Tag Archives: Sweet Briar College

Shared Governance: Roses Emerge from the Briars – Stakeholder Engagement after the Attempted Closure and Resurrection of Sweet Briar College

shared governance

This spring my Nonprofit Management course assigned a research project on critical trends facing the nonprofit sector.  There is nothing more critical than governance.  The success of Sweet Briar College surviving a closure attempt by its former board provides ample inspiration for research on governance.

As an elected member of the University of Maryland Senate, I have a new appreciation for shared governance.  I chair the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the University Senate.  As a staff member, I have never been engaged in shared governance until now.  It is quite amazing sitting alongside students (undergraduate, graduate and post-gradate); faculty (tenured and professional track); staff (hourly, professsional and managerial); and ex-officio members from key departments.  This spring, we worked on four new policies for the University including a policy on Nondiscrimination, Sexual Harassment, and Disability.  Our original policy will have to wait until next semester for action, but it is very important (a policy on students who change their name or gender and need consistency with University databases).  Shared governance works extremely well at the University of Maryland and I can see how it would benefit any institution.

I chose to focus my research paper on shared governance as it is a topic very near and dear to many stakeholders of Sweet Briar College.  The attempted closure of Sweet Briar College resulted in multiple law suits seeking to stop the closure.  The mediation brokered by the Virginia Attorney General allowed each party to the suit to appoint three members of the new Sweet Briar College board.  Students, alumnae, faculty and the Commonwealth of Virginia suit (funded by alumnae) were able to appoint new members.  This new board ushers in a new era of governance at Sweet Briar College more inclusive than past boards. The new board of Sweet Briar has expressed a commitment to engaging stakeholders.

This annotated bibliography and research paper focuses on best practices for shared governance examining the key stakeholders responsible for the saving of Sweet Briar College:  Students, faculty, staff, community, and the founder.

My abstract follows:

Higher education is in crisis. In March, 2015, the President and Board of Sweet Briar College, whose symbol is a rose, attempted to close the 100-year-old institution in rural Virginia.  Stakeholders revolted, filed suits and ultimately control of the College was handed to a new board.  The circumstances faced by Sweet Briar are not unique and point to trends in higher education. The suits filed and the saving of Sweet Briar provide examples of engaged stakeholders fighting for their rights.  This paper examines each stakeholder’s role in the attempted closure and examples from other institutions practicing shared governance.  Shared governance can be a path through crisis. References provide trend data on higher education and examples of shared governance at other institutions.  Sources also provide glimpses into the trends of higher education faced by governing boards and stakeholders, including where there are breakdowns in communication and governance. Reference sources highlight stakeholder groups including student, faculty, staff (administrators and support), alumni and the wider community.  Sweet Briar College must reinvent itself and its governance.  Lessons learned from other institutions can be considered for the future. The collective voices represented in shared governance yields more roses than briars.

Annotated Bibliography:   Saving the Rose – Stakeholder Engagement at Sweet briar College

Research Paper:  Roses Emerge from the Briars — Stakeholder Engagement after the Attempted Closure and Resurrection of Sweet Briar College

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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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Saving Sweet Briar: The Bells are Ringing for me and my Gals!

It could have been “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, but instead it is “The Bells are Ringing!”

bells Dean martin

My dear readers have followed the story of my college, Sweet Briar, over the past six months.  On March 3, 2015, those who loved Sweet Briar received a terrible shock.  The President and Board had voted to close.  Shortly thereafter, Saving Sweet Briar, Inc., a nonprofit organization, mobilized to raise funds and launch a legal battle. Thousands rallied around them supporting additional legal suits, fundraisers, events and more — in support of a single goal to keep the College alive and honor the will of the founder.  As you are aware by now, the efforts were successful.  After a collective gasp and sharp inhale over many months, a slow exhale begins.

On September 2, 2015, Saving Sweet Briar will deliver the final payment as a part of the settlement agreement — on time and with extra.   The website says,

“September 2 is a day to celebrate . . . together! At 12 Noon EST, ring a bell if you have one, and let’s show the world our colors—a sea of pink and green! And please share our story of tenacity and determination. WE, the alumnae of Sweet Briar College, have preserved this unique institution of higher education to empower future generations of young women—just as it empowered us.”

In tribute to all who have worked so hard for this effort, I offer a literary tolling of bells with scenes of the Sweet Briar Bell Tower:

Cupola of the Bell Tower, Briar Patch post card.
Cupola of the Bell Tower, Briar Patch post card.

Daisy in whose memory the College was established as a “perpetual memorial”.

bells 5

Indiana Fletcher Williams, Daisy’s mother, whose will established Sweet Briar College.

bells 2

The Presidents of Sweet Briar College (with one exception whose name will not grace these pages).  Some of these Presidents I only knew as the names of some of our dormitories or academic buildings, but I had the pleasure of knowing personally all of the Presidents Since Nenah Fry.:

Philip Stone, 2015-

Jo Ellen Parker, 2009-2014

Elisabeth Showalter Muhlenfeld, President emerita, 1996-2009

Barbara A. Hill, 1990-1996

Menahy Elinor Fry,  1983-1990

Harold B. Whiteman, Jr., 1971-1983

Anne Gary Pannell, 1950-1971

Martha B. Lucas, 1946-1950

Meta Glass, 1925-1946

Emilie Watts McVea, 1916-1925

Mary K. Benedict, 1906-1916

bells

The Board of Directors of Sweet Briar College

A special bell rings for Teresa Tomlinson `87, Esquire, Chair of the Board and one of the most compelling graduation speakers of 2015. I had the pleasure of knowing Teresa as a student at Sweet Briar.  I looked up to her as leader of the student government then, and I salute her now!

