Would You Like to Save a College, Be a Hero? An Open Letter to Philanthropists Everywhere…

"O.K., I know its a long shot, but if we can convert just one lion..." by KANIN
“O.K., I know its a long shot, but if we can convert just one lion…” by KANIN

As a fundraiser working on fundraising campaigns, there are always suggestions that perhaps some very generous person might step in to “save” the Campaign.  My response usually goes like this:

While that is a really great suggestion, research shows that the way we will meet our goal is to first look at ourselves and ask if we have given our very BEST gift.  Then, we turn to those closest to us and ask if we have thoughtfully met with those individuals and encouraged them to make their very BEST gift.  Beyond that, we divide up names of those previously generous and reach out to them to ask them to consider additional generosity.  Then, and only then, would I suggest looking outside of our Community to someone previously unaffiliated. Because usually someone unaffiliated with our cause is not likely to respond.

Even when I give this response, there is always someone who says, “What about Warren Buffet?  Perhaps HE would be willing to contribute.” or “(Insert Wealthy Person’s Name), surely would want to be involved???”  Usually this stems from the person feeling so passionate about their fundraising effort that they cannot imagine EVERYONE wouldn’t want to give.

Forget what I usually say.  It is time to throw caution to the wind…

THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND!
THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND!

In the case of saving Sweet Briar College; however, it is time for bold and courageous action.  It is time to reach out beyond our community.  The issues at stake here are relevant to anyone who cares about  nonprofits; who loves a place that might face closure; who feels a sense of duty to give back; who puts trust in a governing board and feels betrayed by them; who counts on their charitable gifts to be used as intended; whose children start in Freshman year and expect to graduate as a Senior; who applied to and was accepted to a College only to learn from social media that your application is now worthless; who believe a will should be held in trust…

Forget what I said.  It’s time to point over the fence, declare we will hit a home run and make some bold calls.

1960: Mickey Mantle hit a home run over the right field roof.  Babe Ruth is famous for pointing before hitting a homer.
1960: Mickey Mantle hit a home run over the right field roof. Babe Ruth is famous for pointing before hitting a homer.

In the effort to keep Sweet Briar College open, I am throwing caution to the wind.  I am open to any and all suggestions.  I am telling people to look at themselves, each other and their community.  I am pointing over the fence, over the right field roof and WAY outside of our community.

This past week I was called about a potential donor who it has been noted has considered (and retracted) nine-figure philanthropic suggestions — $100 million to be exact.  When it was first explained to me, it came across that this donor actually might be interested in contributing to Sweet Briar.  I WAS SO EXCITED!  Turns out, this lead came from a consultant of a friend of a Sweet Briar alumna — and the consultant had heard there was a donor in Richmond we might look up.

That old mantra in my head nearly kicked into gear.  Not this time.  Instead, I put some of my fellow alumnae to work on finding contact information and perhaps shared contacts.  Then I decided I would write an open letter to him.  Because – really – this letter could go to anyone.

"The Long Shot" - Greenberg
“The Long Shot” – Greenberg

Dear Supremely Philanthropic Person,

Have you ever wanted to be a hero?  I can tell you how.

Would you like to make an impact on the world?  I can tell you how.

How would you like to save a College?

I know this may sound crazy.  I know I should have taken you to at least 10 lunches before having this conversation.  I know I should be making this appeal with the President of the College sitting next to me on a chair in your office.  I know this should have come from someone you know well.  I know all of this because I have worked at Sweet Briar where I was well trained in how fundraising “should” be done, but we have realized that we must break from what we know — and who we know — hence this letter.

I imagine you have heard through your local, regional and national media of the efforts to keep Sweet Briar College from closing.  Founded by a generous woman, Indiana Fletcher Williams, in memory of her daughter, Sweet Briar has served as a woman’s College for over a century.  Its fate is now uncertain based on the decision in March by a small group, the current Board.

