Perpetuity Society: An Idea for Sweet Briar and Beyond (I’m in!)

In Perpetuity....
In Perpetuity….

There are many leaders who worked tirelessly in the effort to save Sweet Briar College.  Christine Bump, JD, MPH, Sweet Briar College Class of 2000, is one of those heroes.  I met Christine shortly before we both appeared on a WJLA TV7 interview in May, 2015.  My husband and I had the pleasure of meeting Christine and her husband, Elias Papasavvas, at Reunion, 2015.  This is a power couple if there ever was one and they will play a pivotal role in years ahead .  Christine and her husband have made a perpetual commitment to Sweet Briar College.  I share it with you here as a guest post and for the professionals at the College to consider as they look to the future.  I love the idea of a Perpetuity Society as it demonstrates the kind of commitment I feel for Sweet Briar College as well as the type of relationship we will need with alumnae and friends in the years ahead.

P.S.  I have had Sweet Briar College in my will and was on a list to be buried on Monument Hill.  I have made a commitment  – a stretch commitment more than I have ever pledged — to Sweet Briar College over the next five years.  I pledge to give to Sweet Briar perpetually.  

perpetuity

ˌpər-pə-ˈt(y)ü-ət-ē/

noun: perpetuity

  1. a thing that lasts forever or for an indefinite period, in particular.
  1. 
the state or quality of lasting forever.

Since we were thrust into the battle to save our beloved Sweet Briar, much has been written about the word “perpetuity.” Indiana Fletcher Williams demanded in her will that her land be used in perpetuity to educate young women like her daughter Daisy. Over the past few months, thousands of excellent ideas have been presented regarding fundraising, loyalty, and commitment, in order to ensure that our Sweet Briar College “not merely endure, but prevail,” as Judge James W. Updike, Jr. noted in his courtroom remarks on June 23, 2015. On that day, which Amherst County has already commemorated as “Sweet Briar College Day,” he blessed the settlement accepted by all parties to keep our College open. When it was noted during the hearing that the actual text of the agreement is “for one year,” Elliott J. Schuchardt, the attorney representing a group of Sweet Briar students, parents, and alumnae pro-bono, replied, “This is not for merely one year. It is for perpetuity!” The entire courtroom erupted in applause.

Today the flame is strong. But once the courtroom doors are closed, the settlement final, and everyone has returned to work, how will we ensure the continued commitment, passion, and fervor of alumnae, in perpetuity? For a new chapter of perpetuity at Sweet Briar College, we would like to propose the establishment of:

“The Sweet Briar College Perpetuity Society.”

Indiana Fletcher Williams established Sweet Briar College through her will as a perpetual memorial to her daughter, Daisy.
Indiana Fletcher Williams established Sweet Briar College through her will as a perpetual memorial to her daughter, Daisy.

The Sweet Briar College Perpetuity Society would be for all alumnae who accomplish two things: (1) donate every single year, without interruption, from the year of their graduation until their passing; and (2) include Sweet Briar College in their will (which today is recognized as the Indiana Fletcher Williams Society). Living members who give annually without interruption since graduation would comprise the membership and they would continue as members so long as they do not interrupt their giving.

The “Founding Members” of the Perpetuity Society should be those alumnae who already satisfy both criteria. However, if there has been one benefit to the near closing of Sweet Briar College, it has been the rally of alumnae who were stunned by the March 3, 2015 announcement. Many have admitted that their giving to the College has been sporadic, but when they heard their beloved alma mater was going to close, their passion was unleashed. The promise to continue to give to Sweet Briar is strong; pledges for the next five to ten years have already been made. Therefore, upon the creation of the Perpetuity Society, the Founding Members would invite all alumnae who have donated this year, to the Saving Sweet Briar Movement, to join as “New Members.”

Angel over Daisy William's monument.
Angel over Daisy William’s monument.

You may ask why we need another giving society. The Perpetuity Society would not be based on the amount of money given. Whether an alumna gives $5.00 a year or $5,000,000.00 a year, the amount does not matter. Also, Sweet Briar has the Pink Rose Society and the Silver Rose Society, recognizing giving over a period of years, i.e., at least 10 out of 24 years. Membership in the Perpetuity Society would demonstrate an unfailing annual commitment to Sweet Briar, year in and year out. The Perpetuity Society would not abolish any other giving society; giving amounts, giving over a period of years, and including Sweet Briar College in your will should continue to be recognized by the existing societies and circles. But, the establishment of the Perpetuity Society could encourage the continuation of the momentum of giving and loyalty we have now to ensure Sweet Briar prevails in perpetuity.

Sweet Briar rose - known for its thorns is also a symbol of the College whose motto is "She who has earned the rose may bear it"
Sweet Briar rose – known for its thorns is also a symbol of the College whose motto is “She who has earned the rose may bear it”

In recognition of how important Sweet Briar’s perpetuity is, the Perpetuity Society should have leaders and activities beyond the walls of the College’s Development Office. It should not just be a list, it should be a membership of those who show the ultimate support: a commitment to Sweet Briar’s mission of turning young women into leaders through stellar education, in perpetuity.

Daisies surround the monument to Daisy Williams during the Founder's Day ceremony, 2015.
Daisies surround the monument to Daisy Williams during the Founder’s Day ceremony, 2015.

 

The Sweet Briar Perpetuity Society. In honor of our College’s history. In remembrance of the battle that saved her. In resolve to ensure Sweet Briar thrives, in perpetuity.

Yours truly,

Christine Bump, Class of 2000 – Elias Papasavvas, Proud Husband

Christine Bump, Sweet Briar College Class of 2000
Christine Bump, Sweet Briar College Class of 2000

Christine P. Bump, JD, MPH, is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College. She was a Presidential Medalist in the Class of 2000, and earned her professional and graduate degrees from Emory University’s School of Law and Rollins School of Public Health, respectively. She practiced food and drug law for nine years in Washington, DC, and in 2013, was selected as a Rising Star by Washington, DC Super Lawyers. Christine has supported Sweet Briar financially and through volunteer hours every year since graduating, and is excited to continue that support.

You might also consider reading this post:   We Saved Sweet Briar – Now What?

To learn more about saving Sweet Briar College, visit the Saving Sweet Briar website.

To learn about plans for the future, visit Sweet Briar 2.0.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, 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 raises funds for Saving Sweet Briar, a charitable organization committed to the future of the College  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Someone caught this photo of me while leading a group "Holla, holla" at Reunion, 2015.

 

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Sweet Briar: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing (It’s Normal!!!!)

Bruce Tuckman Team Development Model
Bruce Tuckman Team Development Model

All my life group and team dynamics have fascinated me.   As a psychology major at Sweet Briar College, I read my textbooks with great interest and began applying that insight in my life.   Over the years, I have supervised hundreds of people, coached synchronized skating teams, served on boards and, more recently, experienced the intense team effort to save Sweet Briar College.

One of the most helpful and elegant models I have found in understanding human and team dynamics comes from Bruce Tuckman, PhD. His model is the Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing Model.  He added a fifth stage later in his career “Adjourning”.  This model provides reassurance for those living through a time of uncertainty now.   Applying the Tuckman model helps understand both the individual and team dynamics.

Forming – Stage 1

When a team forms, there is high dependence on a leader (or perceived leader) for guidance and direction.  There is little agreement on the team’s aims and activities unless direction comes from the leader.  Individual roles and responsibilities aren’t clear and often are not yet defined.  Leaders will be besieged by questions about the team’s objectives, purpose, motives and relationships.  