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

Saving Sweet Briar if it were not for the brave women of Saving Sweet Briar – and their families – we would not have had the structure to raise funds and reach the successful settlement.  These women funded and launched the fight and pointed the way forward. Their torch lit the way.

Jo Ann Soderquist Kramer (Sweet Briar College, AB 1964; University of Virginia, MS Aerospace Engineering 1967)

Sarah Clement, Chair of the Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board (Sweet Briar College, AB 1975; University of Virginia School of Law, JD 1984)

Sally Mott Freeman (Sweet Briar College, AB 1976)

Christine Boulware, Secretary of the Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board (Sweet Briar College, AB 1977)

Tracy Stuart (Sweet Briar College, AB 1993).  Tracy provided the funds to launch the initial legal suit and is putting her love for the College to work as a coach.

Ellen O. Pitera (Sweet Briar College, AB 1993; University of Virginia, MA Teaching 1999)

Brooke Linville (Sweet Briar College, 2000-2002, George Washington University BA 2004).  Brooke created the Saving Sweet Briar website and fueled the social media campaign with creative messages and images.

bells clouds

Legal

Legal minds provided the way forward to saving Sweet Briar College.  Special bells must ring for:

Ellen Bowyer, County Attorney for Amherst County, Virginia

Elliott J. Schuchardt, Esquire

Troutman Sanders, LLP

White & Case, LLP

Media

This graceful image of the bell tower taken by Aaron Mahler, graced the majority of the news articles in 2015.
This graceful image of the bell tower taken by Aaron Mahler, graced the majority of the news articles in 2015.

Without media attention, the stories raising up the efforts to save Sweet Briar would have been been eclipsed by the constant “implosion” stories.  Still, all of the reporters who covered the stories and their news outlets deserve a special tolling of the bells.

Social Media

Without social media, this special college would likely not have been saved.  Through Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Reddit, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube and beyond, the stories, photos, people and passion of Sweet Briar made its way to the hearts and minds of thousands. Within these platforms, the social networks, conversations and fabric held people together, rallied generosity, raised important issues, researched important issues and held leaders accountable.   My “friends” on Facebook doubled after March 3, 2015.  My last count of the groups I have been invited to join numbers over 20.

Sweet Briar 2.0 - the collective strategic ideas for the future.
Sweet Briar 2.0 – the collective strategic ideas for the future.

Sweet Briar 2.0 gathered together the many strategic ideas for the future of the College.  Hundreds contributed initially through email chains, spreadsheets, Facebook groups and subject matter discussions resulting in a living and breathing website.

One of the brilliant memes created during the social media campaign to save Sweet Briar College.
One of the brilliant memes created during the social media campaign to save Sweet Briar College.

The Major Gift Task Force brought together volunteers with fundraising experience (or willingness) to reach out to past major donors of the College and beyond.  On the front for saving Sweet Briar, these were the soldiers with whom I spent the majority of my time.  Each week we had conference calls under the leadership of Mary Pope Hutson, now a board member.  Without official donor lists, we called from spreadsheets, email suggestions and memory. The donors who responded not only were generous, they were very, very patient.

In the shadow of the bell tower, faculty helped students returning to Sweet Briar.
In the shadow of the bell tower, faculty helped students returning to Sweet Briar.

Faculty and Staff of Sweet Briar are the heart of the College.  Without superior academics, there would be no College.  When you ask any student what the College means to her (or him), you will hear stories about faculty.  For me, my English and Psychology professors continue to influence me today such as Susan Beers.  I miss those who are no longer alive:  Professors Ralph Aiken, Karl Tamburr, Ross Dabney, and David Johnson.

The Chapel steeple rises above the Bell Tower.
The Chapel steeple rises above the Bell Tower.

Prayer, the Chapel, the Chaplain and the Chaplain’s House

As a student at Sweet Briar College, I served on the search committee for the new chaplain.  My classmate, Kelly Meredith Iacobelli, and a representative group of faculty and staff poured through resumes from around the country.  The Reverend Susan Lehman and her husband, John Dalzell, came to Sweet Briar and moved into the Chaplain’s House (now Hubbard House lovingly restored by the Hubbard family).   At the Chapel I was confirmed, gave my first sermon and laid a strong spiritual foundation.   At the Chaplain’s house, I discussed issues of the day over memorable meals and found solace in the home-like atmosphere.   Susan and all of the spiritual leaders of Sweet Briar who came before and after her all deserve the ringing of bells.  The prayer of Emily Watts McVea from 1928 inspired me to write this post at reunion, 2015.

The hitching post painted the colors of 1988, gold and purple, with the bell tower in the background.
The hitching post painted the colors of 1988, gold and purple, with the bell tower in the background.

“My” Classes and “My” Places

Every person who feels close to an institution owes that bond to the people who share it with them.  I am blessed with deep connections through my time as a student, as an employee and as a volunteer over the years.  As beautiful as a campus may be, acres and buildings cannot love us back.  People can.  My classmates of 1988 were there to greet me at Orientation  and they are treasured friends today.  The classes around me are also very special:  1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991.  It is one’s classmates who primarily weave together the fabric of memory and community.  Since I worked at the College, I also got to know well the students of 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1996.  Having served as Regional Campaign Director, I made friends around the country with alumnae of all ages in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Baltimore, San Francisco, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Washington, DC.  I rarely travel around the U.S. (or the world) without reaching out to fellow alumnae.  This past summer, I enjoyed spending time with alumnae in Paris and London.

