repeating here. The whole “close with dignity” rhetoric sounded so Sweet Briar and seemed the “right” thing to do. As someone who has spent my entire career since Sweet Briar supporting education and fundraising, I felt the cause to reverse a decision was utterly hopeless. However, I believe we are seeing one of the most amazing rallying of an alumnae/stakeholder body that higher education and even the nonprofit community has ever seen. I predict case studies written about this “movement” to #saveSweetBriar with other Colleges clamoring to start being more honest and employing many of the strategies being employed by our alumnae (CASE, for whom I just wrote an article in their recent issue, has already asked me to write an article about this). I am still not hopeful about the success of the efforts because of the lack of information and suddenness of the announcement; however, I would never forgive myself if I didn’t do everything I could not only to #saveSweetBriar but to support the people who are willing to work for it. I think it would be kind if you and your husband could at least acknowledge the good work being done and see that the movement to #saveSweetBriar has a motive that is just as pure as yours and certainly has a larger number of people supporting it.

I must share with you that I find your comments about the #saveSweetBriar movement inaccurate and out of touch. You have a right, of course, to post whatever you want on your Class website, but you must have known your letter would be shared more broadly. I imagine that being surrounded by a small group of people who agree with you would make you feel safe to describe the movement as you have. But your comments make you seem completely out of touch. One of the challenges of Boards is that they make decisions in a vacuum and are sometimes out of touch with the stakeholders they purportedly serve. “Group think” occurs on juries, on Boards and in small groups. Given the shock expressed by students, faculty, administrators and alumnae (who admittedly are the least impacted stakeholders), I think the Board has both explaining and listening to do right now, including reconsidering their decision. Based on the shock – and the outpouring of support — there is clearly a lack of confidence in leadership at all levels felt by large numbers of students, faculty, alumnae, the wider community and higher education.

The number of women on campus just this past Sunday outnumbers most Reunions turnouts. The numbers tuning into the discussions and efforts to #saveSweetBriar are six times the size of the student body. The funds committed through the efforts surpass most annual fundraising goals. The faculty who oppose the Board’s actions are the majority of the faculty. Do you dismiss their voice and movement as well? Doesn’t your husband still serve as their President? I suggest you listen to them.

As you, your husband, the Board and perhaps key administrators have now begun to realize, the key issue most people have with the Board’s decision is a lack of information. This is still the key issue. You did not give key stakeholders – students, parents, faculty and alumnae any ability to “move the needle” to avoid this decision. Yet, you had avenues to do so.

As a professional fundraiser, I know the general feeling is that whispering of possible closure could mean contributions would stop. Obviously, we can now see that this isn’t the reaction alumnae (and perhaps parents) would have had. I also have first-hand experience with a school facing possible closure (a girls boarding school). They elected to be honest in their feasibility study (small group of donors surveyed about fundraising trends, priorities and messages). Their alumnae rallied and major changes were made — and funded — and the school survives today. Girls boarding schools are even LESS popular than women’s colleges, as I am sure you know, but they still survive. You all must live with yourselves for not having trusted your most generous donors selected for that study. I understand not telling the broader set of alumnae, but not confiding in the 200 Sweet Briar selected for a confidential study is tragic.

I am not unfamiliar with the challenges in higher education and women’s education. I got my start in development at Sweet Briar under the leadership of Martha Clement. I was hired at my fifth reunion to work for the College. Since then, I have raised millions of dollars for education — including education for women. I just raised the largest gift in the history of the University of Maryland, $31M. Suffice it to say, I sure wish I had the opportunity to rally for Sweet Briar before the public announcement for closure was made.

It is not as you, your husband and some others would describe it – women’s education is not dead or dying. In fact, there are families who choose single sex education for their children (I did for my two sons) in elementary, middle, high school, summer camps and college). There are urban school districts creating single-sex educational environments supported by the Department of Education backed by solid research. My own University of Maryland has created women-only programs, classes and spaces. It is also not true that all or even a majority of families choose urban career training schools. My son is attending a small liberal arts College in Illinois far from any major city (he could have gone to the University of Maryland for FREE). It is ridicules and embarrassing to say that someone wouldn’t choose a College for lack of a Starbucks or proximity to a city. For one, Starbucks is served on the Sweet Briar campus. For another, many people LIKE being in beautiful, yet remote locations. My two sons attend a summer camp in Northern Michigan and we must drive almost an hour from the nearest town to reach it.