A stone laying atop Indiana Fletcher Williams grave, "Believe" sits next to Daisy's resting place.
A stone laying atop Indiana Fletcher Williams grave, “Believe” sits next to Daisy’s resting place.

On campus, faculty and staff faced an uncertain future.  Those working under the leadership of the President and Board followed their path to closure.

Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. formed and appointed a Board.  They secured legal counsel to launch an important legal challenge.  Their charge and mission was clear; however, there was a misperception that they would or should have the answers to all questions and provide all direction — which was impossible and not their charge.

Stakeholders of all kinds were filled with questions and they directed them in many directions, including the volunteer leaders of Saving Sweet Briar.   The many stakeholders of Sweet Briar were uncertain as to who was leading them.  People waited for direction and answers — answers that sometimes couldn’t be provided given the confidentiality of a legal case.

Social media allowed for teams and subgroups to organize themselves around work they found important:  Students, Admissions, Research, Parents, Friends, and many more.

During the early formation of the teams organized to save Sweet Briar, I was unsure as to my best way to contribute.  As a fundraiser, I saw the need to raise money.  As someone who has worked in higher education for much of my career, I was called to take some of the issues I felt were important to a broader audience.  I turned to my blog.  My march blogs grappled with the broader issues I saw.

Looking back, “forming” was inevitable.  It was understandable.  The fact that this is normal is one of the reasons we must look back with an open mind at both perspectives — those who worked to close and those who worked to save.  Each had their respective leaders and followers who were moving towards — and directed towards — different futures.

Storming – Stage 2

Storming is a normal phase for all teams and teams return to this phase when there is a change (such as a new leadership, key decision, even victory).   In this phase decisions do not come easily in the group.  Team members vie for position as they try to establish themselves in relation to other team members or the leader.  The leader will receive challenges from team members.  Team members will attack each other, especially those who may not appear to comply with what they perceive to be the leader’s goals.  Clarity of purpose grows, but plenty of uncertainties persist.  Power struggles are the norm and factions will form.

Banners protesting the closure and leadership hung from balconies, the bell tower and buildings.
Banners protesting the closure and leadership hung from balconies, the bell tower and buildings.

Chaos reigned in the following weeks.  Chaos of all types.  Students protested the Board’s actions with banners hung from balconies and the bell tower.  Faculty unanimously voted no confidence in the leadership.  Additional suits were filed on behalf of faculty, students and an alumna.

Social media provided a forum where various people and teams working to save Sweet Briar organized – and divided —  themselves.   In the weeks after the initial announcement of closure, “storming” was alive and well.   The different groups working on the issues they felt were important experienced internal and external challenges.  Different teams questioned motives of others.  There was a strong desire to have “one” voice, “one” approach and to muffle any external statements that didn’t comply.

National media reported on the “fight” to save Sweet Briar.  Board members posted opinion pieces.  Op-eds, blogs, articles and social media brought to light the many issues of concern:  Donor rights, honoring the founder’s will, faculty contracts, and more.

The “us” and “them” felt as deep as the Grand Canyon at this time with Board members and “closers” (as they came to be called) fighting it out in Court, through social connections and in the national media.

During this time, I wrote some of my strongest blog posts about what I felt was wrong.  My discontent also took the form of frustration with the lack of process and procedure with the efforts to save the College.  I also was – true to form – frustrated with my leadership.   I wasn’t used to leadership unfolding in this way. I didn’t understand why we didn’t take on more volunteers.  I didn’t want anyone to tell me to wait.  I was in classic “storming” in my April blogs.

“Storming” is understandable.  It is one of the reasons we must forgive each other.  Without every team working towards its individual goals — even if we did not understand them — we might not have crossed the finish line we reached on June 20.

Norming – Stage 3

Agreement and consensus forms among the team.  Leadership is embraced and their roles are further defined.  Stakeholders of all types will see where they can assist and not wait for “spoon feeding” or regular direction by the leader.   There is less questioning of those  willing to work without direction and an appreciation that “many hands make light work”. Big decisions are made by group agreement.  Small decisions may be delegated to individuals or smaller teams.  Unity is strong and commitment grows.  There may be fun and social activities bonding people together.  Working styles emerge.  There is a general respect for the leader and more leadership is shared.  The leader faciliates and enables versus directing.

In response to the President's comment that he "left no stone unturned", this image shows the will of the students, faculty, staff, alumnae and CITIZENS of Virginia crying out for leadership.
In response to the President’s comment that he “left no stone unturned”, this image shows the will of the students, faculty, staff, alumnae and CITIZENS of Virginia crying out for leadership.

Norming took the shape of efficient fundraising.   We celebrated million-dollar-sized milestones along the way.  My team had regular conference calls.  We secured a professional fundraising firm, Alexander Haas, to help coordinate things.  As a fundraiser, this was a Godsend to me!  The processes, procedures, lists and other tools I was used to using were suddenly available.  We still had three different databases and some mis-steps along the way, but our collective apologies, thank yous and phone calls continued to yield success.

Back on campus, the practical matter of students transferring and faculty securing alternative positions outside of Sweet Briar unfolded.  As much as people hoped for a positive outcome, practical steps were needed.

During this phase, I marveled at different teams and how much was being achieved.  Sweet Briar 2.0, a clearinghouse website of all of the ideas and plans, launched.  Plans for Reunion 2015 unfolded with a parallel track for those who didn’t want to support the College’s activities.  My May blogs turned to the broader issues and more advocacy outside of my Sweet Briar community.

Fundraisers all over the country were held.  Class challenges inspired giving from alumnae in far greater numbers than ever before. National news stories began to cover the stories of the fight to SAVE the College.

Performing – Stage 4

In a performing stage, the team is strategically aware.  The team knows what it is doing and why they are doing it.  There is a shared vision.  The leader no longer has to be directive (nor is he/she expected to be).  Sub-groups have confidence of their role and they plunge themselves into useful activity.  Reporting structures become clearer.  The team attends to relationships and processes along the way.  There is self-care and mutual-care with people looking after each other.  The leader is able to deliver even greater results with the efficiencies and often a group of leaders will be able to expand its ranks.  

Salute to Daisy facing Monument Hill
Salute to Daisy facing Monument Hill – a gathering of 100+ women and men as a symbolic show of unity.

Looking back, it seems to me that those working to save Sweet Briar College hit the “performing” stage just in time for Reunion, 2015.  The collective goodwill from the regional events and opportunity to reconnect with campus reinvigorated everyone, even if they couldn’t attend.

On campus, there was greater clarity for students and faculty.  Quietly, there was optimism about the possibility of success.

National media stories continued with coverage of the efforts to save and the broader issues of importance to anyone.  Strong leaders spoke out — and were heard.

The amazing thing to me is the sense of TEAM that has emerged collectively.  I have never looked at my classmates at Sweet Briar and felt we were a TEAM until now.  I didn’t expect to look to the classes around me and see us as a united front.  In fact, there was often subtle competition at Reunions to compete for fundraising with the last class to reach our milestones.  I feel UNITED with students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae, community and friends.  We, Sweet Briar College, are a TEAM.  This team building we have undergone has been painful, jubilant and TRANSFORMING.

I don’t see how this can be replicated at any other institution in the land and I hope no other place has to go through it.  However, I can honestly say, I would do it all over again to reach this amazing place our team Saving Sweet Briar has reached!

Adjourning – Stage 5

Bruce Tuckman refined his theory in 1975 and added a fifth stage to the Forming Storming Norming Performing Model which he called Adjourning (it is also referred to as Deforming and Mourning).  Tuckman’s fifth stage is the break-up of the group, hopefully when the task is successfully completed.  Everyone can move on to new things, feeling good about what’s been achieved.  From an organizational perspective, sensitivity to this stage is helpful, particularly if members of a group have been closely bonded or feel threatened by the change.  

