Category Archives: Fundraising

Lessons learned from a phoenix and a vixen: Examining the attempted closure of Wilson College and Sweet Briar College

Fox in flames (credit: Fur Nation)

I am currently in graduate school pursuing a Masters in Business with Nonprofit Management concentration.  This semester, I am taking Organizational Theory and Nonprofit Management.  Each course required me to prepare an annotated bibliography and an individual paper.  With my instructor’s permission, I chose Sweet Briar College, my alma mater, as my focus (normally, you cannot pursue the same research subject in different courses).

My first assignment came in the Organizational Theory course.  We were to take a case study covered in an academic journal and use it as a basis for our individual paper.   This seemed daunting at first.  However, as I began my research, I found many case studies with similarities to Sweet Briar College.  The attempted closure of Wilson College has startling similarities to the attempted closure of Sweet Briar College.  The annotated bibliography provides a “deep dive” in issues facing higher education and the lessons available to learn from Wilson College.  You may find a link below.

Annotated Bibliography:  Phoenix rose emerges from the briar fire (annotated bibliography comparing Wilson College’s attempted closure to Sweet Briar College).

Research Paper:  Lessons learned from a phoenix and a vixen.

fox and flames

As the paper came together, the title changed and some sources fell away in favor of others.  The lessons learned from the attempted closure of Wilson College are relevant for many colleges.  The abstract follows:

Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, whose mascot is the phoenix, survived a closure attempt in the 1980s. Sweet Briar College, in Amherst, Virginia, whose mascot is a vixen (fox), faced attempted closure in 2015 and was saved by its stakeholders six months later. This paper explores case studies and articles reporting on Wilson College and Sweet Briar College.  Other articles elaborate on trends faced by the Colleges and the broader sector of higher education.  Reviewing these colleges provides valuable lessons on challenges facing higher education, particularly for private, single-sex institutions.  The case for this research is Wilson College with comparisons to Sweet Briar College. Both colleges are small women’s colleges with enrollment under 1,000.

Keywords: Sweet Briar College, Wilson College, stakeholders, shared governance, students, faculty, staff, exempt staff, non-exempt staff, alumni, alumnae, minority, president, board.

 

 

 

 

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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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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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“Cow Money Challenge”…Putting the FUN in FUNdraising while Saving Sweet Briar

Cow Money Challenge?  That's $1642.03 for a bred heifer in 2012.
Cow Money Challenge? That’s $1642.03 for a bred heifer in 2012.

This is a post about fundraising.  And a post about cows.  I never knew the two went together until the Saving Sweet Briar movement.

Allow me to explain.

In the hours after the announcement of closure by the President and Board of Sweet Briar College, students, faculty, staff, alumnae and the community were reeling.   A range of emotions greeted this news from shock to resignation to sadness to anger to passion to advocacy.  Those who saw a future got to work. One brave alumna, Sarah Clement, a former board member, sparked a movement to save the College.  Saving Sweet Briar  was born.

Sarah gathered together other committed alumnae and formed a Board.  I have written about their efforts in several others posts. This post is about fundraising.  And cows.  Because they go together in this case.

In the early days of Saving Sweet Briar – before a website home was established – Facebook and email provided the fertile soil for the germination and later growth of many powerful ideas.

Fundraising in all forms began.  Direct contributions as of this writing surpass $1 million with multi-year commitments over $11 million.

At first these efforts were like the “Wild West” and not tied together; however, leaders emerged and lassoed the organized women and friends of Sweet Briar into groups — some classic to successful fundraising and some not.

Major Gifts Committee

I sit on the Major Donor Task Force, a group of professional fundraisers and volunteers with experience.   Beth Ann Trappold Newton recruited me. This is the logical place for me to volunteer since I got my fundraising start at Sweet Briar as a student in 1984 and later after my reunion in 1993 (and Beth Ann helped me get my first job after leaving campus – in fact I took the job she left to have her first baby).  Having helped raise $13M of the $25M campaign at the time, I cannot sit back and watch the President and Board try to spend down endowment given by people I remember and some I still know!  The Major Donor Task Force  reaches out personally to those who have been very generous to Sweet Briar over the years.  We are organized into regional groups and are led by a volunteer, Mary Pope Hutson, and now pro-bono fundraising consulting through Alexander Haas.  Through weekly conference calls and many emails inbetween, we coordinate our efforts.  The response is inspiring.

Class Representatives, Regional Representatives, State Representatives

I had the pleasure of meeting with Evangeline Taylor, a dedicated Sweet Briar alumna, who provides encouragement and support to hundreds of volunteers.

Class representatives provide regular updates to class leaders which they in turn send to their class.

State representatives have reached out personally by phone, email and personal letters to those in their state.

Some, like my classmate, Katie Keogh Widener, do both!