Alumnae gather after the successful settlement was announced. (Photo: WSET)
Alumnae gather after the successful settlement was announced. (Photo: WSET)

The Alumnae of Sweet Briar College deserve the constant tolling of bells given their loyalty and friendship over the years and especially over the past six months.  The events around the country, fundraisers and work days at the College are truly inspiring.  I’ve written about the incredible efforts by alumnae engagement in this post.

Reflections of the bell tower.
Reflections of the bell tower.

My Sweet Briar Mentors

As I reflect on my career, it is my Sweet Briar mentors who come to mind as shaping the person and colleague I have come to be.   As a Freshman, Martha Clement, hired me to be a phonathon caller.  Two days a week I took my stack of cards and called alumnae to encourage them to give.  Week after week, year after year, this experience shaped me into the fundraiser I am today.  Martha believed in me and encouraged me on.  Sometimes, she would ask me to come back in the afternoons between official calling nights to make calls to some of her “special people” (ironically, some of those same people are the people I called to save Sweet Briar).   Martha would be so proud that her daughter was one of the leaders of Saving Sweet Briar.

At my fifth year reunion, Denise McDonald (now the Vice President for Development at Lynchburg College) and Mitch Moore (now the Vice President of Development for Shenandoah College) encouraged me to come and work for Sweet Briar and the $35 million campaign.  The Regional Campaigns Denise taught me to run provided the basis for the next 10 years of my career.  Nancy Baldwin read every letter I wrote, critiqued my phone calls and edited my proposals.  I am a better writer because of her.  Louise Zingaro provided invaluable advice, introductions and friendship.  Bradley Hale, Chair of the Atlanta Campaign and Vice Chair of the Board at the time, provided my introduction to the National Cathedral and my career beyond Sweet Briar.  Martha Holland, Tracy Savage, Claire Dennison Griffith, Missy Witherow, Michaela English, Allie Stemmons Simon are alumnae who helped guide and shape my work over the years.

Credit: Art DewPrincessReturns on Deviant Art
Credit: Heather Anne Spear

Students

Without students and the families who support them, there would be no College to continue.  The students are the living embodiment of all that Sweet Briar represents.  Without students to absorb the wisdom of faculty, there would be no degrees.  Without students needing sustenance, there would be no dining services.  Without students pursuing their dreams, there would be no Admissions Office.  Without students, the dorms would be empty.  Without students, donors would find no reason to give. Our bells chime the loudest for the students and their families who were willing to return and to choose Sweet Briar College.

If my words could be bells, they would ring for hours (if not days).  I do hope to be a bell for Sweet Briar College ringing into the future.

SAVED! This photo was taken of me from a crowd that assembled during "the last" Reunion for a rousing cheer for the future.
SAVED! This photo was taken of me from a crowd that assembled during “the last” Reunion for a rousing cheer for the future.

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. 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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Saving Sweet Briar: A Story of Alumnae Engagement (Part I of ???)

Photo captured of some of the Sweet Briar daughters (credit: Jennifer Phelps Stanton).
Photo captured of some of the Sweet Briar daughters (credit: Becky Johnston Lambert).

There is a generation of girls who want to attend a College that is special to their Moms…and they have seen her fight for it. There are a generation of sons (like mine) who might want their daughters to attend. There is a current generation of parents who want these kind of alumnae to be there for their daughters. There are students who want to be part of history. Colleges are special and part of our DNA. If anyone wonders why so many worked to sustain Sweet Briar College, I give you this… — from my Facebook post, July 29, 2015

Independent Schools, Colleges and Universities all strive for “engaged alumni/ae”.  There are conferences on “engagement”. There are departments for “Alumni Engagement” with teams of people working on the issue.  At my own University, there are senior staff trained in this area. As the national news began to cover the story of the efforts to save Sweet Briar College, my professional peers began asking me questions as they learned of my affiliation.  They would ask:

How did they do it?

How will they sustain all of these engaged alumnae?

How might I harness a little of this for my institution?

This blog post is about capturing the answers I’ve given so far.  As I told my industry publication who contacted me about writing an article this past spring, “It is really too soon to write an article about saving Sweet Briar.  We don’t yet know if she will be saved; however, once we do save her, there will be books, conferences, talks, videos, movies and who knows what else.”  I am happy to share my perspective which is just that – one perspective among thousands….

Why do I love Sweet Briar so much? 

Sometimes it isn’t until you lose something that you realize how precious it is to you.   Sometimes it takes facing that loss to tap into a love so fierce you will fight for it.  This is the kind of love that saved Sweet Briar College – and it is the kind of love that will sustain it moving forward.

I did not need the College to face closure to tap into my love for Sweet Briar.  My affection for Sweet Briar College began in my senior year of high school.  After moving many times and having four high schools (moving in the middle of every single year), the one thing I wanted for my College career was a place I could call home. Of course I wanted an exceptional education, but I also wanted to join a community.  I had not considered a woman’s college, but it considered…nudged…beckoned….invited and held out its friendly hand…to me.  When I began to receive mail and then personal notes and phone calls from the admissions counselors, invitations to local events for prospective students in my home town (Annapolis, Maryland), I felt Sweet Briar was reaching out to me.  I felt they knew me.  I reached back.  Like many of my fellow alumnae, my love affair was solidified when I drove up the long driveway through tall trees and reached the Admissions Office.  I was home.

