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.   

Every once in a while, I would get a “cold call”.  The tone would be frosty and dismissive.  It happens everywhere and it happens when saving Sweet Briar.  My mentors prepared me well for these calls.  Martha Clement used to say,  “Don’t WORRY about the occasional rude person.  She might have just received bad news.  Her kids may have kept her up all night.  Just listen and be respectful. It is actually the ‘cold calls’ that will teach you the most.”  Denise McDonald would say, “That person has important information for you.”  In addition to Martha Clement, I have been fortunate to have amazing mentors and bosses in my career, shaping me into the person I am today — successful fundraiser and now passionate alumna.  The voices of those mentors helps fuel my efforts to save Sweet Briar College:  Denise McDonald, Mitch Moore, Suzy Mink, Margot Semler, Carol Franek, Winnie Holbrooke, Tracy Savage, Marianne Briscoe, Alden Briscoe, Heidi Onkst, Andrea Morris.

In 1984, I had a list of names, pledge cards and candy to fuel my hours with people like Martha cheering me on. Today on a break, I sat down with a long list and a latte.   I still have cheerleaders, thankfully, Mary Pope Hutson and my Major Gift Task Force members are all doing the same thing.

The third name on my list was someone at the age of my grandmother (should she still be living) living in a northern state.  I left a message.  Later this afternoon, she returned my call.   Our call went something like this,

Thank you for calling me and I wanted to call you back. I imagine you are working hard and I didn’t want you to waste any time calling me.

Brrrr.  This was a cold call if I ever heard one.


“Yes,” I replied, “Many of us are working hard calling alumnae to be sure that we share updated information and an invitation to participate.  You are very kind to return my call”

Well, I am sorry I can’t help you because I don’t think you can save the College.  What’s done is done.

(pause – long pause)

I loved Sweet Briar.

This is the kind of call I dread.  My heart sinks.  I ask, “What did you love about Sweet Briar?”

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

Everything really.  I loved the grounds.  I loved the professors.  I loved the leadership.  It was everything I hoped it would be and more.

I lean in (I was curious about the “…and more”) adding “I share your love of Sweet Briar.  I loved everything you loved about Sweet Briar….which is why I am working to save it as I am sure you have guessed.”

Well, my children went to co-ed schools and they turned out just fine and none of them chose Sweet Briar.

“I understand.  I have two sons and they aren’t eligible to attend Sweet Briar, but if I had daughters I would certainly encourage them to apply, visit and enroll if accepted.  I currently work with a number of national companies who are eager for women leaders, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math fields.”

So you are supporting the College even if your own sons can’t attend?  Why?

“Well, because I feel a sense of duty to protect the College that has given me so much.  I also see issues that are important beyond Sweet Briar. Iwork in fundraising and I feel very strongly that donor’s wishes should be honored.”  I then added, “I am deeply concerned that the President and Board would take actions to close the College without first working with faculty, alumnae and others.”

Well, I agree that donor’s gifts should not be used in ways they didn’t want and it is a good thing that there are people like you who want to defend them.  I hadn’t heard much about people working to reverse the decision.

Laying daisies for the Fletcher family.  Indiana Fletcher Williams established Sweet Briar College as a perpetual memorial to her daughter.
Laying daisies for the Fletcher family. Indiana Fletcher Williams established Sweet Briar College as a perpetual memorial to her daughter.

“It isn’t just donors who need defending.  The Founder of the College, Indiana Fletcher Williams, needs the protection of the Courts so that her will is honored and the College can continue to be the perpetual memorial she intended.  The County Attorney is working very hard to protect donor’s intent as well as honoring the founder’s wishes.”

I hadn’t thought about that.  That’s awful.  I have a will and I certainly hope it is honored one day.

“I hope that day is a long time from now.  Yes, it is important that wills are respected.”

But who is going to teach?  Who is going to attend?  The College can’t survive on giving.

“You are exactly right,” I added, “The College cannot survive on giving alone.  Enrollment is an important source of revenue.  There are many excellent ideas for boosting enrollment and retention provided by faculty and industry experts.  We also have students who wish to return and alumnae who paid their deposits so that they would not lose those funds when they did return.”

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!

Really?  I hadn’t heard there were students who would return.

“Yes,” I urged, “There are students who wish to return and faculty who wish to stay.”

Oh, those poor faculty.  How horrible for them.

“I agree, the faculty were blindsided by this decision and have expressed their discontent through the American Association of University Professors and they have filed suit.  The faculty want to stay!  I can send you some information if you’d care to read more.”

That’s okay, I need to go to my bridge club soon, but you’ve got me thinking.

Thinking the call was over, I added, “I respect that fact that some people have accepted this decision.  I don’t want to take any more of your time.”

Well, my dear, I had accepted the decision, but I can also see that there are people who see something different than I do. Don’t let me stop you from doing your work.  I shouldn’t get in the way and I don’t think anyone else should get in your way.


I’ll tell you what, if the case is successful, you give me a call back, okay?

I smiled and replied, “Absolutely, and would you allow me to continue to keep you updated along the way?”

Sure.  No one from the College has contacted me in a long time.  I would like that very much.

(long pause as I wait for her to say good bye)

You know, don’t get discouraged.  I think it is amazing that these young people like you are working so hard.  Perhaps there is a future… Keep up the good work.  Bye, bye now.

And so it goes.  If we can raise $16+ million in a few months from only those who are HOPING for the future, just imagine what we can do when that future is certain.

As I move on to Call #4,  I am channeling my inner Martha Clement (as I am sure Sarah Clement is doing as well, Chair of the Saving Sweet Briar Board).

Martha Clement, my first boss in Development at Sweet Briar College.  Mother of Sarah Clement, Chair of the Saving Sweet Briar Board.
Martha Mansfield Clement

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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