Category Archives: Sweet Briar College

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the letter to the AAUP

Dear Mr. Jones,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We tried….”

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

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

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

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

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

DEFINITION of ‘Sunshine Laws’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Why not release the meeting minutes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis by the Roanoke Times.

WSET News Story with Explanation

Legal Analysis from Virginia-Appeals.com

Daisy and Indiana still rest in peace….

Marker for Daisy Williams, in whose memory Sweet Briar College was founded as a PERPETUAL memorial.
Marker for Daisy Williams, in whose memory Sweet Briar College was founded as a PERPETUAL memorial.
A stone laying atop Indiana Fletcher Williams grave, "Believe" sits next to Daisy's resting place.
A stone laying atop Indiana Fletcher Williams grave, “Believe” sits next to Daisy’s resting place.
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Sweet Briar College Reunion 2015: Girls Quit…Women Fight (with words from President Emily Watts McVea in 1928)

In 1928 at the Founder’s Day Exercises of Sweet Briar College, President Emily Watts McVea wrote prayers for the occasion:

O God, lift my soul to your mountaintops and grant that from their summits my eyes may see the true vision and purpose in my life.

86 years later, President McVea’s words were repurposed for a very different kind of service.  On Saturday of reunion weekend, 2015, Sweet Briar College was doing the very opposite of what President McVea intended by her prayers.   I am pretty sure she would not appreciate her words being used in a service intended as the College’s last.  In tribute to her, I honor her words and others from the 2015 Service of Remembrance  along with my own reflections on reunion….

On Monument Hill, the highest spot on Sweet Briar’s 3,000 acres, alumnae sat and stood in a somber circle around the Fletcher family plot for a Service of Remembrance — intended to be the final service at Sweet Briar College.   Alumnae mourning their College co-mingled with those fighting for its future.  Each heard a different message.  Those quitting heard words of ending, closure and death..  Those fighting heard words of hope, continuance and resurrection..

O God, the source of strength, you are my strength.  In you I find power for the real work of my life.  No difficulties can overwhelm me, no task can frighten me, for I know that abiding in your, as my days are, so shall my strength be.

Attending a reunion is always a special time.   Returning to a special place of any kind brings about a sense of anticipation.  For graduates of Sweet Briar College, reunion is like coming home.

Turning off the driveway from Route 29, a long tree-lined driveway winds its way towards campus.  Bright pink and green signs welcoming alumnae lined the route.  “Welcome Alumnae”, “We’ve Been Waiting for You”.  Within hours, banners of protest were hung across campus including the entrance sign adding meaningful words…

Driving onto campus the signs read "Welcome Alumnae" and another "We've been waiting for you..."
Driving onto campus the signs read “Welcome Alumnae” and another “We’ve been waiting for you…”

This reunion promised to be an epic one.  On March 3, the President and Board announcing their intention to close the College declaring the 2015 commencement would be its last and that reunion would be perhaps the final one as well.  Since then, Sweet Briar has divided itself — emotionally, legally, physicially — between those who wish to quit and those who are fighting closure.

"Girls Quit, Women Fight" banner hung outside Benedict Hall at Sweet Briar College, the night of what the College declared "it's final reunion".
“Girls Quit, Women Fight” banner hung outside Benedict Hall at Sweet Briar College, the night of what the College declared “it’s final reunion”.

While some people heard the news and quietly accepted it – quitting. Others immediately organized – fighting.

Some came to campus with a sense of resignation.  You could tell these people throughout the weekend.  They walked through as if they were seeing something for the last time.  Their hands paused on banisters touched many times.  They took photos with familiar landmarks, sometimes shaking their head or shedding a tear.  When I found myself in conversations with them, they used phrases like “it’s sad”, “inevitable…”; “too bad…”

O God, you Infinite Calm, let me rest in your peace.  Quiet the anxieties of my life; hush the agitation of my heart; still the busy flutter of unnecessary and futile activity.  In calm strength, let me pursue my daily work resting on your sure promise.  Lead me beside still waters of peace through green valleys of love and hope.

Others came to campus as fighters.  They, too, took in their campus in a different way.  These fighters; however, did not approach each set of friends or venues as a “last time” or a goodbye.  Rather, they savored campus protectively and thoroughly.  You could see them gaze over a familiar landscape with a sense of purpose.  Some chose not to come to campus at all because they didn’t wish to put a single penny into the accounts of those not committed to the future.