Indiana Fletcher Williams smiles a bit broader....
Indiana Fletcher Williams smiles a bit broader….

To be honest, I forgot about this step until I prepared to write this post.  When I reviewed the material on Tuckman’s model, I hadn’t noted the fifth stage in the articles.  Yet, it is very helpful to think about now whether from the perspective of the outgoing Sweet Briar College Board, the new members of the Sweet Briar Board or the Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board who announced from the beginning that they hoped to be “out of a job” by the end of their efforts.

The Sweet Briar College Board collectively resigned after the Memorandum of Understanding was reached between the parties filing suit and Sweet Briar College.   To their credit, they saw that their job was done.  They took a vote, they took steps to execute that vote for closure and held their course.  They served in a very difficult time and I am compassionate for how this must have been for them.

The Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board’s role for funding the important legal counsel was a victory – the County Attorney of Amherst achieved her desired goals and the outcome of “getting back the keys” resulted.  The fundraising effort launched surpassed everyone’s wildest expectations.   The work to secure a new President was successful.  All parties to the suits put forward suggested names for new Board members for Sweet Briar College.

Fortunately, there is no “adjourning” for those who have worked to save the College.  The cycle begins anew.

Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing

We can expect all of these stages in the weeks ahead.  Hopefully, it can help us be more compassionate with those who are working on campus to welcome back students.  Perhaps it could help us reach out to those who thought differently from us and welcome them into this future.   We need all leaders, followers, rank-and-file, do-ers possible to begin the cycle again.

To support Saving Sweet Briar, visit:  www.savingsweetbriar.com

Soon, we will bring to you our regularly scheduled links at the College, but we don’t yet have the keys….

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, 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 raises funds for Saving Sweet Briar, a charitable organization committed to the future of the College  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

 

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SHOW ME THE MONEY (or Pledge)…by midnight tonight.

From the 1996 film "Jerry McGuire"
From the 1996 film “Jerry McGuire”

While there is much to celebrate now that Sweet Briar College is saved, our finish line has moved and some hurdles have been added.

In some ways, this feels like the morning after a holiday when you are surrounded by wrapping paper and a stack of bills, but let’s focus for now  on what brings us closer to our goals:  Recruited students, new leadership, the future unfolding…

We got this….

blog hurdles

The Sweet Briar Board and other parties to the three lawsuits against the College reached a Memorandum of Understanding.  I shall refrain from expressing my opinion now because I have more important things to share.  Help us over this hurdle!

Hurdle #1:  Turn over $2.5 million in cash by July 1.

Hurdle #2:  Turn over $12 million in cash from converted pledges by September 1.

Hurdle #3:   Only pledges made by midnight, June 23, 2015, will count towards the deadline.

Yes, you heard me.  As strange as this sounds, only pledges made by midnight on June 23, 2015 can count towards our “finish line” all the way to September.

Want to be counted, MAKE YOUR PLEDGE TODAY!  How can you make your pledge today?

  • Visit www.savingsweetbriar.com
  • Alert Alexander Haas, our fundraising firm, by emailing Elizabeth Smith:  e.smith@alexanderhaas.com

Here is a great graphic provided by Jay Orsi, from the Unsolicited Guru blog:

If you are reading this post AFTER June 23, 2015, please contact me via the comment form below.

And now a word from Saving Sweet Briar Fundraising Chair and future Sweet Briar College board member:

To my dear fellow Sweet Briar supporters –

You all are amazing and I see you rushing to the cause, OUR CAUSE! You have been pledging and donating cash to meet the specified terms of the settlement agreement with enthusiasm and vigor! Your responses have blown the doors right off PayPal.

This morning, I can say with a great deal of certainty that we will convert the $2.5 Million required to trigger the next 30-day deadline. Once we have collected the $2.5 Million, (which may take a few more days due to stock transfers and bank wiring coordination) please remember we have two more hurdles to clear to reach the entire $12 Million cash requirement by September 1. Please remember that the $21 Million pledge update announced last Friday are monies over a five year period. And what we all know in the professional fundraising world is that some attrition is possible due to unforeseen circumstances. That is why we MUST continue our efforts.

Many of you have asked for daily and immediate updates. I only ask for patience. We have volunteer campaign counsel in Atlanta assisting the team of alumnae volunteers and they are doing an extraordinary job. We do not have a Development Office per se (yet!) so this volunteer force is juggling a crush of tasks – receipt of incoming pledges, telephone inquiries, check deposits, and many other important and immediate administrative details. Every detail needs to be right, and we are working around the clock to make sure of that. Please have patience and continue to trust our due diligence process.

Thus far, we have navigated this great challenge to steer our college into the future with grace and fortitude. Now we are working to fulfill our Promise. This endeavor to revive our college has been and will continue to be a marathon. So please stay positive and remember our long term goal! Thank you for your selfless commitment to Saving Sweet Briar.

Yours,
Mary Pope M. Hutson
Class of 1983
Fundraising Chair
Saving Sweet Briar

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, 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 raises funds for Saving Sweet Briar, a charitable organization committed to the future of the College  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

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Success for Saving Sweet Briar! Yay… Now, Get Back to Work!

KEYS!  Saving Sweet Briar gets the keys to the College.
KEYS! Saving Sweet Briar gets the keys to the College.

Jubilant!  Euphoric!  Relieved!  There are not enough adjectives to describe my joy at learning that Sweet Briar College is SAVED!  There is a Memorandum of Understanding between the County Attorney for Amherst and Sweet Briar College.  The parties to the three lawsuits have arrived at an agreement through mediation facilitated by the Attorney General for Virginia.

Read the Memorandum of Understanding

Visit the Saving Sweet Briar Website — SAVED

Sweet Briar College is NOT “imploading” – she is RISING.  She will be stronger than EVER…

…Stronger President

….New Board

….Millions raised turned over to College

….New Leadership

We should take a moment to pat ourselves on the back, thank all who have volunteered, and offer a toast to the future.   After that, it’s back to work.  We cannot exhale yet.  Now the real work of supporting a College begins.

This is a very unique situation.  Colleges rely on many sources of revenue to operate – tuition, giving, grants, scholarship support, alternative sources of revenue.  Given the President and Board’s decision to close, many students have transferred (though many would like to return), some faculty have taken new jobs, the sources of revenue will be out of balance for a time relying heavily on contributed funds.

Giving has never been more important!
Giving has never been more important!

Alumnae support is critical at this time.  Sweet Briar College needs to be the top or among the top of every  family’s philanthropic priorities.  Corporations have a role to play in supporting the College and partnering in areas where they are hiring.  Foundations could make a unique impact at Sweet Briar College helping to shape the future. Multi-year pledges will be essential.  We need to reach out to parents, friends, foundations, corporations and invite them to participate.

Visit Saving Sweet Briar to make a pledge or give.

Painting projects abound!
Painting projects abound!

Elbow grease can also be donated in the form of visiting campus through organized work parties.  Painting, gardening and sprucing up every corner of campus is needed.  Combining a Habitat-for-Humanity-like work project with moments for fun will give alumnae a chance to bond and to serve.  Those with connections to contractors would be particularly helpful at this time.

keep calm and prepare for recruiting

Recruiting students must begin immediately.  Consider visiting your local independent school and public school College counselor.  Tell them our story and invite them to encourage students to apply.  Those who will choose to attend Sweet Briar will be making history.  They will also enter one of the most dedicated, generous and entrepreneurial group of alumnae/i higher education may have ever seen.  Who wouldn’t want to be part of this family?