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

Service is a given at Sweet Briar College.  Everyone does something to improve the campus while you are there.  Formally, it was being an Admissions Ambassador and a Fundraising volunteer.  I gave countless tours becoming the “face” of Sweet Briar for others like me (and unlike me, by the way, I worked particularly hard to bring these people to campus as I believed in the value of a diverse campus back then too).  At one point I kept track of how many acceptances I had (it numbered over 40 by my senior year).  Sonja Gruhl Dupourque, a dear friend, is one of those who stayed on my dorm room floor and became a lifelong friend (the Godmother to my eldest son as well).   I served as Resident Advisor, a member of the Student Government Association.   I served in the Student Government Association and helped lead the Chapel program after serving on the search committee for the then new Chaplain, The Rev. Susan Lehman.  Informally, I was tapped as a Q.V. in my sophomore year (a group that does kind things for their class) and that spirit has stayed with me since that time (my sons don’t realize those notes and candies I leave them stem from that experience). After graduation, I served as a class officer and a Reunion Chair and Agent – year after year after year.  As recently as our 25th Reunion, I was still doing something for Sweet Briar, serving on the Reunion Gifts Committee.

1988 at our 25th Reunion
1988 at our 25th Reunion

My friends who attend other schools sometimes marvel at this devotion and shake their heads.  They might have LIKED their College experience, but the kind of LOVE and devotion they see in me confuses them.  They didn’t know their professors personally.  They didn’t dine with them at meals and visit them as friends.  They left their College and rarely look back. Some of these same people are those who made pessimistic statements to me when they heard about Sweet Briar closing.  The good news for Sweet Briar (and small institutions like it) is this:  I am not unique at all.  There are thousands of other people like me who volunteered both on campus and from afar.

I loved Sweet Briar because it loved me.  I loved it because I saw it through the eyes of prospective students and donors.  I loved it because it became for me all of the relationships with friends, faculty and staff who became lifelong important people to me.

Ask your alumni – often – what your institution means to them.  

Give students an opportunity to serve.  Keep those students engaged as they become alumni.

A trickle became a stream which became a raging river which overflowed its banks and traveled around the globe... (photo credit: www.dreamstime.com Niagara Falls)
A trickle became a stream which became a raging river which overflowed its banks and traveled around the globe… (photo credit: www.dreamstime.com Niagara Falls)

What would a world be like without Sweet Briar?

Then came March 3, 2015.  After the President and Board of Sweet Briar announced their intentions to close, alumnae devotion swelled.  This wasn’t just like a small creek overflowing its banks and heading towards a raging river.  This was more like a damn where one bit of water finds its way through and then a torrent of water shooting out in all directions cascades through towns, valleys, countrysides, cities and even around the globe.   They say a “rising tide lifts all boats”.  In this case, the rising tide lifted all hearts, sights, minds and intentions.  This was NOT going to be a sinking ship.

There were those who sat back and rearranged deck chairs on the sinking Sweet Briar.  From their perspective, there was no hope.  There were students, faculty, staff and alumnae who were resigned.  From my perspective, the closer someone was to a staff member or board member, the more they could not see any other possibility.  I know what they were saying because I spoke to many of them on the phone.  Visiting campus for the “last” Reunion in May 2015, it was clear that the majority of campus was preparing for closure.  Hallways were lined with moving boxes, offices were empty, even the Chapel sacristy had gaping cupboards and overturned chalices.  It was a dismal scene.

The interesting thing is that this dynamic repeats itself everywhere.  There are always unhappy students, faculty, staff, alumni and others who see a half-empty glass where other see a half-full.  There are always the nay-sayers, the pessimists and those who actively work to tear down their institutions.   Particularly when there is a negative situation — someone being fired or stepping down from a board or being forcibly kicked out — it is very likely those people will slam the institution.  I call this the “slam the door” syndrome.  They cannot leave a place unless they are angry and they tear it down.  It happens in relationships too, sadly.

For students, only a select few were bold enough to speak out against the closure and to fight for what they thought was right.  I’ve spoken to a few of the students (and their parents) who endured during this time.  It was incredibly difficult to speak out for possibility and many of them were treated very badly for it.  Most students, according to these braves ones, aligned with the administration.  They prepared for the final days.

Fortunately, there were others within the College community who saw possibility where others saw dispair.  Some students hung banners and worked to raise awareness.  Faculty and staff took time to hold hands, comfort and even wage their own lawsuit for unfair termination.  Outside the Community, alumnae did all they could from writing op-eds to giving to providing moral support during legal proceedings.

Protests at Sweet Briar College
Protests at Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar’s President and Board did not feel they could trust their alumni to be honest about the financial condition.  They had the opportunity with a Donor Insight Survey, but they elected not only not to be honest with alumnae, they also weren’t candid with the staff conducting the interviews — or the firm charged with conducting the survey.  They felt surely if they were honest, no one would give and they would be in an even worse position.  This is pretty commonly accepted in marketing and fundraising.  The belief seems to be that sending messages that are positive and filled with “excellence” is critical for people to invest.  The problem is, being honest with the very people who can help you is also critical.  In another blog I wrote about an institution I worked for who also faced possible closure – they chose to be honest.  It works.  Not only is honesty the best policy, crisis messages call people to action.

I once had a staff member who worked for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  She was an exceptional fundraiser.  In one meeting she asked, “So when are we going to use a crisis message?”  This shook us all up.  We never did.  She pointed out that their Foundation solicits almost seven times a year and usually one or two of those appeals has a crisis message.  There is always something in any institution that deserves raising up for constituents.

What is your “crisis message” and how can you help your alumni see why their gift matters to your institution?

Sometimes testing the question, “What would a world be like without ________________, is important.” 