I and many others believe the problem with enrollment was a lack of marketing and admissions work, particularly not engaging alumnae admissions ambassadors. I used to regularly staff career fairs in my area and I think the last time I was asked to do so was about 10 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I know it is hard to do this work and I have respect for the team of admissions representatives. I am simply saying that, again, reaching out to alumnae seems to have stopped and could have been helpful.

I and many others believe the problem with fundraising was a focus on a small number (which I realize staff shortages dictate) combined with a lack of true information with your most loyal alumnae. I tried to join the development office this past year at Sweet Briar and was shocked to learn that the salary being offered for the position – a relatively senior one – was actually less than I made at the College in 1993. I couldn’t afford to take it. I imagine this is also part of the challenge.

In conclusion, I encourage you to step outside of your Class of 1969. Widen your perspective. Include the voices of those who see things differently in your thinking. I read your letter. I hope you have read mine.

Respectfully,

Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988

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No Confidence! Does YOUR Governing Board Have Your Interests at Heart?

A "No Confidence" banner hangs off the Sweet Briar bell tower - a symbolic heart of campus.
A “No Confidence” banner hangs off the Sweet Briar bell tower – a symbolic heart of campus.

My continued advocacy for Sweet Briar College continues.  Today’s focus is on governance, shared governance and the lack thereof (in the case of Sweet Briar).  This situation exposes issues that should be of concern to anyone who has ties to a school, college or nonprofit.   A sub-title could be “What are assets anyway?”  Assets of an institution are not just endowment, land and buildings.  Students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and the community surrounding a place are assets deserving of the fiduciary duty of care, loyalty and obedience.

“Nonprofit Malfeasance”

In an article in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Ruth McCambridge cites Sweet Briar as having a lack of stakeholder representation on the Board and crys malfeasance  (Nonprofit Quarterly article here).  I wholeheartedly agree.

More and more, we see the public calling out nonprofit boards for decisions they have already made that appear at odds with what the stakeholders want. So it is at Sweet Briar College, the latest example of a board making a sudden decision to close only to find that they will be challenged legally, financially, and reputationally on that decision by the very people for whom they were acting in stewardship.

This lack of active connection to the base of supporters should be deemed a kind of nonprofit malfeasance, in violation of what we are organized to do.

While the faculty voted to oppose the Board’s decision to close Sweet Briar, their voice holds little power to actual affect change.  Without legal intervention it seems, the College hurdles towards a closure many are fighting to stop.

Thousands of alumnae have cried out against the closure and, in particular, feel the total lack of communication did not give them a chance to step forward to delay or stop the announced closure.  Their Alumnae Board on the matter?  Silent.  Absence any strong leadership and in response to the passion felt by so many, the Saving Sweet Briar Board established itself and is making statements representing the collective feelings of thousands of alumnae.

Governance – Who Represents the Stakeholders?

Governance is critical and very often not representative of stakeholders who attend, fund and care about an institution.  The Association of Governing Boards, a widely-respected body, issued an important paper regarding the crisis boards are facing in higher education in particular.  You can read the paper here.   I recommend the entire paper for those associated with Colleges and Universities, particularly the comments on “Rising Prices and Eroding Public Trust”. What I particularly highlight and uplift today dear readers is the following from the Executive Summary:

2. Boards must act to add value to institutional leadership and decision making by focusing on their essential role as institutional fiduciaries.

3.  Boards must act to ensure the long-term sustainability of their institutions by addressing changed finances and the imperative to deliver a high-quality education at a lower cost.

4.  Boards must improve shared governance within their institutions through attention to board-president relationships and a reinvigoration of faculty shared governance (emphasis mine).  Boards additionally must attend to leadership development in their institutions, both for presidents and for faculty.