Extend the hand of friendship and reconciliation.
Extend the hand of friendship and reconciliation.

Speaking of family, it is also important to remember that we are one. We are sisters and brothers given and amazing experience because of a generous woman, Indiana Fletcher Williams,  who established Sweet Briar College as a perpetual memorial to her departed daughter.  Out of tragedy, something beautiful unfolded.   Anyone affiliated with Sweet Briar College is part of a broader family bonded together by a shared experience and an exquisitely beautiful place.

We also must extend the hand of reconciliation and friendship to those who may have thought differently than we did as these months have unfolded, including the Board of Directors.  We have gone through a very challenging few months and it has strained friendships, marriages, jobs, families, etc..  We need to make apologies in various directions and we should do it now.  Teresa Tomlinson, our amazing graduation speaker, urged forgiveness then – even when the future was uncertain.  It is even more important now.   My friend Lea Harvey and 1990 Sweet Briar alumna shared:

In a time of polarization and conflict, the opposing sides saw the wisdom of coming to the table for the greater good… that any agreement between parties of different points of view requires compromise to achieve something larger than ourselves.  These last few months have demonstrated Sweet Briar’s character and relevance, as well as the character and commitment of its graduates.  We applaud the agreement and stand ready to continue our support for the years to come.

But back to celebrating…. you deserve it dear readers, for tolerating my many posts about Sweet Briar College since March 3.  You deserve it Sweet Briar alumnae – a precious place we call home will live on.

Daisy Williams is lifting her arm a little higher…

An angel over Daisy Wiliams' final resting places raises her arm to the sky.
An angel over Daisy Wiliams’ final resting places raises her arm to the sky.

Indiana’s shy smile beams a bit brighter today….

Indiana Fletcher Williams smiles a bit broader....
Indiana Fletcher Williams smiles a bit broader….

The President of the College and Chair of the Board have been tossed off their perches.

In response to the President's comment that he "left no stone unturned", this image shows the will of the students, faculty, staff, alumnae and CITIZENS of Virginia crying out for leadership.
In response to the President’s comment that he “left no stone unturned”, this image shows the will of the students, faculty, staff, alumnae and CITIZENS of Virginia crying out for leadership.

Alumnae and friends celebrate!

Salute to Daisy facing Monument Hill
Salute to Daisy facing Monument Hill

With gratitude, I raise my right arm over my head stretched towards the heavens.  I thank Indiana Fletcher Williams, the founder, for her trust.  I thank the Saving Sweet Briar Board for their vision and leadership.  I thank the women who gathered with me at reunion to cheer.  I thank my husband for tolerating my part-time passion – saving Sweet Briar! I thank my friends — old and new — for being on this amazing journey.  Finally, we’ve got to have a Holla, holla (Click the link below)!!!!

Please join me in working for the future:

 

Please visit Sweet Briar 2.0 to volunteer.

Please visit Saving Sweet Briar to pledge and donate.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, 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 raises funds for Saving Sweet Briar, a charitable organization committed to the future of the College  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Someone caught this photo of me while leading a group "Holla, holla" at Reunion, 2015.
Someone caught this photo of me while leading a group “Holla, holla” at Reunion, 2015.
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Repeal! An Analysis, a Road Map & a Draft Letter

What we need right now is an about-face, a u-turn, a change of heart...
What we need right now is an about-face, a u-turn, a change of heart…

Editor note:  This along with several other posts has been emailed to all members of the Board of Directors with email addresses.

I have written at length about the President and Board’s decision to close Sweet Briar College since March 3.  Initially, the Board refused to provide any data or reports which they used to make their decisions.  This is one of the reasons the stakeholders of Sweet Briar College (students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i, community members, elected officials) have such a hard time accepting and RESPECTING their decisions.  Since then, through legal discovery, various reports have been released.  We are still missing key reports, such as the Arts & Sciences report (which Arts & Sciences included on its client list, but has since removed).

Screen shot of the Arts & Sciences firm regarding their Sweet Briar Report (this link has since been removed) - why?
Screen shot of the Arts & Sciences firm regarding their Sweet Briar Report (this link has since been removed) – why?

Many people feel there must be something nefarious going on or personal financial gain driving the President and Board.   It may turn out that one or more Board members would gain financially from Sweet Briar College’s sale; however, I think there are two simple reasons we have not seen any flexibility or change:   Saving face and group think.  I also think it is not too late for one or more brave board members to revisit their decision.  Below I provide analysis, examples and a template.
Continue reading Repeal! An Analysis, a Road Map & a Draft Letter

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Dialing for Dollars, Hearts & Support (what can be learned from the occasional “cold call”)

A young girl (future student?) holds up the notebook I carried throughout Reunion weekend, 2015.
A young girl (future student?) holds up the notebook I carried throughout Reunion weekend, 2015. I keep this photo nearby as I make calls to #saveSweetBriar

Today’s post gives a glimpse of the efforts to save Sweet Briar undertaken by one volunteer among many.  It isn’t always easy, but there is much to learn in the process.  It also sheds light on the future we can expect when the legal efforts are successful.  Call by call, I am filled with hope and only occasional disappointment.  Yet, it is actually those calls that are challenging —  “cold calls” — where I learn the most.

People often think of fundraising as “cold calling”.  In my 25+ years in development, I rarely think of it this way.  Most of the time I think of myself as a relationship builder.  A fundraiser is more of a listener than a talker.  In the case of saving a College like Sweet Briar, I am back to my early days of a list of names I don’t know with a goal in mind.  My early mentors like Martha Clement, used to say, “You ARE Sweet Briar to these alumnae.  Ask them to tell THEIR story.  Listen to what they LOVE.  By the time they remember what they love, you won’t even have to ASK for money.”  She was so right.    Continue reading Dialing for Dollars, Hearts & Support (what can be learned from the occasional “cold call”)

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Dear Mr. Jones, (pointing out an error and a request for an orderly resignation)

James Jones sent a letter to the American Association of  University Professionals and posted in on the Sweet Briar website.

Read the letter to the AAUP

Dear Mr. Jones,

I was sent a copy of the letter you sent to the American Association of University Professors. I write to draw your attention to an error in your letter and call for you to cease saying something that does not reflect well on you. While I do not know you personally, I write out of respect for the office you hold. I did want to write to you – and board members writing in national media — so that you could avoid continued embarrassment.

By way of introduction, I have worked in fundraising and higher education since Sweet Briar (25+ years) and I also worked at the College in the 1990s. I was on the call when you spoke to alumnae after the closure and shared with you my experience working at another institution that was honest with alumnae when it faced challenges. As you may recall, that institution now thrives. Since March 3, I was concerned about this “feasibility study” you referred to on that call and board members continue to refer to since then. As alumnae who were interviewed started to come forward, as I learned staff made the calls, as I heard comments you and board members making, my concern grew. Initially, I was critical of the firm and the consultant on the survey as I could not believe the firm would conduct a survey with such poor methodology. I believed you when you said you had a feasibility study – until I spoke to the firm and realized you did not.

Sweet Briar College does not have a “feasibility study” in the Donor Insight Survey conducted by Grenzebach Glier and Associates. I have spoken to the firm and to the principles charged with the study. They were charged, as you may know, from the former President, Jo Ellen Parker. The methodology for the survey is not designed to draw a conclusion about fundraising amounts. The charge was simply to interview donors about possible strategic planning directions. Staff conducted the meetings which, as you must know, is not customary or considered reliable (neutral consultants conduct feasibility interviews under confidential agreements). As you must know from your past experience, a fundraising feasibility study has specific methodology to be able to draw conclusions about what might be raised for a campaign. I give you the benefit of the doubt – I assume that you, Vice Chair Wyatt and other board members THOUGHT you had a feasibility study, but you did not. I understand the firm has asked the College to stop using the term. You can contact them for further clarification.