Challenges

Back to the Cow Challenge…..  It began in the Bedford County Courthouse.  Those of us who could not be in Bedford followed a series of journalists.  Hawes Spencer captured not only the flow of testimony, but his acerbic humor gave those of us working to save Sweet Briar some of the best laughter we had enjoyed in many weeks.

Up until this moment, I didn’t know what “cow money” was.

So what is “cow money” and what is a “Cow Money Challenge”?  I asked and got this answer:  Susan Finn Adams wrote to me, “Sarah ‘ s uncle was a cattle farmer. He left the farm to her family, they later sold it and split the proceeds. Proceeds = “Cow money”.  “Cow Money” is the most precious money you have.  You don’t spend it unless you REALLY need it.

How do you turn “cow money” into gold?  Make it into a challenge of course!  I told you this blog post was inspired by Cows:

Cow Money Challenge:  Sarah reached into her "cow money", now reach into YOURS!
Cow Money Challenge: Sarah reached into her “cow money”, now reach into YOURS!

Brooke Linville created the “Cow Challenge” with the following post:

Our fearless woman Sarah P. Clement told the court that had she known the condition of the college, she would have reached into her COW MONEY to help. So how much is cow money, we wondered…

As it turns out it is $1642.03 for a bred heifer in 2012. I am sure some of our awesome rancher vixens can help us out if this number is wrong. Anyhow, this is our FUNDRAISING GOAL tonight. We are going to raise us some COW MONEY!

savingsweetbriar.com/donations

Kentucky Derby Challenge
Kentucky Derby Challenge

Before the Cow Challenge, there was the “Latte Challenge”.   Hundreds posted photos of themselves holding a cup of coffee (while providing a challenge to Saving Sweet Briar).  This past weekend, there was a challenge around the Kentucky Derby.

Events.  From Washington DC to San Francisco to around the world, events helped alumnae and friends connect and raise needed funds.  At one event in Atlanta, pledges totaling over $600K have matched an initial challenge by Teresa Tomlinson, Sweet Briar alumna and Mayor of Columbus, Georgia.

Shopping for Sweet Briar

Meanwhile, back on the web, fundraisers of all kinds continued to grow.  When the going get’s rough….

lets shop

Clothing.  Sweet Briar Alumnae Goods features something for every corner of your home.  Virtually anyone with a shingle and a heart can make a contribution.  Examples include:  Coffee Table Book, Decals, Luggage, baby clothes, ring dishes, prayer beads, men’s ties….

Goods of all kinds to #saveSweetBriar
Goods of all kinds to #saveSweetBriar
Baby clothes and fashion galore!
Baby clothes and fashion galore!

Home and Garden.   Everything you might need for home, garden and College:  Yard flags, cookbooks,

Everything for home and garden and College....
Everything for home and garden and College….
Wine plugs, ornaments, key chains...
Wine plugs, ornaments, key chains…
Stelladot jewelry - a favorite.
Stelladot jewelry – a favorite.

They Sell That?  Some of the more unusual offerings included “Jamberry” press-on fingernail polish, Tattoos and even bull riding competitions,

Bull riding?  This alumna offers a 50:50 raffle at her husband's bull riding competition!
Bull riding? This alumna offers a 50:50 raffle at her husband’s bull riding competition!
Tattoo fundraiser.  Yep, we had that too.  Who says SBC is all pink, green and pearls?
Tattoo fundraiser. Yep, we had that too. Who says SBC is all pink, green and pearls?
"Sometimes you have to put on some pink and green and crush it! Rise Up Climbing will changing their colors from black and red to host a pink and green climb night." (Raleigh Durham Club)
“Sometimes you have to put on some pink and green and crush it! Rise Up Climbing will changing their colors from black and red to host a pink and green climb night.” (Raleigh Durham Club)
Sports fundraisers - many SBC field hockey and lacrosse players returned to campus.
Sports fundraisers – many SBC field hockey and lacrosse players returned to campus.
Bumper stickers, decals, anything to share our #saveSweetBriar spirit.
Bumper stickers, decals, anything to share our #saveSweetBriar spirit (Margaret Fisher).
Vixen vodka - the perfect compliment to fundraising....
Vixen vodka – the perfect compliment to fundraising….

As of this writing, alumnae gave the equivalent of multiple cows.  One alumna, Christina Savage Lytle, joked, “Now we are going to need to raise enough for a barn…”

There is no category for this... it just made me giggle.
There is no category for this… it just made me giggle.

What we have here is a recipe for fundraising success.  We have a recipe for institutional success.  HUNDREDS of volunteers divided thoughtfully into groups by expertise and passion are working hourly, daily, weekly and constantly for Saving Sweet Briar.