Lack of Shared Governance at Sweet Briar

Unfortunately, shared governance at Sweet Briar seems to be completely lacking.  The faculty of Sweet Briar College voted unanimously to oppose the Board’s unilateral action to close the College (Washington Post article link here).  Yet, their voice holds little strength because they do not have a seat on the Board nor an advocate on the Board.  With shared governance working, they would.   The President agreed to meet with the faculty, but the meeting was canceled “on the advice of legal counsel”.

The Alumnae Board has been sadly silent on the matter with the exception of a few individual voices sharing comments on social media (I have not seen them, only heard that they are weighing in).  Two of their members sit on the Board of Directors and there are other alumnae on the Board of Directors; however, it does not seem those individuals have listened to the inquiries from alumnae imploring them to oppose the decision and help reverse it.

I understand that the Sweet Briar Board of Director’s (and any Board of Director’s) primary role is exercise fiduciary oversight of the institution.  I understand that their role is not to be spokespeople for any particular group.  Their key role is to protect the  assets of the institution.  The problem I see at Sweet Briar is that the Board itself is not made up of stakeholders and thus cannot fully weigh the best fiscal path ahead.  They seem to only be focusing on assets such as land and endowment and not the most important assets – students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the community.  Furthermore, the President (and his administration) and the Board failed to reach out to the stakeholders who were in the best position to improve the fiscal state — the alumnae.

Fiduciary Duty…the duty of care, loyalty and obedience.

A brief departure. … Fiduciary duty is roughly defined by a duty of care, loyalty and obedience.  Taken together, these obligations require trustees to make careful decisions collectively and in the best interest of the institution consistent with its public good and charitable mission.  The Sweet Briar Board is entrusted with the charitable assets of the institution — those assets include land and buildings, but also students, faculty, staff, and alumnae.   To close Sweet Briar College seems an absolute violation of the care, loyalty and obedience required of a Board member.

One particular aspect I find troubling is under the duty of loyalty.  The duty of loyalty requires a board member to act in good faith and in a manner that can be believed to represent the interests of the college or university.  Independence is also critical and is evaluated when legal cases are reviewed.  What troubles me are the number of alumnae within a particular decade who serve on the Board. The wife of the current President, Jan Jones, has spoken and written publicly (you can read her thoughts here on a 1969 Class website) about her opinion of the College and her belief that it should close citing how many of her classmates agreed with her.   Several members of her class sit on the Board.  These public statements would not seem to lean towards a healthy balance of independence.  AGB writes,

Under this requirement, a college or university board member must be loyal to the institution and not use the position of authority to obtain, whether directly or indirectly, a benefit for him or herself…. Accordingly, the duty of loyalty considers both the financial interests held by a board member and the governance or leadership positions he has with other organizations (or people, emphasis mine)…. Independence means that the board member is not employed by and does not do material business with the college or university.  In addition, it means that the board member acts independently of any personal relationship he or she may have with the president or senior leaders of the college or university or with other trustees.

These  issues appear to be systemic within higher education as is reported by the Association of Governing Boards,

Almost daily, we hear reports about questionable board behavior:  boards that overstep their authority and get into institutional management; board members who act as faculty representatives, or captives of the alumni association; boards that are unduly swayed by single donors; boards that look the other way when it comes to trustees with conflicts; boards that fail to meet their formal fiduciary responsibilities.  The list goes on.

While it may be too late for the current Sweet Briar Board, I have suggested to the Saving Sweet Briar Board that they consider a shared governance model making sure to have stakeholders represented in their decision making.  I also joined the call for the current President and Board of Sweet Briar College to resign and, furthermore, to halt the closure of the College.

I welcome your feedback and thoughts below.

Questions:

  • Does the institution you care about have a shared governance model?
  • Do YOU have a voice in any constituency group?  Does that group have a mechanism to hear the opinions of its stakeholders?
  • Does the leadership group of your stakeholders – service recipients, students, faculty, staff, alumni – have a seat on the governing board of the institution?