The most you could draw from this survey is that fundraising ALONE might not be enough to help the College’s financial challenges (other revenues streams are also critical); that alumnae would embrace change; and that alumnae would continue to give. The firm was just as shocked as the rest of your stakeholders with the decision to close. If you read the survey (I have since it is now part of the discovery process), you will see that alumnae would embrace ANY change if it meant “No Sweet Briar at all” and they would give.

But you don’t need a survey to know that alumnae will give. Now that alumnae, students, parents, faculty, staff, community and people across America are mobilized, funds are pouring in. I have served Sweet Briar as a volunteer since my graduation and I have never seen this type of engagement and generosity.

As another suggestion, it would be nice if the College released on the web the reports on which you have based your decision to close. The Arts and Sciences report, to which you refer in your letter, has not yet been released. Instead of waiting for legal discovery, it would be a nice gesture to make those things available that were paid for with operating dollars (which includes alumnae donations).

There is much hope for the future contrary to your perspective. I am sure you, your staff and the board have a very difficult job right now. Obviously, you must know I am on the side of saving Sweet Briar. As a colleague in higher education, I do empathize with the difficultly you all must face now.

Finally, in addition to stopping using the term feasibility study, I do ask you to consider an orderly resignation along with the board. At this point, I think your dignity and reputation will be stronger if you do as other strong leaders have done when there is public outcry for change. Jamshed Bharucha, President of Cooper Union College, resigned this week. Five trustees resigned in unison as well. There are countless examples of excellent leaders who went on to positive careers or happy retirements who stepped down when they heard the call.

Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely,

Stacey Sickels Locke
Continue reading Dear Mr. Jones, (pointing out an error and a request for an orderly resignation)

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Sunshine Laws & the Case for Abolishing the Executive Committee….everywhere….

Sweet Briar College's Board is described by its own members as, "
Sweet Briar College’s Board is described by Richard Leslie, a former member as, “ham-handed, myopic and dictatorial”.

Sweet Briar College provides excellent lessons for schools and organizations about which I have written over the past few weeks.

This title, “Sunshine Laws & the Case for Abolishing the Executive Committee….everywhere….” lifts up the need for transparency as well as the downfalls of having an over-arching Executive Committee of a Board.  After all, who wishes for a small group of people to make decisions for them when they are fully capable of weighing the same evidence for themselves?  No one.  No one likes others to make decisions for them, particularly when the decision is terminal.

Mr. Richard Leslie’s opinion piece “Sweet Briar’s Leadership was a Short-sighted Mess” in the Washington Post regarding his experience on the Board sheds light about the Board’s governance practices that led to its controversial decision to close the College announced on March 3, 2015.  It is sickening to hear about the conduct of this board.  As more and more information unfolds in the legal discovery process and in the national media, it is obvious this board was incapable of solving tough challenges, practiced poor governance and made a faulty and hasty decision to close.  It is time for them to resign.  In the words of Dr. David W. Breneman, member of the Executive Committee, he admits their weakness,

We knew that we faced an existential challenge, but collectively we were unable to find an answer.

Vice Chair of the Board, Elizabeth Wyatt, describes it even more simply,

“We tried….”

Today I dive deeper into the issue of governance and examine the Executive Committee model both at Sweet Briar College and through my own experience.  I call for implementing Sunshine Laws and practices immediately and abolishing Executive Committees everywhere.  Why?  Because it makes for better boards.  I learned the hard way….

When I served as Executive Director for Anne Arundel Community College Foundation and Director of Institutional Advancement for the College, I inherited a board with a strong Executive Committee, Chairs of Committees and a robust list of 20+ board members.  I was cautioned by the outgoing Executive Director that not many of them showed up and that the majority of the work was done within the “EC” (Executive Committee).  This wasn’t cause for alarm for me, in fact, it was the norm from places I had been and boards on which I had served.  All of the training I received in leading boards led me down the path to this model.  I now realize the consequences of this model and know there is another way….

Enter the rising board chair.  Six months into my five year tenure at this organization, a new board chair rose to lead the board.  He was an accomplished accountant with a large firm in the area and a respected community leader.  When he rose to the position of Chair for the Board, the first thing he said to me was, “We are no longer having an Executive Committee.”  My first response was, “What???  How are we going to get our work done??”  As an Executive Director, I LIKED the idea that I could convene a few people on the phone or by email and resolve issues (which were later reported to the board  fait accompli).  He explained to me that, through his board experience, he didn’t appreciate serving on a board when it seemed that a smaller group actually made decisions and he simply was asked to rubber stamp them or not weigh in at all.  He said, “Eventually, people feel like their time is wasted and their voice on the board doesn’t matter.  Trust me on this, we will have a better board.”  He was right.

This new model for the private foundation was closer to the operations of the Board of Trustees at the same College .  As the College was State funded, they were required to operate under Sunshine Laws.  Those laws forbade Trustees to meet or make decisions outside of a public forum.  In light of Sweet Briar College’s current fate, this approach seems very refreshing and worthy of consideration for future leadership.

Sunshine Laws call for openness.  Whether mandated by law or best practice, these practices make for good decision making and leadership.
Sunshine Laws call for openness. Whether mandated by law or best practice, these practices make for good decision making and leadership.

DEFINITION of ‘Sunshine Laws’

Regulations requiring openness in government. Sunshine laws make meetings, records, votes, deliberations and other official actions available for public observation, participation and/or inspection. Sunshine laws also require government meetings to be held with sufficient advance notice and at times and places that are convenient and accessible to the public, with exceptions for emergency meetings.  (Credit:  http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/sunshinelaws.asp#ixzz3cl9l2SXB )

If the Government can figure out to publish their meetings in advance and make their deliberations public, I certainly think a small nonprofit or College could do the same.

At Sweet Briar College, the Executive Committee had completely usurped the power of the board, Richard Leslie wrote in the Washington Post:

During the five-year term of the Presidency of Jo Ellen Parker, rather than none, all critical decisions were made by a small subset of the Executive Committee of which Ms. Dalton was a part.

The full board was occasionally asked to ratify decisions, which they dutifully did.

Upon the entrance of Jo Ellen Parker, all board members were specifically instructed not to contact a member of the Senior Staff without first obtaining permission of the relevant committee chair and the president. They even brought in a coach from the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), an organization solely funded by the presidential budgets of our nation’s colleges, to reinforce this stifling of involvement.
As I can personally attest, those who even accidentally violated this rule were reprimanded by the president.

By contrast, when I worked for Sweet Briar College in the 1990s, I found an engaged Board open to feedback from all fronts.  As a junior staff member, I was encouraged to attend meetings (albeit sitting in the back), interact with members of the Development Committee, continue to volunteer as an alumna, and interact with students regularly.  I attended meetings of the Development Committee and worked with several board members around the country for Regional Campaigns.  I stayed in these board member’s homes and we shared ideas throughout the day.  Imagine if that board member had not been able to speak to me at the time? Board members under the current administration were told not to talk to staff members and were reprimanded when they did.

In documents connected with the court cases (click here for a link to all legal proceedings), Mr. Leslie further wrote that even the decision to move the interim President to full President was made without input from the full board.

'Please shred all of the napkins we wrote anything on.'
‘Please shred all of the napkins we wrote anything on.’

