Question + Answer with Chris WoodJan 15th, 2010 | By admin | Category: Features
Interview with Vice President for Institutional Advancement
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE A CAREER IN DEVELOPMENT?
Actually, I wouldn’t say I chose a career in development. It chose me. The first 15 years of my professional life were spent as a United Methodist pastor. Serving the last seven years of that time in a new church start, raising significant money was required to stay in existence. The same was true for the six years I spent as the executive director of a statewide non-profit agency. But beyond producing dollars, I discovered a passion and fulfillment in building up an organization or institution. The field of institutional advancement is more than just raising money. The dollars are simply the means to the eventual end – an institution that is more secure, robust and more effective.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS THUS FAR?
I am most proud of the times I have opened doors of opportunity to donors who wanted to find real fulfillment in their philanthropic gifts. I truly consider it a privilege to work with donors who discover joy and meaning through their giving as it changes the life of another. I always laugh when someone says, “Why would you have a job where you beg people for money?” I have never begged anyone for a dime. Begging and guilt are poor motivators. My life is enriched when a donor is motivated to help and I am able to align the donor with an opportunity.
WHAT ARE YOUR INITIAL IMPRESSIONS OF WESLEY COLLEGE?
Wesley is rich in opportunity. Built upon a firm foundation established over the years by so many faculty and staff, alumni, community partners and United Methodist supporters, there is an air of excitement and possibility that pervades the College. I have been struck by the love and pride of Wesley demonstrated by so many alumni I have met, the personnel I am privileged to work with daily, and the students I constantly encounter. That sense of expectation and opportunity is frequently affirmed by individuals I meet within the Dover community and beyond.
WHAT WOULD YOU DESCRIBE AS WESLEY’S GREATEST NEEDS FOR FUNDRAISING?
The simple answer is significantly increasing dollars for unrestricted giving towards the Wesley Fund, dollars directly invested in our students. With the cost of higher education today, Wesley must provide significant financial aid to enable deserving students from various socio-economic backgrounds to experience the life-changing difference a Wesley education offers. The Wesley Fund needs to grow so that at least one million dollars annually can be assured for our students. That will require both new donors and more generosity of our existing donors in order to more than triple our current efforts. Wesley’s history affirms this can be done!
With the recent adoption of a new campus master plan by our Board of Trustees, we are beginning to address the capital needs of our campus community. A number of existing buildings, particularly residence halls, are in critical need of renovation. In addition, to serve our students’ needs, new facilities are required. The first of several phases of the master plan needs to begin immediately. Those who love Wesley College will be asked to tangibly demonstrate their commitment through both annual and capital financial commitments.
Critical to the long-term success of Wesley are planned gifts. Wesley has not historically been the beneficiary of these gifts in equal proportion to many other similar institutions of higher education. A sustained educational effort concerning planned gifts will become a permanent part of our advancement efforts.
WHY DO YOU FEEL IT IS SO IMPORTANT FOR ALUMNI TO SUPPORT THEIR ALMA MATER?
One of my favorite verses of scripture reads: “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” The lives of our alumni have been molded by Wesley College. Regardless of the amount of money they paid in tuition, the cost of their education exceeded those payments. Thus, someone else, in part, provided for them the gift of a Wesley education.
As I travel and meet alumni of Wesley I am constantly hearing about “…the impact Wesley had on my life.” Those from the days of Wesley Junior College talk about the training ground for that next educational step, while those from the four-year institution speak glowingly of their baccalaureate experience. All recognize that they would not be where they are today without the people who are Wesley College.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT WESLEY COLLEGE FACES IN TERMS OF FUNDRAISING?
Our greatest challenge is successfully asking for support. In theory, we should-n’t need to “sell” Wesley to those whose lives have been impacted. The pride and affinity appears to be alive and well among so many Wesley graduates, yet we lag behind many of our peer institutions in alumni giving, so we need to unashamedly and boldly invite our alumni and friends to tangibly demonstrate their desire to see Wesley prosper by giving financially and doing so generously. In turn, we pledge to be good stewards of those gifts so that current and future students can benefit from a Wesley College education.
With more than 20,000 alumni and friends, it is tough for the advancement staff alone to successfully ask each and every individual to provide their financial support to our students. However, the advancement staff is not alone. We are surrounded by hundreds and perhaps thousands of individuals who have the ability to give annually and ask others to join them. One alumnus who contacts classmates and asks that they match his/her pledge makes a difference. Athletic team members asking their fellow teammates to add their dollars to a major gift from the team given in honor of their former coach make a difference. The list of possibilities is endless.
The financial challenges that lie ahead are substantial, but by working together I know we can meet the challenges of this day as well.
DESCRIBE THE CONCEPT BEHIND THE WESLEY SOCIETY AND THE BENEFITS FOR THE COLLEGE AS WELL AS THOSE INVOLVED? HOW DO YOU ENVISION THE WESLEY SOCIETY FIVE AND 10 YEARS FROM NOW?
The Wesley Society is a group comprised of individuals, businesses or organizations that commit $1000 or more on an annual basis or make an irrevocable planned gift to Wesley College. It is not simply a “recognition” society, meaning donors are thanked and recognized and nothing more. The Wesley Society is a “cultivation” society, meaning that we are interested in forming strong relationships with and among Society members through frequent communication and invitations to events with President Johnston and other institutional leaders.
The Wesley Society was launched in September 2009. Initially 69 donors qualified for membership. By December the number had climbed to 92. By the end of the fiscal year on June 30, I am confident that we will not only have met but surpassed our goal of 125 members for the first year. A future gala celebration will be planned to recognize and
thank our charter members and to encourage others to join us. I have personally witnessed the momentum generated by a cultivation society and am excited about the addition of The Wesley Society to the advancement efforts of this college.
What is my vision for The Wesley Society five and 10 years from now? It will be a dynamic group more than 500 members strong. From Society members will come more than 80% of the gifts to Wesley’s growing advancement efforts. Planned gifts and transformational gifts will be realized from the cultivation efforts with its members, resulting in renovation and new construction, some of which will carry the name of the donor. Finally, continued growth in both the number and quality of Wesley students will be partially a result of the enthusiastic gifting of alumni, trustees, personnel, businesses, church supporters and other friends that are valued partners in the always unfolding Wesley story.