Since that time, thousands including students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the community have rallied for a different future.  For the future to unfold, it will take a tremendous act of generosity and vision.  We hope you might consider this act. YOU will be part of history — and beloved by thousands.

I am sure you have many questions.  Allow me to hit the most important:  Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.

WHO are you saving?  

STUDENTS - the reason Sweet Briar exists and the primary reason it should be saved!
STUDENTS – the reason Sweet Briar exists and the primary reason it should be saved!

WHAT are you saving?

3,000 acres, historic buildings, renovated state-of-the-art facilities.
3,000 acres, historic buildings, renovated state-of-the-art facilities.

WHEN?

WHERE?

  • Sweet Briar College sits next to Amherst, Virginia.  It is an hour south of Charlottesville and a half hour from Lynchburg.
  • The historic architecture designed by Ralph Adams Cram sits on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The alumnae of the College live all across the globe providing a strong network of philanthropy, admissions recruitment, volunteerism and community.  You will never be a stranger in the home of a Sweet Briar woman.
  • They serve Starbucks on campus, so you don’t have to worry about proximity to a good cup of Joe (in case you, like the Board, were worried about that).

WHY?

  • The why is the WHO (see above), but it is also….
  • Woman’s education produces leaders, particularly in fields with shortages of women and diversity.  The world, corporate America, the nation’s classrooms, the world’s boardrooms needs MORE women’s college graduates, not fewer.
  • Diversity. Sweet Briar recently (and many feel finally) became more diverse in all ways and including race, ethnicity, socio economic levels.   Research shows the benefits of a diverse student body for the entire community.  The current board cites this change as one of the reasons it must close and that this trend is not sustainable.  Diversity is one of the saving graces and strengths of Sweet Briar today.  These students deserve this education and the world needs these students.  Philanthropy is one of the ways diversity can be maintained.
  • Faculty – Sweet Briar College faculty are exceptional.  Unlike larger Universities, they are also approachable.  Classes are not led by teaching assistants.  From the moment students arrive on campus, they are surrounded by an exceptional faculty whose accomplishments are summarized here.  It took years and a century of establishing a strong reputation to attract, hire and retain these amazing leaders — we must not lose them!
  • Sweet Briar College is regularly listed as one of the BEST Colleges in the country for:
    • Student Engagement
    • Quality of Education
    • Liberal Arts Education
    • Alumnae Network
    • Beautiful Campus

HOW?  For the future to unfold, it will also take change.

  • Change. Change which all associated with the College (who wish for it to continue) are committed to embrace.  This change is in the form of solid plans, talented administrators, dedicated board members and loyal students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the wider community.
  • Plans.  There is a strategic plan thoughtfully crafted by experts in their field.  This plan addresses all aspects of College operations from admissions to development to land use to facility management.
  • New Leadership. Several potential Presidents with proven turnaround track records have been vetted and willing to lead. A slate of board members both nominated and recruited for their dedication and professional expertise stands ready to serve.
  • Retaining Talent. Sweet Briar has amazing faculty who are willing to stay.  Talented administrators including some loyal and currently serving and others identified for their proven expertise can step in to manage.
  • Legal.  Saving Sweet Briar secured Troutman Saunders to assist with the legal work.  To date they have secured a 60 day injunction.  Another attorney, Elliott Schugardt, secured a six month injunction.
  • Dedicated Alumnae. I, along with thousands of others, are willing to do all in our power for the future.  We do not ask you to consider a gift before giving ourselves.
  • Charitable Status!  Saving Sweet Briar has been granted its 501(C)3 status.

Generous donor, would you consider making Sweet Briar College one of your philanthropic priorities this year?  Would you help save this College?

Thank you so much for your thoughtful consideration and for all you are doing for the causes important to you.

PLEASE consider this request.  PLEASE save Sweet Briar College!

Very sincerely (and with strong desperation),

Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988

I, Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, am a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  I served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, I solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and I feel 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, I have spent my career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, I have served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  I am a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), am affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and hold a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

 

 

 

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