Interim President James Jones in an official College “Q & A” said this about the Executive Committee when asked why the Board didn’t share its Minutes:

Q: Why not release the meeting minutes?

Jones: “Because we do not have to release the minutes and because an enormous amount of what went on was done in executive session where ther
e are no minutes.”

When I first heard this I was disgusted.  As more experts debunk figures used by the board and more information becomes public, it is disturbing to me to know that the full board was not included in “an enormous amount of what went on….”.

The American Association of University Professors remarked on the Sweet Briar Board’s unilateral action as follows,

On March 3, 2015, with no warning, the board determined the college’s fate without any faculty participation, in evident disregard of widely accepted AAUP-recommended governance standards, as set forth in the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated by AAUP, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. The board acted in secrecy, even though for two years the college’s faculty had been developing alternative curricular and programmatic scenarios to assure Sweet Briar’s survival.

All stakeholders of Sweet Briar College were shocked by the Board’s lack of transparency and action:  students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae/i, community members.

Back to my personal experience with my board chair and the transformation that unfolded.  Initially, the board didn’t know what to make of the notices that our meetings would be a bit longer and there would be a new approach.  While we still sent out Committee Reports from Committee Chairs in advance, those Committee Chairs were given more time at the meeting to update and to discuss.  When preparing for the meeting, the board chair and I would go through what decisions needed to be made and the flow was designed to provide information on those items and voting early in the meeting.  If we got into too much detail when preparing, he would stop us and often say, “The full board would appreciate hearing this.”

The meetings themselves transformed in small ways at first.  People who normally arrived late and left early stayed to the end.  Those who often were multi tasking with their blackberry in their lap were more engaged and participated in discussion.  If anyone had held back not contributing during the meeting, the Meeting Evaluator (more on that in a moment), would ask for their input during the roundtable evaluation of the meeting a the end (more on that as well).  By the third meeting, the tables were filled.  We had to change rooms.  By the last meeting of the year, there was a buzz in the room, constant dialogue, engaged members.  Oh, and not surprisingly, giving from board members increased as well as offers to engage between meetings.

The idea of having a Meeting Evaluator and a roundtable meeting evaluation come from the book, Death by Meeting, which I commend to everyone.   The meeting evaluator takes notes throughout the meeting regarding participation, length of discussion on items and gives feedback for improvement to the group.  During roundtable evaluation, there is a brief report-out sharing either a take-away from the meeting or something a member would like to see in the future.   Best of all, the five tips for better meetings is transformative if heeded. One of the five is worth lifting up in particular:

Provoke conflict. Are your people uncomfortable during meetings and tired at the end? If not, they’re probably not mixing it up enough and getting to the bottom of important issues. Conflict shouldn’t be personal, but it should be ideologically emotional. Seek out opposing views and ensure that they are completely aired.

Back to Sweet Briar College.  The Board of Directors of Sweet Briar College voted to close on March 3, 2015.   Imagine if this board actually operated with some form of Sunshine Laws or even basic transparency?   We would have:

  • Meetings locations and agendas published in advance.
  • Meeting minutes available for review.
  • Reports used for deliberation available for public review.
  • Stakeholders represented (students, faculty, parents, staff, alumnae/i, community members).
  • Opportunities for public comment.

Imagine if the Executive Committee either didn’t exist or did not make decisions in private?  I do wonder whether the full board might have reached a different conclusion if they had access to the same information.  Is this a board that can be trusted to issue a death sentence?  I think not.

The Sweet Briar College Board of Directors voted to close - a death sentence to the College and a violation of the will of the founder. Their deliberations are not unlike famous executions in history not based on proper facts or due process.
The Sweet Briar College Board of Directors voted to close – a death sentence to the College and a violation of the will of the founder. Their deliberations are not unlike famous executions in history not based on proper facts or due process.

Unfortunately, this board has issued a death sentence to Sweet Briar College.  Fortunately, the legal system has intervened including the Virginia Supreme Court.  

I assert that this board expresses the worst in governance practices.  This board has a small insular Executive Committee making decisions outside of the full board’s input.  The board took actions before announcing closure to violate donor’s gift intentions (meeting with the Attorney General to use donated funds for closure purpose)s.  The leadership provided erroneous data (now being revised with eight-figure errors).  The board members were given reports on which to base their decision without being able to review those reports in advance (they were collected after a cursory review period at one meeting and collected before a vote).  Board members were told they could not launch a fundraising campaign based on a survey not designed to provide the data for such a decision (an analysis of this study with input from the firm charged with conducting it is explored in this article).   This is pathetic governance and their decisions are simply not to be trusted.

"Collectively we were unable to find an answer" -- Dr. David W. Breneman, board member.
“Collectively we were unable to find an answer” — Dr. David W. Breneman, board member.

Saving Sweet Briar, Inc., a charitable organization committed to the future of Sweet Briar College, stands ready to provide new leadership and support.  To contribute, please visit Saving Sweet Briar.  To review the strategic direction for the future, please visit:  Sweet Briar 2.0.

Please also consider reading:  http://beingunlocked.com/2015/05/would-you-like-to-save-a-college-an-open-letter-to-philanthropists-everywhere/

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, 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 raises funds for Saving Sweet Briar, a charitable organization committed to the future of the College  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

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VICTORY for Saving Sweet Briar: In Indiana Fletcher Williams we TRUST

Daisy's arm uplifted.
Angel over Daisy Williams’ final resting place. Sweet Briar College was established in a Trust by Daisy’s mother to be a PERPETUAL memorial.

Virginia Supreme Court gives those fighting to save Sweet Briar a win today.  A VICTORY for the efforts to save Sweet Briar.  Laws of trusts cannot apply to a corporation.

Donors everywhere can exhale, but only for a moment.  Case now goes back to the Circuit Court.

Virginia Supreme Court provides many interesting prior case laws worth considering.  Now the Circuit Court must consider a longer injunction, permanent injunction or some other remedy.  Those hoping to save Sweet Briar would like to see a fiduciary appointed and the President and current Board’s decision making ability removed.

Saving Sweet Briar press release.
Saving Sweet Briar press release.

Analysis will undoubtedly be shared by experienced legal minds.   A link to the full opinion is below (be sure to read the conclusions – there is some good stuff in there!):

Analysis by the Roanoke Times.

WSET News Story with Explanation

Legal Analysis from Virginia-Appeals.com

Daisy and Indiana still rest in peace….

Marker for Daisy Williams, in whose memory Sweet Briar College was founded as a PERPETUAL memorial.
Marker for Daisy Williams, in whose memory Sweet Briar College was founded as a PERPETUAL memorial.
A stone laying atop Indiana Fletcher Williams grave, "Believe" sits next to Daisy's resting place.
A stone laying atop Indiana Fletcher Williams grave, “Believe” sits next to Daisy’s resting place.
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Donor Insights Study Analysis (NOT a Feasibility Study): My response to Board Member’s Erroneous Statements in National Media

Elizabeth Wyatt’s June 3, 2015 letter in the Wall Street Journal, “We Tried Hard but Sweet Briar’s Problems are Terminal”  and Diane Dalton’s letter in the Washington Post called me to both respond to the article as well examine some of its points.

Given that all parties in the Sweet Briar College matter are gathering in good faith in mediation facilitated by the Attorney General, I continue to find it surprising that the Board’s Vice Chair would pursue stories like this.  It seems the very opposite of having a good faith effort towards mediation.