Taking in campus with the future in mind.
Taking in campus with the future in mind.

O Almighty God, source of knowledge, lover of wisdom, we ask your blessing this day on the community, past and present, of Sweet Briar College.  Grant to us earned purpose, the strength to persevere, and a steadfast faith in the value of human life.  We realize that we are all scholars and learners together, searching diligently for truth.

The division in the 2015 Reunion for Sweet Briar is one I hope we will never repeat.  While some attended events on campus, others gathered off campus.  The majority of my class attended off-campus events which were forward-looking and hopeful.

My Class of 1988, normally very active had just two people for the opening events.  During the picnic, I had the unsettling experience of meeting several people resigned to closure of the College including the sister-in-law of the current President who said she is taking “no position”.   Thankfully, my classmates were all actively working for the future.

The few and proud members of the Class of 1988 at the opening picnic.
The few and proud members of the Class of 1988 at the opening picnic.

May we rejoice in our opportunities to play, in our friendships, and in all the joys experienced….

Class of 1988 classmates - one all the way from Singapore -- attended the alternative event.
Class of 1988 classmates – one all the way from Singapore — attended the alternative event.

Yes, this would be a reunion like no other…

The place that felt the most home-like reunion weekend was faculty row.  The Whitcombs, Claudia Chang – homes I visited as a student were open and united with determination for Sweet Briar.

Saturday morning my husband and I visited downtown Lynchburg, a thriving Farmer’s Market unfolded along several blocks.  Unique food trucks from cider donuts to fish tacos to bagels and fresh juice lined Main Street.  We found a delicious latte and breakfast sandwich at the White Tavern.  Lynchburg teemed with life:  Children, college-age groups, senior citizens.  Pianos donated by community members were tucked into storefronts decorated with whimsical and meaningful designs.  I watched a woman play a beautiful Bach piece while her son nodded slowly, transfixed.  It was only after enjoying the music for several minutes that I realized the piano was designed by a Sweet Briar College student.

Above all, grant us through our work and all our experience to understand more clearly your beauty, your harmony, and your truth.

This is a marvelous College town.  Randolph College, Lynchburg College, Liberty University and Sweet Briar College compliment strong businesses and a vibrant arts scene.  Everywhere we went there were references to Sweet Briar from signs in windows of support to business cards to fellow alumnae walking through town.

Leaving Lynchburg, we drove the business route back to campus along the road I remembered.  The towns of Madison Heights, Monroe and Amherst are clearly stronger than when I attended College from 1984-1988.  National chains mixed with family-owned business of all kinds unfolded along Route 29.  Even small florist shops were built with Georgian architecture.  This is Virginia charm at its best.

Before returning to campus, I met up with a group I had only previously known by phone and email (daily!) – the Major Gift Task Force members.  We planned to meet up at one of the alternative events.  It turned out to be at a lovely vineyard, Rebec, founded by the father of long-time dance faculty at Sweet Briar, Ella Magruder.   While hundreds of alumnae flowed into the event, our group met each other (many for the first time only knowing each other previously through phone calls) and discussed the importance of this weekend for a final push for giving. We were blessed by Ella Magruder stopping by to tell us how much she and the faculty appreciate the group’s efforts.

The saving Sweet Briar Major Gift Task Force meets for the first time in person.
The saving Sweet Briar Major Gift Task Force meets for the first time in person.

Endure us with abounding enthusiasm for real greatness, respect for the valuable accomplishments of the past, and a never failing belief in the possibilities of human attainment.

Back on campus, it was time for the hike to Monument Hill.  The skies were clear with temperatures climbing into the 90s.  We hiked ahead of the crowd in order to look back.

Video: Bagpiper leads walkers to Monument Hill.

From the beauty of this campus may we learn to love and understand beauty everywhere.

Once on Monument Hill, it was back to the surreal dichotomy of quitters and fighters.  It began with an invocation, “For what may be the last time together….” My husband leaned over to me and whispered, “Is this a funeral???” “NO!”, I whispered.

Endure us with abounding enthusiasm for real greatness, respect for the valuable accomplishments of the past, and a never failing belief in the possibilities of human attainment.

It was a very nice service.  It was very polite.  It was very “Sweet Briar”.  No.  One.  Said.  A. Thing.  I couldn’t help myself.  As the Chaplain (who isn’t a Chaplain since the College hasn’t funded a Chaplain for quiet a while and we have a very kind local Pastor helping) said his final “Amen”,I must admit I did YELL, “SAVE SWEET BRIAR” to which the majority of the crowd responded with a cheer :).