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
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My College Announced It is Closing…Why You Should Care (with advice for anyone associated with a nonprofit, school or entity governed by a Board)

Sweet Briar College bell tower.  Photo credit:  Aaron Mahler
Sweet Briar College bell tower. Photo credit: Aaron Mahler

While this letter and post pertains to a lovely College in southern Virginia facing possible closure by its Board, it also applies to you.  Read on to discover why. I do hope my dear blog subscribers will forgive me for the recent #saveSweetBriar, pink and green and passionate advocacy for my beloved College.  As a way of reaching a broader audience, I have decided to use my “channel” in lieu of multiple posts on social media.

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” – Malala Yousafzai

I am very disappointed not to have the voice of the Alumnae Board through the difficult days and now weeks since the announcement by the Sweet Briar Board of Director’s of its intentions to close our beloved College.  The voice of our alumnae leadership is important — and tragically missing.  I fully realize that there are other stakeholders far more impacted by the Board’s decision than alumnae (such as students, parents, faculty, staff and community members), but that does not mean alumnae do not have a voice.

Alumni Boards exist to represent the voices and needs of the alumni or stakeholders of an institution.  They are the one group that “speaks” for alumni.

I believe we are seeing one of the largest stakeholder rallies that higher education and the nonprofit community has seen or will see for quite some time.  The number of national news stories featuring the actions of the alumnae is inspiring.  National papers, regional papers, television stations,  trade journals, blogs, and a storm of social media are carrying the story of the passion our alumnae have both for their College and against the Board’s plans to close.

The current College President appears to be the primary spokesperson for the College.  The voices of the alumni on the Sweet Briar Board and members of the Sweet Briar Alumnae Board are woefully missing in the dialogue.  

At this point, a new Board of Saving Sweet Briar has taken over and filled the gap.  At this point, this Board speaks for me.  I believe this new Board of Saving Sweet Briar not only speaks for the majority of the alumnae, but also represents the truest intentions of the founder of Sweet Briar, Indiana Fletcher Williams.  Indiana formed the College as a living memorial to her beloved daughter, Daisy.  Her act of philanthropy provided the land, buildings and investments which created the College in 1901.

The monument to Indiana’s daughter Daisy overlooks the campus from a clearing called Monument Hill.  From that perch, one can take in the view of the campus created as a “living memorial” in her memory.  Daisy’s parents are buried in the same graveyard.  In the early 2000s, I put my name on a list to be buried in the columbarium at the top of Monument Hill.  I imagined one day my lifespan would be carved into the stone there.  Never did I imagine my College would have an end-date.  It will not – if I can help it.

The Amherst County Attorney and the legal counsel representing the Saving Sweet Briar Board and stakeholders believes that the College has broken State law by not honoring the intent of donors, including the founder.

No Board can say it is being true to its mission to close an institution.  A Board and administration working to close the institution is not acting consistently with the original donor’s intent and will.

I join the voices of alumnae — and now a growing number of non-alumni — crying out against the Board and Administration’s actions.  Alumnae feel they could have done something more had they learned sooner of the perilous situation the College purportedly faces.  There were mechanisms to do so.  A fundraising feasibility study undertaken with 200 of the most generous and most loyal alumnae did not “test” a “crisis message” or give any indication to those alumnae that the College’s future might be in jeopardy.  Unlike others, I DO understand why the College could not “go public” with a possible closure; however, I DO NOT understand why the College did not test out this message with the very loyal alumnae who would be the most likely to help.   Part of why I can say this so firmly is because I once worked for another institution facing possible closure and they WERE honest with a message along the lines of, “If the School were in peril and facing possible closure, would you be willing to give?  How much?” I know these questions were confidentially asked at that institution because it was my (difficult) job to visit the alumnae after these visits and discuss their support.  That School survives today.  Unfortunately, Sweet Briar administrators and the Board elected to keep their donors in the dark.