People tapping into how much they love a place engages them.  You must be honest and let your constituents know where problems exist — and how they can help solve them whether budget shortfalls or volunteer hours.  Chances are, your alumni will rise to the occasion.

We have nothing if we do not have activism.  Activism breeds engagement.  

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.

Devotion took many creative forms.  Each person did what they could do and tapped into their unique set of time, talent and treasure.   For me, the logical thing to do was to raise funds.  This is what I do for a living and I figured I could do that for Saving Sweet Briar.  The problem was, we had no records.  Social media became the primary vehicle for communication and sharing.  I had no “tools of the trade” I was used to having. I had no lists, no research department, no annual giving or major gift data.  A group of faithful people recreated lists based on old magazines with giving records.  Someone who worked in the catering department found a table seating list from a former campaign dinner and thoughtfully entered those names onto a spreadsheet.

The Board of Saving Sweet Briar – an incredible group – set out to wage a legal battle and then began receiving funds.  Lots of funds. Most organizations have a gift processing department and database managers.  These dedicated volunteers did not have the infrastructure for gift accounting and they did an admirable job considering that.  Everyone did the best they could tapping into systems they knew.  The lawfirm which led the original suit provided important services beyond legal including accepting pledges and gifts in the early days.   It was and is a marvel to me how we managed to make it through those days.  It bordered on chaos and a lack of clarity, but with a pure motive we made calls, accepted gifts and loyal donors sent them.  Over and over again.

I sat down with my list and I started to make calls.  I reached people via Facebook messenger, web searches and friends of friends.  It truly was a remarkable process.  I wouldn’t know if people gave; however, unless they told me.  We had gifts going to a lawfirm, we had gifts made through Paypal, we had people sending funds to people they knew. I kept the people I called as a “portfolio” like I do at work sending them occasional updates.

Our efforts were led by a passionate woman, Mary Pope Hutson, who held weekly conference calls.  Over time, our numbers grew.  Thankfully, a fundraising firm, Alexander Haas offered to provide pro bono fundraising counsel.  This was a godsend knowing there were fundraisers handling contributions and the databases began to be combined.  I would – occasionally (okay more than occasionally), become concerned and agitated about the condition of things, but our extremely committed committee chair (who ultimately assumed the role on the new board as Development Committee) said to me several times:

We have got to keep our blinders on.  We have funds to raise and keys to get back.  It’s not going to be perfect.  Perfect is the enemy of progress.

I now have this printed on my computer at work.  It is so true.  There is always something to be worried about and nothing is ever perfect.

You don’t need perfect spreadsheets, amazing databases, super software or approved scripts to be a successful fundraiser.  You need passion, honesty and tenacity to just keep going.

Class of 1988 classmates - one all the way from Singapore -- attended an alternative reunion. Events were held all over the country.
Class of 1988 classmates – one all the way from Singapore — attended an alternative reunion. Events were held all over the country.

Events

Events popped up everywhere from small towns to big cities to around the globe.  Never mind we didn’t have complete mailing lists.  Never mind we needed every event  to be a fundraiser with an overt “invitation to give” (this is usually something people try to avoid).  Never mind we often didn’t have enough “proper response time”.  The events were held and they were successful.  A whole team of volunteers worked to coordinate these events and get them published so that people could attend events wherever they were.

One event in Atlanta raised over $1 million organized by local volunteers with special guest, Teresa Pike Tomlinson, Mayor of Columbus Georgia (and now Chair of the Board for Sweet Briar College).

Events were important.  They built momentum.  They got the word out.  They got people feeling they were part of something bigger than themselves.  Most importantly, they forged new relationships and friendship.

People affiliating around a cause they believe in is important.  Providing opportunities for gathering is so important. Using events to provide updates is critical.

Volunteer Coordination

Beyond my Committee, there were many other committees at work – informally and formally.  Each of these committees had someone at the helm who cascaded messages on a regular basis.  Evangeline Taylor, an amazing woman, agreed to be a coordinator of coordinators!  Regular updates with news releases, legal updates and upcoming events were sent to State Representatives, Class Representatives, Committee Chairs, Event Chairs.  Some people wore multiple hats like my classmate, Katie Keough Widener.  She started out as a Class leader, then took on the state of Pennsylvania and then joined the Major Gift Task Force!

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.

The question now arises – what to do with all of these volunteers?  Life will rush in and fill the places Sweet Briar once occupied. One of the suggestions I made to the board and College leadership was to consider hiring volunteer coordinators or alumnae engagement professionals among the first to be hired.

Formal structures will exist, of course, but not everyone will be able to join those structures.  Committees like Admissions and Development of Boards often include non board members, but there usually are not volunteer structures around academic programs, buildings and grounds, etc.   If you do have strong volunteers who have proven themselves, it might be worth personally asking them to step forward to serve so that you don’t lose them.  Asking people for their “recommendations for strong candidates” sends the message to a volunteer that they must not be needed anymore – or their efforts didn’t meet the criteria of a formal committee.

Once leadership structures exist organically, try if possible to continue them.

Once volunteers are engaged, try to find a way to allow them to continue.

As of this writing, Sweet Briar has just conducted a series of “work days” where alumnae came to paint, weed, repair.  These Habitat for Humanity-like days engaged women and their entire families.  One volunteer wrote to me after returning:

“Doing something physical for Sweet Briar – seeing spaces become more beautiful – was cathartic.  I want to do it every year.”

Family Affair

Up until March 3, Sweet Briar was an important part of MY life, but I wouldn’t say it was on the radar of my children, cousins, husband, community.