It felt good to cheer and voice our intention at a “pep rally” of sorts.  At 8:15pm, while the sun was setting, alumnae came from both ends of campus for a group photo.  We sang the “Holla, holla” cheer and we shouted, “WE WILL SAVE SWEET BRIAR!” Having been on Monument Hill that day and seeing Daisy’s arm uplifted, it occurred to me that it would be a meaningful tribute to lift our arms like she does.  After all, we ARE the perpetual memorial of Daisy that Indiana Fletcher Williams intended.

Click here to view the video of our salute to Daisy.

Even the official events divided those who were on campus.  One event was held in the Field House, the other in the conference center.  Between the two, those who are working to save Sweet Briar met in the quad for a photo together.  Later, Claudia Chang, a beloved Anthropology professor (and leader of the faculty suit) hosted a party until the wee hours of the morning.

Endure us with abounding enthusiasm for real greatness, respect for the valuable accomplishments of the past, and a never failing belief in the possibilities of human attainment.

I know I will never be a quitter for Sweet Briar.  I will fight to the end alongside women from many generations united to save a place we love.

Above all, grant us through our work and all our experiences to understand more clearly your beauty, your harmony, and your truth.

As alumnae leave Sweet Briar College this weekend, in just a few days they face two important moments.  Important legal challenges will be in court, including the Virginia Supreme Court.

President McVea’s words are a comfort in these times:

Winds of God, blow through my soul with healing and invigorating power.  Enliven my desire for righteousness; cleanse me from self-seeking, from moodiness, from indifference.

Winds of God, bear my soul on the quiet breezes of the morning, or on the wings of the hurricane.  In the calm of the storm, may I find You, the Star of my soul.

Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Supremely Philanthropic Person,

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

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

How would you like to save a College?

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

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

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

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

WHO are you saving?  

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

WHAT are you saving?

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

WHEN?

WHERE?

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

WHY?

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

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

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

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

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

PLEASE consider this request.  PLEASE save Sweet Briar College!

Very sincerely (and with strong desperation),

Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988

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

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

 

 

 

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In Front of the Camera saving Sweet Briar: Footage from the Cutting Room Floor….

Jeff Goldberg of WJLA ABC7 (DC) interviews Christine Bump and Stacey Sickels Locke
Jeff Goldberg of WJLA ABC7 (DC) interviews Christine Bump and Stacey Sickels Locke

Normally I use my blog, social media or just about any conversation I am in lately to share about Sweet Briar College and the amazing fight to save it. Tonight I am supposed to be on television.  More precisely, on the news.  WJLA 7 in the DC Metro area will air Part II on Sweet Briar and the efforts to save the College.  You can see Part I here.

Link to WJLA ABC7 which will also stream live:  http://www.wjla.com/video/2015/05/closing-of-sweet-briar-college.html

My fellow interviewee, Christine Bump, invited me to participate.  Christine is amazing.   The effort to save Sweet Briar is blessed to have people like Christine.  In Christine we have legal expertise, passion for Sweet Briar and a gifted writer.  Most of the communication distributed to thousands of alumnae began from her pen.

These types of interviews and opportunities do not come about by accident.  A team of dedicated volunteers working to save Sweet Briar reaches out constantly to news media to share the “savers” side of the story.  In the early days of the announcement, the “closers” story seemed to prevail.  Thankfully, the tide is turning.  In this story the reported WANTED to hear about the efforts.  We hope we did them justice.

The “interview” was actually a conversation with the reporter, Jeff Goldberg.   There is nothing like a television camera trained in one’s direction to clarify one’s thoughts (or leave a gaping hole where thoughts once were :)!!)  It was so much better to do the interviews together.   Jeff told us that the story would be three minutes — a very generous and lengthy story in news land — so that meant much would be clipped.

I thought I would share today some of the things that may make it into the story and some that are likely on the cutting room floor.  I’ve also added some information learned since the interviews.  I’ll share them in the form of the questions Jeff asked:

What do you think is going on here?

Christine pointed out this could be a “land grab“.  James Jones, “President” of Sweet Briar College, is recorded as saying in a faculty meeting that he had received “Many proposals” for the College.  The question is whether there are ties to board members from the entities expressing interest.  There is evidence that Sweet Briar approached Hollins University two years ago regarding possible closure.  Everett Stern, private investigator, who hosted a press conference at Sweet Briar recently, found evidence of fraud and possible land interests.