The feasibility study wasn’t the only way the College could have shared information. There is another subset of alumnae they could have contacted, Class Leaders.  Class Agents represent their class and help encourage alumnae financial support.  These Class Agents have personal relationships with their classmates and have been successful over the years raising funds.  These Class Agents – and Class Presidents – and Class Secretaries — are an organized group in every class who could have been harnessed to communicate about the intense needs.  Instead, their energy is now focused on the #saveSweetBriar movement.  Current students and parents were also kept  “in the dark” and shocked at the announcement.  I am certain there were avenues of communication that could have been utilized to strengthen their support.  When I attended Sweet Briar, there was a Parents Council and my parents reached out to fellow parents formally and informally.

If you are not a Sweet Briar alumna and you have read this far, I assert that this should matter to you because…

….If you are an ALUMNA/ALUMNUS of ANYWHERE…YOUR alumni board of YOUR College has an important role to play. Your Class Officers (if you have them) should be a source of timely and important information.  Your Class Secretaries could share information not just about alumni life and career highlights, but also key information from your School.  I know my Class Leaders (because I am one of them) would have taken this on with thoughtfulness and gusto.

….If you are a STUDENT or PARENT attending ANY SCHOOL… your Board of Directors has incredible power over your future.  You should make a point to read the meeting Minutes.  Read the financial statements. Develop relationships with Board Members.  Scrutinize the membership of the Board – is it representative?  Ask questions and ask again.  Are there forums to learn information?  What would YOU do if your Board announced it was closing your child school?  Nonprofit?  What would you do NOW to prevent it?  Whatever that is — DO IT NOW!

There was a movement in higher education in the late 1980s and early 1990s to end Alumnae Associations (particularly with separate dues structures).  I saw this happen at Sweet Briar.  The dues that alumnae paid provided operating support for the Alumnae Office staff and programming.  When I worked for Sweet Briar College in the early 1990s, the dues structure was abolished with only Clubs in regions remaining independent.  Then it was thought that this was a good move for the staff because they could become full employees of the College with benefits.  The Alumnae Association leadership came under the control of the Development (fundraising) Office.  As a fundraiser, this all made sense to me.   After soliciting a major gift from someone, I certainly didn’t feel right asking them for a $30 gift of alumnae dues.  As an alumna, Iooking back, I realize this was a terrible mistake.

The independence of an Alumni Body or stakeholder body is critically important.  There must be a separate organizational body of each key stakeholder ideally with financial footing and also with a vote on key issues facing the institution.   If the organizational body at the institutions you love does not have representative voices from key stakeholders on its Board, you should advocate for that NOW.  If a School:  students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, community members.  If a non-profit:  service recipients, residents, community members, staff.   Dues may seem “silly” to collect, but having a financial base is helpful and necessary to retain independence.  I, for one, advocate a donor “tax” on all gifts to fund Alumni Associations vs. separate dues.  The very activities of an Alumni Association are what cultivate and often steward donors. 

In the public school my children attended the Parent Teacher Organization had tremendous power.  They collected separate dues.  They had their own meetings.  They were not always lock-step with the administration.  They had a voice through the County Board of Education to voice their views and oppose decisions.

At the private College I attended, many of these types of leadership structures were and are absent.  Now that we face closure, I realize we lost important voices and funding mechanisms that could help today.  

So where do we go from here?  Yesterday, the #saveSweetBriar Board, represented by its attorney, asked the President and Board to step down.  The President and Board responded in the media that they intended to keep their positions.  I imagine further legal actions will take place, and I hope they do very soon.

As a professional fundraiser, I watch this with keen interest.  I know there are many extremely important lessons to learn with respect to what is happening with Sweet Briar.  These lessons pertain to the nonprofit community as well.  I am taking notes, so stay tuned.  I have been contacted by my industry’s publication to write an article about it.

Until then, as a graduate of Sweet Briar College, I am doing everything I possibly can to reverse this decision and keep the College open.  I want to look back 5 years from now, 10 years from now or at the end of my life and know that I did all I could.  I would still like the College to be thriving WHEN it becomes my final resting place.

Until then, #saveSweetBriar.

View from Monument Hill of Sweet Briar College (photo credit:  Campus Grotto "10 Most Beautiful College Campuses)
View from Monument Hill of Sweet Briar College (photo credit: Campus Grotto “10 Most Beautiful College Campuses)

 

 

 

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