As my friends, family, neighbors and community began to pay attention to news media and the legal fight, they began to express support for Sweet Briar, Women’s Education, Liberal Arts Education, the list goes on….

Events were held that included families for picnics, bike rides, museum visits.

Some spouses and partners REALLY rolled up their sleeves (mine included) to support Sweet Briar from financial support to doing legal research.  One couple I met along the way who inspired me are Christine Bump and Elias Papasavvas.

Are you engaging the families of your alumni?  Are there family-friendly activities for them?  Are you including spouses and partners in your fundraising calls?

Children of alumnae sold lemonade, donuts, cookies and art to benefit their Mom's College. In this photo, Joan Dabney Clinker's daughter sells a donut to campus security.
Children of alumnae sold lemonade, donuts, cookies and art to benefit their Mom’s College. In this photo, Joan Dabney Clinker’s daughter sells a donut to campus security.

SWEET WORK DAYS = SWEET SUCCESS

There must be a special section on work days because this truly is an example of going “above and beyond” for a College and engaging at the deepest level.  Alumnae came from all over the country to paint, mulch, power wash and provide special touches to make campus the most welcoming it could be for incoming students.  Jen Phelps Stanton and Debbie Thurman, local and dedicated alumnae, helped organize volunteers.  A post on the Virginia Chapter website read:

Alumnae, family and friends came together over the past few weeks to spruce up the campus prior to the students’ return under the guidance of Jen Staton and Debbie Thurman. Tom Connors, VP of finance, estimated that 4200 man-hours were donated resulting in an approximate $60,000 savings in maintenance costs for the college!

You Have to Have Leadership

People don’t always like to be led, but they need it. The Saving Sweet Briar board assembled itself organically quickly after the March 3rd announcement to both fight an important legal fight as well as to raise funds.  These women will forever be an important part of Sweet Briar College.  They are just as important as the founder, Indiana Fletcher Williams, in terms of creating a vision and pointing to a future.  Indiana Fletcher Williams pointed to a vision of a College in perpetuity.  The Saving Sweet Briar Board stepped in when that perpetuity was threatened.

There are other leaders who stepped forward to help launch additional legal suits and provide support to those who led them.  Without these leaders – both self appointed and supported with grass roots support – Sweet Briar would not likely be open today.  Initially, everyone looked to one group for leadership.  In time, people did what they saw needed doing.  This level of engagement was self-appointed and critical for the ultimate success.  If everyone sat back and waited for direction, we likely would not have reached the successful conclusion in the end.

The Saving Sweet Briar Board always said it was a temporary one.  This must have been difficult for them and they deserve admiration for seeing this vision.  From the beginning, they simply asked to have a voting majority of the Sweet Briar Board.  Their intention was to become unnecessary because the goal was to keep the College open and channel the support there.  Ultimately, the Board who voted for closure all resigned.  Saving Sweet Briar and the parties to the other law suits provided recommendations for new Board members through mediation.

It is hard for me to find a replicable instance of this for another institution.  Except perhaps to say – don’t be afraid to embrace an organic leadership structure that emerges.  It may be that leadership structure will have an energy you need and become the fuel for your current leadership.

It is worth noting that the Alumnae Association of Sweet Briar is entirely revamping itself.  They realized that their previous relationship of being completely a part of the College resulted in tensions and difficulty when the College elected to close.  Their independence is a strength.

It Takes a Village:  “Town & Gown” Relationships

Institutions often forget that they have neighbors.  It is very important to maintain close ties to the community and region nearby.  These neighbors are impacted by students who may live in off-campus housing.  The elected officials may prove critical at some point.

For Sweet Briar, it was the County of Amherst who came to its rescue.  The County Attorney was the person who originally filed suit to stop the closure and who advocated for protecting donor’s rights.  The Mayor of Amherst wrote amicus briefs regarding how the town and the College had shared infrastructure, investment and both would be harmed if the College closed.

Take time to get to know your elected officials and community members.  Identify the faculty and staff who live nearby.  Consider days when the community can visit to interact with your student body.  Keeping the relationships strong will avoid the divisive issues of “town vs. gown” which many communities face.

Amherst and Sweet Briar have a shared history and future (I explore these relationships in my blog “What’s In a Seal”).

Image courtesy Central Virginia Sweet Briar Alumni & Friends Chapter
Image courtesy Central Virginia Sweet Briar Alumni & Friends Chapter

Social Media

Saving Sweet Briar logo and the website www.savingsweetbriar.com became important symbols and community builders.
Saving Sweet Briar logo and the website www.savingsweetbriar.com became important symbols and community builders.

I often tell people, if it were not for social media, Sweet Briar College would not have been saved.  If this closure had been announced before social media, the alumnae and friends would have had no way to mobilize so quickly.

Brooke Linville, Saving Sweet Briar Board member, created the website and it became a portal to organize:  legal updates, recent news media, testimonials, fundraising updates, links to events.   The website was critical for communicating — especially since the College was busy posting closure messages daily.

Other channels of social media were also critical.  Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Reddit, Instagram, Pinterest.  There truly was not a form of social media that was not used for the benefit of Sweet Briar.  In fact, Forbes Magazine launched a contest based on twitter posts resulting in Sweet Briar being awarded the “top small college”. 

Facebook became a place where people could organize themselves, vent, research, post events, inform.  As of this writing, there are over 20 different sub-pages fueling the passion and commitment for Sweet Briar.  Students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and community could bond together over shared issues, concerns and hopes for the future.  Eventually, many of these channels split into further categories.  Some even became their own websites such as the strategic planning work, www.sbc2point0.com.