View of campus from Monument Hill.  Sweet Briar has over 3,000 acres.  Are there plans for the land already?
View of campus from Monument Hill. Sweet Briar has over 3,000 acres. Are there plans for the land already?

Financial benefit.   The stated plan is to provide severance packages to employees.  As much as I respect the faculty and staff at Sweet Briar, I would rather have them keep their jobs than to use endowment funds to pay severance packages.  Usually employees of Colleges receive a small percentage of their salary each year towards their retirement.  Those with the largest salaries would gain the most from the severance payment plan.  Furthermore, using the endowment to close the College is against every law designed to protect donor gift intent.

Board Governance.   There is a total lack of communication measured by the shock from students, parents, faculty, staff, community members and elected officials.  The Board refuses to share its documents leading to its decision to close.  The President has conflicted himself numerous times.  Statements made about the financial need continue to change.  I have worked for a school facing possible closure and they were honest with alumnae asking the questions, “What would you do if the school were in peril?” And, “What would a world be like without the school?”  There are ways to ask these tough questions and Sweet Briar did not.  It is misleading to pursue alternatives like a merger with another College when simultaneously recruiting students and accepting donations.  Based on documents now public, it would seem that the functioning of this Board is cause for concern.

Misuse of charitable funds.  Funds given by generous donors over the years should not be used to close the College.  I worked for the College in the 1990s during their Great Expectations Campaign and raised $13 million of a $25 million effort.  I still remember those donors and I feel strongly about fighting for their interests – some of whom are no longer with us.

Lack of Leadership.  There is a profound lack of leadership on display since the President and Board announced its intention to close.   The early statements about why the College had to close were embarrassing and should be a lesson to any leader how NOT to speak about higher education, women or diversity in 2015.  The students whose lives were disrupted and especially those who felt blamed (particularly first generation college students and those receiving Pell awards), deserve far better treatment.  Faculty feel their contract with the College was violated.

Why are you working to Save the College?

I shared that Sweet Briar is a home to me.  It was the place I came after four high schools and 14 moves.  I got an excellent education and still have many ties to the College.  I also worked in Development and started my career there.  

Class of 1988 at Step Singing our senior year.
Class of 1988 at Step Singing our senior year.

I am also working to Save the College because the world needs Sweet Briar and its graduates!  Companies need female leaders.  Tech companies with whom I work are desperate for diversity.  Women’s Colleges have a track record for producing women leaders.

It is amazing to see the outcry and volunteerism from students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the community.  I believe we are seeing one of the most effective stakeholder revolts the nonprofit world has ever seen.  Supporting this effort will find those who have worked so hard on the right side of history!

Beyond the Sweet Briar community, there are lessons here for all schools, colleges and nonprofits — lessons that need to be brought to light.  We count on Boards to protect the interests of the organizations we love and support.  There is a collapse here in Board governance.   As donors to charities, we count that our gifts are used as we intend — people should know they have a Donor Bill of Rights.  If the Attorney General allows the College to unravel the endowment, this should cause concern to donors everywhere!  There are other States where their Attorney General’s have protected  donors and intervened when poor governance might be at play. As a mother with a College Freshman, I would feel very misled if my son had been recruited to a College that had an uncertain financial future and an intention to close.  The transfer process has not gone well for students and has left families reeling.

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.

Christine shared that Sweet Briar College, like all women’s colleges, should be an option for the next generation of young women.  It is a niche school, and it is not ideal for everyone, but that does not mean it does not have an important place in the educational landscape.  Its small size, the attention paid by and dedication of all of the professors, and the immense opportunities it provides allow young women to push themselves to the fullest, find their true voice, and forge their own path in the world.  Sweet Briar gave Christine the courage to step out from behind what everyone expected of her and define who she was supposed to be.  Without Sweet Briar, she says she would have continued being who everyone thought she was. The next generation of women deserve that opportunity.  Sweet Briar is the most important place in the world to Christine and she holds a place in her heart behind only my husband and my parents.

What does the future hold?

We are seeing one of the greatest stakeholder movements I believe the nonprofit world has seen.  Sweet Briar can return stronger.  Alumnae are ready for change — even if that change means going co-ed (and I hope people can hold open a piece of their heart for the possibility that my sons could attend one day).  My father was part of the Citadel during its media flurry over its first female applicant.  The media exposure and the increased enrollment leaves it stronger today than it ever was.  I think we could thrive and have lines of students down the driveway.