This is the most fun I’ve had fundraising in a very long time.  The last time I had this much fun was when I was Reunion Gift Chair for my 25th Reunion.  Before that, calling as a Freshman in 1984 when I literally “dialed for dollars’ (and treats).

This is all without formal records or professional staff.  Imagine what could be done for the future?

Care to help?  Check out Saving Sweet Briar and Sweet Briar Alumnae Goods

P.S.  For a post about “cow money” I would be remiss if I didn’t add a parting comment by an amazing woman (whose name I did not catch) who served in the Marine after Sweet Briar.  On the call with the “President”, Missy Witherow, Interim VP of Development, and Sandra Taylor, member of the Board and President of the Alumnae Association, she said,

We have a term for this kind of behavior in the Marines.  It’s called BULL.  I throw down the “bullsh*t flag” on this behavior leading to this decision.

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.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
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Where is a General (Attorney General in this case) when you need them?

There are a few more men joining the President on top of the "no stone left unturned"....
There are a few more men joining the President on top of the “no stone left unturned”….

Update:  When this post was originally written, I was working hard to save my alma mater, Sweet Briar College.  While I did not like Mark Herring’s initial reaction to the former board’s decision to close the College, I would like to thank him for, ultimately, assisting Sweet Briar.  Furthermore, my opinion on Mr. Herring was narrowly focused on this one issue.  When I consider what I care about – women’s issues, the environment, health care access, education, and more — Mark Herring would be my favored candidate for office.   Now, onto the original post….

As many know by now, I am passionately fighting the closure of my beloved College, Sweet Briar, by the President and the Board.  I have written about my thoughts on the lack of governance.  This post will focus on the curious and shocking lack of leadership by the Virginia attorney general, Mark Herring (you can find his contact form here), contrasted to the swift action of the County Attorney, Ellen Bowyer.  I also share another example of leadership by the New York attorney general intervening in the Cooper Union College.

In the early days of the Sweet Briar College closure announcement, the Virginia attorney general remained strangely silent on the matter of the announced closure.  The President and Board referenced meetings with Mark Herring, Virginia’s attorney general, to “unwind” College operations and unrestricted the endowment for the purpose of closing.  This stunned me.  There was no leadership by the Virginia Attorney General with respect to an investigation into the closure — which would seem a logical first step (well before any closure announcement, but certainly upon learning of one).

State attorneys general oversee nonprofits both because they’re generally exempt from state taxes and because they represent the interests of donors who may lack the means to enforce the terms of their gifts or, once they’re dead, the capacity. (Since such institutions are also exempt from federal taxes, the Internal Revenue Service is charged with ensuring that organizations adhere to their tax-exempt purposes.)  Credit:  Michael Appleton for The New York Times

The County Attorney of Amherst, Ellen Bowyer, has boldly taken action on behalf of donors and to request an injunction.  Her suit charges that:

Closure would violate the terms of the will under which the school was founded and that charitable funds have been misused in violation of state law. (Susan Sverlunga, Washington Post).

Mark Herring, by contrast, evidently is HELPING the leadership of Sweet Briar College to release restrictions on donor’s contributions given over the years.  As a fundraiser, I find this terribly concerning.  I’ve written about the topic of protecting donor intent here.

Virginia Senators have written to the attorney general to express concern and to ask that he take action to protect the rights of donors and the substantial campus.

On Wednesday, Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, asked Herring to issue a legal opinion on what must be done with money and other gifts that have been given to the college, including its substantial campus. He also asked Herring to clarify the obligations of Sweet Briar’s board of directors.

“It seems to me if their duty is to try to fulfill the mission of the school, they ought to be making some effort to keep it open or at least look at the option of keeping it open,” Petersen said. (Alicia Petraska, Lynchburg News and Advance)

Cooper Union College in New York is under scrutiny by the New York attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman.  It provides a contrast in leadership and action:

In what should be a ringing alarm for nonprofit boards across the country long accustomed to minimal scrutiny or accountability, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York has signaled that the laissez-faire approach to nonprofit governance is over. (James Stewart, New York Times)

By contrast, Mark Herring of Virginia sees his role as meeting with College officials to violate donor intent.  How can he think he is doing his job?  One would think he would have more Virginia citizens wanting him to advocate for the College and to examine any possible mismanagement of funds.  The Washington Post reported,

Herring essentially argues that in such a situation, with a charitable institution (the college, a nonprofit established in a bequest from an estate) disbanding, the state attorney general has been granted authority by the General Assembly to determine what is necessary to protect the public interest. (Susan Sverluga, Washington Post).

Back in New York, Eric Schneiderman boldly stepped in BEFORE Cooper Union College faced financial ruin.   The New York Times reported:

Apart from the impact on Cooper Union itself, what’s striking about Mr. Schneiderman’s investigation is that his office is intervening before its financial problems ruin the school. Cooper Union’s endowment stood at $735 million at the end of its most recent fiscal year and, despite its financial woes, it is in no imminent danger of failing.