Just as in any group, human nature plays a part.  Some people get emotional and angry about things.  Some people like to keep the peace.  Some like to follow the leader.  Some are naturally suspicious.  Some see their role as policing.  Eventually, not all of this energy could exist in the same place and individuals created conversations and pages.  Just as there are those who might have a chat on their way to class or over the phone in private, social media provided a place where the dialogue of saving Sweet Briar reached a fever pitch. Having received invitations to the majority of the groups formed, I can say we needed everyone and every group to get to a successful conclusion.  Also just as in any group, stereotyping of these groups also took place in addition to not understanding and pointing fingers.  There isn’t one group of which I was a part where I agreed with everything, but I felt I was of more use being there than not.

The question is now, do we still need those groups?  I think we do.  The question for your institution may be, to what degree do you allow and foster the organic energy of your constituents — or do you try to control all channels of social media?

Future Engagement

As I write this post, students are driving to campus and faculty and staff are there to welcome them.  Each day, smiling faces of returning students are shared.  Colleges released coaches and faculty from contracts so that they could return.  Colleges released students from enrollment contracts so that Sweet Briar could welcome them home.  These acts of friendship will be long remembered  from Hollins College, Agnes Scott and many others.

The College announces “appointments” for staff positions on a regular basis.  In order to open its doors, positions had to be filled quickly.  The leadership evidently feels that there is not time for national searches (which can take weeks and months in some institutions of higher education).   A combination of volunteers and appointed staff fill key roles in Admissions, Development and administration.  These roles are temporary, according to President Stone, and in time there will be national searches to secure permanent professionals for the long term.  Some of these interim candidates will become tomorrow’s internal ones and their service may be longer than a short-term assignment.

Just as in the early days of Saving Sweet Briar, there were no rules or a playbook to follow.  These are unprecedented times for the College.  Those closest to those in leadership know what the needs are and who is available to get in their car, take residence in one of the homes on campus and get to work.  Those further afield stand back to see what role they may play for the future – or not.

Life does and will rush in to fill the time that alumnae gave to Sweet Briar.  Formal positions are not going to be available for all.  Volunteer positions may also not be available either as the Colleges shifts into more traditional Board Committee structures.

Yet, there are signs that the engagement will continue.  One of the first Admissions positions held by much-admired Marcia Thom Kaley directly focuses on the role alumnae will play in the future.  From an Alumnae Admissions posting:

Dear AARs – We will be up and running shortly – I so very much look forward to working with you as the new Director of Alumnae Admissions Relations! It is a title I covet – be gentle with me to begin with – we are still actively working hard on the incoming classes of 2015-2016 – we will VERY soon slam into action with regard to our recruiting schedule for 2016-2017 – home run, my friends – home run!!!

It remains to be seen whether returning faculty will be as open to alumnae engagement in their respective fields.  Faculty members do not usually have a team of professionals wishing to advise, revamp, change, etc.  Yet, there are hundreds involved in key areas such as STEM and other fields.  Perhaps Sweet Briar will adopt a Program Advisory Model that some Universities employ.  One thing is for sure, everything at Sweet Briar will change and the curricula must as well.

For me, I’ve spent the last few weeks confirming pledges.  All of the different gift accounting processes and procedures needed to be firmed up to hand over the most accurate records to the College.  I counted up one afternoon 188 phone, email and in-person contacts on the list assigned to me.  The final settlement agreement payment is slated for September 1 and the efforts are on track to make it.  I must admit to feeling a bit bereft as the tide ebbs back from this high level of engagement and dedication.

I am incredibly proud of Sweet Briar.  We have made the national news and overturned a decision some thought was fatal.  It has been an honor to serve alongside volunteers working so hard.  Some volunteers around me are tapped for staff roles, board roles or other official duties. My role along with many alumnae is uncertain.

The keys have been handed over.  A new President is at the helm.  A new Board leads.  What is the role for alumnae?  That is for the future to decide and bold leadership to craft.  In the meantime, President Stone’s comment probably sums it up:

At Sweet Briar, “impossible” is just another problem to solve.

SAVED! This photo was taken of me from a crowd that assembled during "the last" Reunion for a rousing cheer for the future.
SAVED! This photo was taken of me from a crowd that assembled during “the last” Reunion for a rousing cheer for the future.

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. 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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Independence Day – Indie-Pendence Day: A Fresh Look at the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution of Sweet Briar College

blog declaration

Declaration of Independence

I have always been moved by Independence Day.  Through one of my ancestors, Susannah Lytle, I am a Daughter of the American Revolution.   It all seemed like very distant history to me for most of my life.  It is hard to imagine what our forefathers did for us as Americans or what life was like as colonists.

That is, until recently.  I have a new appreciation for what it is like to live through a revolution — the saving of Sweet Briar College.

One of the nicest traditions I have enjoyed over the years is reading the Declaration of Independence on July 4th.  Elsie Baxter Heckel started my family on this tradition before my sons, Kent and Leland, were born.  This was a family tradition of hers starting long before Elsie could remember.

Each summer on Independence Day after a day of sun and fun, the family gathered for this tradition.  Just before dinner, everyone would gather on the broad sun porch.  Every chair was filled, children sat on the floor.  The aroma of dinner, started much earlier in the day, filled the room.

The yellowed, well-worn pages of this version of the Declaration of Independence came from Elsie’s membership in the Daughter’s of the American Revolution.  It was about the size of a small paperback book.  If you don’t have a copy at your home, you can view the text from the National Archives.