Christine ended our interview with this poignant message:

We believe that saving the College will be one of its biggest strengths.  Many institutions tout the strength of their alumnae network; what young woman wouldn’t want to attend a college with such a strong network of alumnae that they were actually able to challenge and overtake the status quo and save the school?  Once we do that, however, Sweet Briar has to remain relevant.  Alumnae are working on multiple committees to design what we are calling Sweet Briar 2.0.  We are restructuring the College’s governing documents so that the Board no longer has ultimate authority.  We are making curriculum changes to attract more students and integrate Sweet Briar’s biggest resource — its land — into the curriculum.  There are many ideas being considered and foundations being laid so that we never face another crisis like this again.

Christine is right, who WOULDN’T want to be part of the amazing network that is the family of Sweet Briar College?

Thank you WJLA ABC7 for helping us tell our story….  To thank ABC7 you can tweet “@ABC7News”.  T

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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“Pride, Pomp and Circumstance…of War”

Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988, graduation day.
Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988, graduation day.

All across America, it is graduation season.  “Pomp and Circumstance” by Elgar will be played endlessly as graduates float across the stage.  Usually, this is a time of celebration.  Not at Sweet Briar College.  Elgar’s March in D Major “Pomp and Circumstance” is based on the final line in a Stanza from Shakespeare.   That line has an eerie significance when one considers the current state of Sweet Briar College:

Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!  

– Shakespeare “Othello”, Act 3 (from which Elgar took the title for the famous Graduation March)

On my graduation day in 1988, I arose early and took a walk.  My mother french braided my hair and tucked a sweet briar rose into the sides.  I wore a floral dress, pearls and a pair of heels with VERY pointed toes (very 1980s fashion).

Nenah Fry was President.  Karen Lawson, Class of 1974, was the Distinguished Alumna Awardee.   I knew the Board of Directors members personally, including Michela English who sat on the graduation platform.  I not only trusted them all, my first job came as a result of one board member.  My English professors, Ross Dabney, Ralph Aiken and Karl Tamburr hosted a reception Saturday afternoon.  The Rev. Susan Lehman had a party on Sunday for all who practically lived at her home as students.   My Psychology professors, Susan Beers and David Johnson, had a bar-b-que on Friday afternoon. Graduation was filled with hope for me, my classmates and the College.  Robert Barlow, Dean of Students, and his entire family were part of my family in the four years prior, that weekend and in the years since. The campus was at its peak with flowering trees blooming, carefully cut grass and celebrations planned throughout the weekend.  This was my Sweet Briar.  This was my graduation.

At Sweet Briar College, the Class of 2015 will awake on Saturday morning to a very different future.  The alumnae of Sweet Briar across the country and around the world will awake with a sense of gloom.   It is hard to imagine, but imagine this:

Imagine receiving word just two months ago as a student, faculty, staff, alumna or community member that this is to be “the last commencement”.  The President and Board have voted to close.

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

Imagine seeing bedsheets unfurled from balconies and the belltower with student protests.

Imagine the alumnae mobilizing to fight the closure, hiring legal counsel and filing an official suit against the President and Board Chair.

Imagine learning that the College plans to use donations to close the College.

Imagine being an alumna receiving a letter asking for permission to use your generous contribution (or that of your departed loved one) to close the College.

Imagine your faculty with a 100% vote of no confidence in the President and Board.  Imagine those same faculty receiving termination notices.

Imagine a court hearing in nearby Bedford granting a 60 day injunction forbiding the College from spending endowment to close.

Imagine another attorney offering pro bono representation for students, faculty and staff and being successful in gaining a six-month injunction against closure activities.

Imagine learning that the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, actually sat down with the President and Board Chair to “wind down” the endowment.  To whom do you have to turn?

Imagine your shock learning that the former President and Vice President of Finance had met with Hollins University to discuss a merger several years earlier!  Imagine hearing the President had already received “offers” from interested parties in Sweet Briar.

Imagine the food in Prothro Commons (the dining hall) once so delicious becoming less and less and eventually inedible (to the point where the health department had to be called).

Imagine alumnae around the country hosting fundraisers and rallies against the closure and watching the commitments rise.

Imagine seeing your College in the local, regional and national news.  Articles about closure.  Stories about fraud.