“It’s easy to forget, but New York’s charities, collectively, are a big and important part of our state’s economy, and I consider it my responsibility to promote and protect the nonprofit sector,” Mr. Schneiderman told me this week. “In part, we do that by aggressively investigating and prosecuting fraud. But we work just as hard to prevent mismanagement before it starts and, whenever possible, get troubled charities back on track.”

It would be appropriate for the Virginia Attorney General to aggressively review the President and Board of Sweet Briar College.  He might consider how the President was elected; whether the Board truly took all measures possible before resorting to closure; whether the financial records accurately state the condition of the College.  He might consult neutral experts such as the accounting firm which audited the Colleges’ financial statements most recently or the accrediting body of the College which granted accreditation for another 10 years in 2011.

By contrast, in New York, their attorney general takes action before “disaster strikes”:

The Cooper Union investigation fits into the New York attorney general’s office’s broader strategy to get ahead of potential crises by “stress testing” nonprofits that show signs of potential trouble, such as large operating deficits and excessive spending rates on endowments, said James Sheehan, the chief of the office’s charities bureau. “Once an organization is in trouble, donors don’t want to give money and people don’t want to join the board,” he said. “We want people to anticipate these issues before they become disasters.”

Such disasters have befallen the New York City Opera and Long Island College Hospital, two major New York institutions that collapsed in financial disarray in recent years, and the Crystal Cathedral in California, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010 after accusations that its board had imprudently borrowed against the endowment.

Unfortunately, Virginia did not have any “stress testing”.  Perhaps it was a matter of staffing or a view of role.  However, wouldn’t it be safe to request that the Virginia attorney general take efforts to investigate these types of important matters?  Minimally, might he not stand in the way of his own County Attorney who filed suit against the wrongful closure?

The President and Board of Sweet Briar College are now being held accountable by the people they did not inform or allow to help:  students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the wider community — the majority citizens of Virginia.  Might he not consider the thousands of people begging for at least a proper process within the legal system?

Whatever the outcome at Cooper Union, Mr. Schneiderman deserves credit for putting nonprofit boards on notice that they’ll be held accountable, said Jack B. Siegel, author of a widely used guide for nonprofit directors, whose subtitle is “Avoiding Trouble While Doing Good.” “More states should emulate New York,” Mr. Siegel said.

This is no small matter, given that nonprofits accounted for 9.2 percent of all wages and salaries in the United States and 5.3 percent of gross domestic product in 2010, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. Given the many illustrious universities, hospitals, museums, orchestras, theaters and other arts organizations, nonprofits play an outsize role in the nation’s culture. But they have traditionally received little scrutiny until a scandal erupts or they’re on the brink of collapse.

Indeed, more states should emulate New York.  Virginia should take a lead and PROTECT Sweet Briar College, its employees, its students and its donors from the reckless leadership of the current President and Board.  Sweet Briar College employs hundreds of faculty and staff.  Hundreds of students call it home.  Millions in the endowment needs to be protected — not raided.  Finally, the donor’s will should be honored.  The one person in the state who should be advocating for the will of the founder has turned his back.  This is very sad.

Thankfully, we have a leader in Ellen Bowyer who took swift action.

“Time is of the essence,” the suit, filed on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia by the county attorney, Ellen Bowyer claims, as college officials appear to be rapidly moving to sell assets, destroy documents and “obliterate contractual relationships governing tenancies and endowments.” (Susan Sverluga, Washington Post)

Meanwhile, Saving Sweet Briar, Inc., along with thousands of alumnae, hundreds of students and parents, community members, the citizens of Virginia and people across the country are doing all they can — primarily through donations and grassroots efforts to raise awareness.   Please share your comments below and, should you be moved to give, make a commitment here.

To share your comments with Mark Herring, Virginia Attorney General, you can use this contact form.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Philanthropy

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

I

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

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

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

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

V
To receive appropriate acknowledgement
and recognition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endowment 

Webster defines endowment as:

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

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

: a person’s natural ability or talent

Endowment:  Unrestricted and Restricted Gifts

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

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

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

Endowment Spending

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

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

Endowment Raiding

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

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

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

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

Pledge Forms, Memorandum of Understanding, Gift Contracts

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

Donor Bill of Rights Violated

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

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

III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Buffet Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Large Corporation or Foundation will help us….

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

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

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

Bystander Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.facebook.com/Sweetbriaralumnaegoods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

 

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

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

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

“Nonprofit Malfeasance”

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

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

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

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

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

Governance – Who Represents the Stakeholders?

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

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

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

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

Lack of Shared Governance at Sweet Briar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome your feedback and thoughts below.

Questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, #saveSweetBriar.

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

 

 

 

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