Outside, motorboats buzzed by, children played in nearby yards and the sounds of summer filled the air.  Inside, we were brought back to the horrors the early revolutionaries endured at the hands of a tyrant King.  Every few paragraphs, the book would be handed to the next person.

Fireworks - always a fun Independence Day tradition.
Fireworks – always a fun Independence Day tradition.

Until I discovered this tradition, Independence Day was all about flags, fireworks and fun.  Reading the Declaration of Independence with all of its “facts held out to a candid world” brought special meaning to the waving flag and a newfound respect for country.

This year, the Declaration of Independence has fresh meaning for me as I have just gone through my own “revolution” in the saving of Sweet Briar College.   I have read the Will of Indiana Fletcher Williams and lived the revolution brought about by those who have fought to honor it.

Indiana Fletcher Williams established Sweet Briar College through her will.
Indiana Fletcher Williams established Sweet Briar College through her will.

As I read the words this year, it brought to mind the journey of thousands of students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and friends….

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” (Declaration of Independence)

Just as the inhabitants of these United States listed their grievances with the King of England, those who love Sweet Briar College have pursed legal action since March 3, 2015 to fight the attempted closure of the College they love.   The phrase, “When in the course of human events, it sometimes becomes necessary for one people to dissolve their political bands which have connected them with another…” has new meaning for me.  I don’t believe I have ever experienced anything as unifying as the movement of Saving Sweet Briar.   The causes which impelled those saving Sweet Briar were declared in legal briefs, on bedsheets, in blog posts and in the national media.

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.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” (Declaration of Indpendence)

Students React to Closure of Sweet Briar College

Students React to Closure of Sweet Briar College

As I read the words, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government….”, I am so grateful to the early revolutionaries of the United States.  It also makes me think of the revolutionaries of the Saving Sweet Briar Board who boldly put forth their own funds, time and talent to fight a cause they felt was worth fighting.  I, and thousands along with me, will honor them as revolutionaries of our time.  Joining them are the legal teams  – and those who supported them — representing students, faculty, alumnae and the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Faculty and staff boldly spoke out.  Like the newspaper publishers of days gone by, writers of blogs and opinion pieces cried out against injustices and raised their truths.  All put forth a new vision and foundation for the future.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.” (Declaration of Independence)

"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”.

The lawsuits of the students, faculty, alumnae of Sweet Briar College and the Commonwealth of Virginia petitioned for injunctions to halt the closure of their beloved College.  They listed their own usurpations as our forefathers did.

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

Sweet Briar College Votes to Close College at the End of 2014-2015 Academic Year (Sweet Briar Website)


“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.”

How Sweet Briar College’s Board Decided to Close (Chronicle of Higher Education)


“He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.”

Hundreds of Alumnae Welcome Back Students as Show of Support


“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”

Anger and Optimism Greet Sweet Briar College Plan for Closure (New York Times)


“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.”

Alumnae Association Creates Independent Association from College

Faculty Votes Unanimous No Confidence (Washington Post)


“He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.”

Sweet Briar Board Was a Short Sighted Mess (Richard Leslie in Washington Post)


“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

Transfer Process Takes Toll on Students (News Advance)


“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.”

Virginia Attorney General:  County Attorney Lacks Standing in Case (News Advance)


“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”


“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”

Who Gets Sweet Briar’s Endowment? (Inside Higher Ed)


“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.”

Sweet Briar Administrators Block T-Shirt Fundraiser


“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”

Sweet Briar College Can Be a Trust (Saving Sweet Briar.com)


“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:”

“For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:”

Protests at Sweet Briar College
Protests at Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar Students, Faculty Protest Closure Outside President’s House (Richmond Times Dispatch)


“For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:”


“For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:”

Sweet Briar College Abroad Programs to go to Hollins (Roanoke.com)


“For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:”


“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:”

County Attorney Appeals Sweet Briar Case to Virginia Supreme Court (Washington Post)


“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences”


For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:


For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:


For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.


He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.


He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.


He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.


He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.


He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

While we were not fighting for our farms, our passion certainly runs strong. New leadership takes hold at the end of this Independence Day weekend.   The new Board of Directors is comprised of leaders from many economic sectors united in a desire for Sweet Briar to exist in perpetuity.

“Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

In Perpetuity....
In Perpetuity….

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

New President Takes Charge Declaring He Will Work Towards Highest Enrollment Ever (Washington Post)

President Stone wrote, “At an appropriate time, I will be able to more fully and effectively acknowledge the heroic work of Saving Sweet Briar and other friends of the college in successfully achieving what appeared to the rest of the world at the beginning to be impossible. The Sweet Briar alumnae have just been extraordinary, further proof that this special college dare not close. With their time, energy, resources and “Vixen determination,” the alumnae have demonstrated what might be our operative slogan:

AT SWEET BRIAR COLLEGE, THE IMPOSSIBLE IS JUST ANOTHER PROBLEM TO SOLVE.”

New Leadership at Sweet Briar College (WNCN.com)

Students, faculty, staff and a new board return to Sweet Briar for a new academic year.  All of these women and men are revolutionaries!

July 2nd – the day Sweet Briar keys were turned over to those who worked to save it – will always be our Indie-pendence Day!

* * *

Additional Reading:

Victory for Saving Sweet Briar:  In Indiana Fletcher Williams We Trust

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

Bruce Tuckman Team Development Model
Bruce Tuckman Team Development Model

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

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

Forming – Stage 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storming – Stage 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norming – Stage 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performing – Stage 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adjourning – Stage 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing

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

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

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

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

 

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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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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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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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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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