What disturbs me most about the letters by Elizabeth Wyatt in the New York Times and Diane Dalton in the Washington Post  are the continued use of questionable “facts” and figures.  They are using figures which Sweet Briar itself now questions.  They are using reports (such as the Sax Report) that do not meet academic standards.  Now that I have READ several of the reports, I interpret that the Board saw a “falling sky” where others saw rays of sun.  The Donor Insights Survey (which the board members erroneously refer to as a “Feasibility Study”) is one such report.  As fundraising is where I spent my professional time, I found this report particularly interesting.

 

Donor Insight Survey, February 2015 - delivered just one month before the College Board voted to close.
Donor Insight Survey, February 2015 – delivered just one month before the College Board voted to close.

This survey was conducted by a very reputable firm, Grenzebach Glier and Associates; however, the consultants themselves were not used for the actual interviews (which is customary in an actual feasibility study).  The College sent staff members to visit donors.  As a result of this methodology (which the consultant discloses in the report), the results were bound to be a bit suppressed (more on that in a moment).  Kathleen Kavanagh, Senior Executive Vice President of the firm, and a Sweet Briar alumna, is a well respected leader in the field.  I put great stock in her work product and I see the merits of the report she provided. She has provided consulting for a long time at Sweet Briar including when I worked there.  What I disagree with is the misunderstanding of the purpose of the report, the misuse of the findings and the Board continuing to use the report as a compass pointing towards closure.  As I read the Donor Insights Survey, I actually see many hopeful things which the Board obviously chose to disregard or overlook.  But the real issue is this — whether this report was used as justification not to do fundraising and to close the College or not — WE NOW KNOW THAT A FUNDRAISING EFFORT IS INDEED POSSIBLE.  My question now is this… WHY DON’T YOU LET US TRY???

The following is a response to Ms. Wyatt’s opinion in the Wall Street Journal (and elsewhere)….

Dear Ms. Wyatt,

Further to your opinion in the Wall Street Journal, in which you say:

“We Tried Hard… but Sweet Briar’s Problems are Terminal”: The numbers were not in our favor. Any effort to reinvent the college would require significant investments of time and money.

 

Ms. Wyatt, help me understand as a Board Vice-Chair, Sweet Briar alumna and business leader how you and your colleagues on the Board would not have read further into the studies for which you paid.  Help me understand how you repeat the same facts and figures based on figures your own team is now revising?  Help us understand why you did not undertake a fundraising campaign.  It seems that this Board saw storms where others saw rays of sun.

We now know that the alumnae of Sweet Briar College are WILLING to”expend the NECESSARY investments of time and money” to which you refer.  It is clear you “tried hard” and that is just not good enough.  Step aside, Ms. Wyatt, and take the rest of your Board colleagues with you.

As someone who has worked in higher education for the majority of my career (including at Sweet Briar), I continue to find the behavior by this Board and the actions of the current administration very hard to understand.  You continue to repeat the same facts and figures (most of which have been debunked by numerous experts) and fail to provide copies of the reports on which you base your decisions and with which you used substantial Sweet Briar College funds to secure.  Fortunately, some of your reports are making their way to the public eye and they do not reflect well on your analysis, decision-making or choice of staff.  Yesterday I received a copy of the Donor Survey cited in your recent article.

Since you refer to the reports as the basis for your decision-making, let me focus primarily on the Donor Survey since that is the area I best understand.  I will leave the analysis of your financial stewardship to other experts such as Dan Gottlieb, a professional forensic accountant and your own legal team now restating its finances with a $17 million rounding error and misstatement.  I commend to your reading, Jay Orsi’s piece “Sweet Briar’s Own Expert Uncovers Misrepresentations In Its Financials”.

Ms. Wyatt, I have served as an Executive Director of a Board, I have served on nonprofit boards and I have worked at Sweet Briar under fantastic financial and development leadership.  While the hiring of such people is left to Presidents, the review of their work product is the work of the Board.  The Board has clearly failed in its review of key documents as well as its vetting of reports provided for its decision making.  I understand that the firm who did this study was NOT charged with testing the ability of the College to raise funds.  Rather, their charge was to test with the College’s generous donors their reactions to various strategic planning priorities.  The firm was just as stunned as the College stakeholders to learn of the decision to close. To refer to this report as a “feasibility study” (as you do in your article) is misusing the report and is not fair to the firm who conducted it.

Methodology:  Gift officers were deployed to interview constituents in person and by phone (usually this is done by a consultant for confidentiality).
Methodology: Gift officers were deployed to interview constituents in person and by phone (usually this is done by a consultant for confidentiality).

With respect to the Donor Insight Survey, I have several comments.  I make these having hired over 20 consultants over the years and utilizing fundraising consultant’s studies in my work for over 25 years.   This is a very good study and an interesting report – this Ms. Wyatt, is NOT a feasibility study.

Let me first focus on the methodology. First, the survey was conducted by gift officers (staff).  I presume this was a cost-saving measure because it is widely considered not to be a best practice to use anyone other than the consultants themselves for donor interviews.  The reason for this is that donors will not usually make a candid comment to a staff member regarding what “best gift” they might make because there is an inherent feeling that a solicitation is being tested.  In fact, in the section “Influence on making a gift”, only a small percentage of alumnae (13%) said that a development officer or College leader influenced their philanthropy.  It is clear that these same donors were not likely to discuss their giving with the people who visited them. I have spoken to many reputable consultants on this topic and have received unanimous feedback that using staff would clearly skew results in a negative direction when assessing capacity of a donor and even inclination.  To draw conclusions from a survey with this methodology would make me question both the findings and your use of them to support closure.

The only conclusions you could legitimately draw from this survey (based on what the consultants were charged to do) is assess your donor’s reactions to possible changes.  That is it.  It is not fair nor appropriate to say that this survey could be used to show that a fundraising campaign would not be successful.  Grenzebach Glier and Associates would have been delighted, I am sure, to conduct an actual feasibility study.

12 donors were capable of making a commitment of $1 million or more OF THE IDENTIFIED FOR THE STUDY.
12 donors were capable of making a commitment of $1 million or more OF THE IDENTIFIED FOR THE STUDY.

The financial analysis stating that “Only 12 donors were RATED (emphasis mine) as being capable of making a $1 million gift” is not a basis on which to evaluate fundraising potential.   12 donors of 139 is not a bad percentage.  This figure of “12 donors” has been repeated by you and President Jones as if to say that there were only 12 $1 million donors in the entire population of Sweet Briar.  This is not what the report is saying!  There are MANY in the Sweet Briar community capable of major gifts and there are many capable of making smaller gifts adding up to a greater total.  Work directed at both ends of the spectrum seems to have been lacking with key positions unfilled (I know this because I interviewed 18 months ago and the position was never filled). There was greater capacity when I worked for the College in the 1990s.  That capacity should have grown since then, not gone down. Since that time, a greater percentage of our alumnae are working and capable of giving.  There has been an intergenerational wealth transfer widely written about since that time. Donor after donor after donor report that they have been “hardly asked”, “asked for low-level gifts” and “ignored”.  Many major donors report how badly treated they were by former Presidents — one was asked for a $3 million gift after no previous cultivation.  The donor then gave a $25,000 gift in response — and the check was never cashed!

Interviewees identified as major prospects (by the staff interviewers).
Interviewees identified as major prospects (by the staff interviewers).

On page 25 of the report, it appears donors in the survey were evaluated for potential with a “yes” or “no” question as to whether they would make a major gift.  I hardly think yes or no questions asked by staff would provide enough data on which to base a “no go” for a major gift effort.  Furthermore, the majority of the respondents actually answered “yes” that they WOULD make a major gift in the Campaign.  It is baffling how it could be determined that a fundraising campaign wouldn’t be worthwhile.  If 48.2% (95 of your 139) could or would make a major gift — surely there would be some hope once you actually started talking to donor #140 and beyond.  Your own consultant leads the way for a campaign to take place.