Imagine leaders not affiliated with Sweet Briar alleging fraud and calling upon the FBI to investigate.

Imagine news trucks daily coming to campus exploring stories, allegations and asking for your opinion.

Imagine having to transfer to another College when you wished to stay.

Class of 1988 at Step Singing our senior year.
Class of 1988 at Step Singing our senior year.

Imagine you are a student awaking on the morning of your graduation…

…..Your graduation speaker is party to the suit against the College.

…..Your faculty has asked the President not to attend.

…..Your alumnae are fighting to keep the College alive.

You do not have to imagine.  This reality is unfolding at Sweet Briar College.

Graduation will be lovely.  Pomp and Circumstance will play.  Daisies will be exchanged for roses.  Diplomas will be accepted.  The College song will be sung.  Families will take photos.  Everyone will go home.

Yet, all of this takes place against this surreal scene.  One alumna, Robin Lindsay Frantz, posted this photo:

Robin Lindsay Frantz' creative statement on Commencement 2015
Robin Lindsay Frantz’ creative statement on Commencement 2015

Shakespeare’s original lines from which Elgar took his line for Pomp and Circumstance are fitting.  It is “Pomp, Circumstance and…War”.

My hope is that students years from now will look back on their pictures from the 2015 graduation and know that their education was used for something good.  I hope they look back and remember they were part of the future — and that they fought in this war to save the College.  It may be the most important fight of their education.

I know I will look back on 2015 with no regrets.  I have put my all into saving the College I love.  I do feel I have been at war over the past few months.  The sides have changed. The battles lines drawn.  The legal battles waged, won and lost.

It seems fitting to end with the actual words to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” which actually were not written by Elgar.  Arthur Benson wrote the words later.  His chorus is the section repeated over and over as graduates cross the stage, “Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free, How shall we extol thee, Who are born of thee? Wider still and wider Shall thy bounds be set; God, who made thee mighty, Make thee mightier yet”

It sounds like a song written for Sweet Briar, Indiana Fletcher Williams and the mighty fight that is now waged:

Dear Land of Hope, thy hope is crowned.
God make thee mightier yet!
On Sov’ran brows, beloved, renowned,
Once more thy crown is set.
Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained,
Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained,
By Freedom gained, by Truth maintained,
Thine Empire shall be strong.

Land of Hope and Glory,
Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee,
Who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider
Shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty,
Make thee mightier yet.

Thy fame is ancient as the days,
As Ocean large and wide:
A pride that dares, and heeds not praise,
A stern and silent pride:
Not that false joy that dreams content
With what our sires have won;
The blood a hero sire hath spent
Still nerves a hero son.

— Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925)

 

 

Stacey Sickels Locke receiving her diploma.  May, 1988
Stacey Sickels Locke receiving her diploma. May, 1988

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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What’s in a Seal? Secrets in the Sweet Briar College seal (history worth repeating)

Sweet Briar seal (taken from my graduation diploma).
Sweet Briar seal (taken from my graduation diploma).

I was recently looking for images of Sweet Briar roses and came across the history of the Sweet Briar seal.  History often has lessons to share.  In this case, history may be worth revisiting….

There has been quite an effort for the College to question the standing of the Amherst County Attorney and to treat itself as an island untethered to the local community or its stakeholders.

The seal tells an important — and different —  story.  It seems the College and the County were once important enough that the designer of the seal gave the County the place of highest honor.

The seal was originally designed by Dr. John M. McBryde, the head of the English Department, in 1905.  As an English major, I found this fact comforting.  The Sweet Briar College museum displays one of the first needlepoint renderings of the crest and describes the history of the seal,

The College crest was designed by John M. McBryde, Jr., in 1905. He was a professor of English here 1906-1909 and was the son of one of the College‟s first trustees and president, John M. McBryde, Sr. At the time that he was recruited for the Sweet Briar board, McBryde senior was president of Virginia
Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute—today‟s Virginia Tech. He and his son had recently designed VPI‟s crest and seal. When the Sweet Briar trustees asked McBryde senior to design its crest and seal, he deferred to his son the English professor.* McBryde‟s scheme features elements of Lord Jeffery Amherst‟s crest, to acknowledge the school‟s connection to Amherst County; arrows for Elijah
Fletcher, founder Indiana Fletcher Williams‟s schoolteacher father; Tudor roses appropriate to heraldry and suggestive of the Sweet Briar rose from which the property took its name; and the College motto, “Rosam quae meruit ferat.”