I have used wealth screening by the same firm you used for your study.  Throughout the survey, wealth screening “ratings” are used as filters for data. Wealth screening is only ONE measure to base capacity for fundraising success.  I am currently using “Wealth Engine” data in my daily work and routinely find people rated extremely low who are capable of making very generous gifts.  A donor rated by GGA wealth screening as being capable of a gift in the range of $1,000-4,999 made an eight-figure transformational gift of a building to my institution this past year.  Had I relied on the rating, I never would have even spoken to this person.  This is not the fault of wealth screening – electronic tools can only see so much.  Professional fundraisers know this is a tool of many in a tool box and not a tool used to spear possibility.

Most respondents indicated that they would continue to support Sweet Briar College philanthropically in light of ANY (emphasis mine) potential changes.
Most respondents indicated that they would continue to support Sweet Briar College philanthropically in light of ANY (emphasis mine) potential changes.

The biggest issue I have with the survey is the questions it failed to ask and the issues it failed to raise.  If this report was being used as a litmus test for whether the College might close, stronger questions could have been tested to indicate how alumnae might respond.  A study is only as powerful as the questions and issues it tests.  Stating there are “mixed feelings” about “changes at the College” such as going co-ed or focusing on STEM fails to ask the most obvious question — what would the donor do if the future were uncertain?

I am not ill-informed about the power of questions in a feasibility study.  I once worked at an institution facing closure — an all-woman educational institution.  We, like Sweet Briar, hired a consulting firm for development coaching and a fundraising feasibility study.  That consultant, a Sweet Briar alumna, had a huge task ahead.  She had to work with the Board to come up with the questions that would be tested with the alumnae.  She had to work with my fundraising team to solicit gifts with integrity not knowing what the future held.  She pushed very hard for candor and testing the “tough questions”.  There was a lot of anxiety about being honest and whether or not it would send out fear that would harm donations.   I am sure Sweet Briar and its staff faced the same questions (however, you actually were not honest with your staff who were out asking the questions since most of them were also shocked at the Board’s decision).  But here is the difference.  In the feasibility study to assess fundraising potential, there were very difficult questions asked.  I remember they went something like this,

“What would a world be like without _____________” and “What would you be willing to do if the future were uncertain?”

These types of questions give a donor the chance to tap into how much they love a place.  It also gives a glimpse as to what the donor might be willing to do if she felt it were threatened.  It also allows them to realize that the future may NOT be certain. On the heels of this, a question about what a donor might be willing to do – when a neutral consultant is speaking to them – elicits the kind of information that truly assesses what might be possible.  Guess what?  That institution thrives today.  Sweet Briar missed an opportunity – and continues to miss an opportunity – to be candid and to allow its alumnae to help.  Conclusions about closure drawn from a survey that never actually asked about what a donor might do to avoid it is at best a missed opportunity and at worst, flawed analysis.

"The large majority in the middle were open to the idea of (change, emphasis mine)... with a preference for remaining all-women's, but preferring a co-educational Sweet Briar to no Sweet Briar at all"
“The large majority in the middle were open to the idea of (change, emphasis mine)… with a preference for remaining all-women’s, but preferring a co-educational Sweet Briar to no Sweet Briar at all”

We now know what alumnae and others are willing to do when they think the College’s future is in peril.  They give.  They give a LOT.  As of this writing, they have given $16.5 million.  A different wealth screening conducted by a reputable firm has reported a conservative estimate of capacity of over $100 million.

The “resistance to change” cited in the report cannot be relied upon when the very donors with whom you spoke were not given the consequences of a lack of change — closure.  The report clearly hints at the fact that “financial stability” was a key driver in why the report was written.  Furthermore, ways the College might change should really not be solely in the arms of alumnae to hold and consider.  Testing the ideas with potential students and industry partners — and then presenting that data to alumnae — would be a far better measure of what directions might be embraced.  Sweet Briar 2.0, a collection of experts and passionate supporters of Sweet Briar, provides numerous ideas for future consideration.

Your biggest clue in what alumnae would be willing to do lies in the “majority” of those who answered the question about Sweet Briar going co-ed.  On the bell curve cited, a small percentage said they would stop giving if Sweet Briar went co-ed.  A small percentage said they favored co-education.  The report cites, “A large majority in the middle (a majority of your MAJOR DONORS mind you, emphasis mine)…would prefer a coeducational Sweet Briar to no Sweet Briar at all.”  This section should have flashing lights around it for the boldness it contains.  Even though you did not test the question of closure — the majority of your alumnae would rather see a changed Sweet Briar than none at all.  Remember, this is only 197 people, not the wider community of alumnae who would likely have fallen into the same bell-curve.  Of the 197, the report states, “Most indicated their willingness to support Sweet Briar in light of ANY of the proposed changes….”  Did you just overlook this part?  In short – the majority of your alumnae would have preferred ANYTHING to “no Sweet Briar at all”.

This survey asking alumnae to make commentary on the weaknesses and strengths of Sweet Briar is both helpful and also not relevant.  The alumnae interviewed had already CHOSEN Sweet Briar and are committed to it.  Again, a market study of incoming Freshman is a far more valid source of information on the strengths and weaknesses of Sweet Briar. Note – to date that report (the Arts & Sciences report) cited has NOT been released. Having just been in Lynchburg this weekend and seen the thriving Randolph College and Lynchburg College, clearly there are many who choose this wonderful region for education.  There are also many women who choose women’s education.  It seems Sweet Briar stopped recruiting from the markets who would consider it, particularly Internationally.

I have always respected the firm who produced the Donor Insights Survey — and I still do.  In terms of timeline, my understanding is that this study was commissioned by the prior President, Jo Ellen Parker, but was not completed when she left.  The current Board asked the firm to complete it, but without new direction for how it might be used.  Again, the charge to the consultants was to help design a survey to test reactions to strategic planning priorities – NOT to conduct a feasibility study for a possible Campaign.  Certainly not to do a survey that would be used to show no possibility of fundraising success.  I have heard positive reports on the other consultants utilized by the College. Evidently another report addresses the enrollment issues, but that report has not been made available to alumnae.  The Dr. Sax report has been debunked for its sample bias.  The financial statements are now being amended with $17 million errors.  It seems that a combination of flawed advice and, even worse, flawed conclusions led to where the Board sits today.

You don’t need a study at this point to know what is possible — those working to save Sweet Briar College have proven that a fundraising effort is possible.

Back to your own words Ms. Wyatt:

“We Tried Hard… but Sweet Briar’s Problems are Terminal”: The numbers were not in our favor. Any effort to reinvent the college would require significant investments of time and money.

I do not disagree that you and the Board “tried hard”.  The problem is your version of trying isn’t adequate.  In the movie “The Empire Strikes Back”, Yoda (George Lucas) says the famous words which ring true today:

Do or do not…there is no TRY

Those working to save Sweet Briar College are WILLING to make the “significant investments of time and money”.  On that point, we agree…that is what it will take.  I am willing to give that time and money (and raise it) and I know there are thousands just like me.  One of the first calls I would make would be to the very consultants who provided the road map to a positive conclusion — which you and your colleagues on the Board refused to see.

It is clear you already made up your mind and you continue to keep your eyes shut to possibility.

Respectfully,

Stacey Sickels Locke, `88

Note:  Article updated throughout to include information verified by a representative of Grenzebach Glier and Associates who confirmed the timing of the study and the charge.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, 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), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

 

 

 

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