In heraldry, it is customary when two families marry one another to divide the shield in half or quartering.  When quartered, the most important family appears on the right.

Below the three tudor roses, the coat of arms of the Fletcher family and the arms of Lord Amherst are quartered.

 

Amherst County Flag and seal, adopted from Lord Amherst's seal.
Amherst County Flag and seal, adopted from Lord Amherst’s seal.

The arms of Lord Amherst are three tilting spears, gold with silver tops on a red field.  When Dr. McByrd designed the crest, the use of the Amherst crest was deliberate to emphasize the connection to Amherst County.

Sweet Briar College’s land sits in Amherst County and there are generations of families who lived on campus and attended the College.  The Mayor of Amherst filed an amicus brief in support of the County Attorney’s standing in the case against Sweet Briar College.  He spells out numerous financial holdings and relationships.  Given the history and current reality, it seems fitting that the Amherst seal would be in the place of prominence.

The Fletcher arms, which used to hang in Sweet Briar House, were a silver cross on a black field with four bezants each charged with an arrow.

In the Sweet Briar crest, the Fletcher family is represented by the cross from its family crest.  The importance of the family is remembered and significant, but not as significant as the role of Amherst, represented by the arrows, in the upper right of the seal.

Fletcher Family Crest
Fletcher Family Crest

Before we leave an examination of the family crest symbols on the seal, I would like to give credit to one of my readers “Geneology Girl” who pointed out that Coat of Arms were originally granted in England and are technically only for the person to whom they were granted.  She has a point there, of course.  In the case of families using their ancestor’s crests, it stems from both pride and a sense of honoring history.  That is the spirit in which I am sure the Sweet Briar seal is intended.

As referenced from a 1938 publication, the rose is positioned three across.  On the seal, a tudor rose is used.

Heraldic tudor rose.
Heraldic tudor rose.

Three roses stretch across the top of the Sweet Briar seal representing the motto, “She who has earned the rose may bear it.” The motto stems from Lord Nelson’s motto, ” Parmour qui meruit fert” (Let he who is merited take the palm).  The rose symbol and the motto is used to describe the academic environment of Sweet Briar and the beauty of the campus.  This rose is also used as the Fletcher family planted many Sweet Briar roses across its plantation.

One of my readers, Richard McClintock, a Latin Professor (so we will trust him!) of Chapel Hill, writes,  “Sweet Briar’s motto actually says “Let the one [her, although that is not specified] who has earned the rose bear it,” not “she may bear it.” And Lord Nelson’s motto is “Palmam qui meruit ferat.” – “Let the one who has earned the palm [of victory] bear it.” Some old French (for “lover”!) seems to have slipped into the transcription above.”  He also added, “All of you seem to be earning roses right and left nowadays. Keep it up until you may carry palms, too.”

Tudor rose on gold background.
Tudor rose on gold background.

The Tudor roses symbolize Sweet Briar, though not the color of the Sweet Briar rose.  Pink is not thought to be a proper heraldic color.  The roses on the shield are red in a field of gold.

An example of a "rise vine" in heraldry, framing important symbols.
An example of a “rise vine” in heraldry, framing important symbols.

As a background to the shield is a rise vine supported by the College motto.  The colors of the vine, green, gold and brown reflect the early colors used in College marketing materials.

In recent years, the crest and the motto faded to embrace a new brand and image depicted in marketing materials of all kinds.  Replacing the crest and more subtle colors is bright pink and green and the emphasis on a pink Sweet Briar rose.

Marketing materials (no images of the College crest or motto)
Marketing materials (no images of the College crest or motto)
"Think is for Girls" - some would prefer to lose this "motto".
“Think is for Girls” – some would prefer to lose this “motto”.
Sweet Briar seal (taken from my graduation diploma).
Sweet Briar seal (taken from my graduation diploma).

If Sweet Briar is fortunate to live into its future, I would advocate for a return to the traditional crest and motto.  The symbols expressing the ties to Amherst County, honoring the Fletcher family, the dignified colors and the seriousness of the motto are worth revitalizing.

History is worth repeating….

Blanton family crest of my paternal relatives who lived, worked and are buried in Amherst, Virginia.
Blanton family crest of my paternal relatives who lived, worked and are buried in Amherst, Virginia.

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

Sources

Chad Krouse blog on Sweet Briar Seal

 Sweet Briar Museum Checklist

 

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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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by Stacey & Lyn Locke