Columbia College has restructured several departments, including public relations and marketing, and changed the way it relates to donors.
The institution’s new philanthropic push, “Connecting Tradition to Tomorrow,” seeks to recast the traditional donation models-a trend the college hopes will catch on throughout the higher education community.
It’s an exciting time to be involved in philanthropy at the college, Michael Kateman, the executive director of development, alumni and public relations, said.
“I think that speaks to how this institution, since the beginning, since it’s founding, has always been ready to embrace change and adapt to a changing market,” Kateman said.
As part of the new modeling, the private college recently added the office of enrollment management and split the offices of marketing and public relations.
Public relations was added recently to Kateman’s portfolio, and Tery Donelson was appointed to the newly created position of assistant vice president for enrollment management. In another structural change, Myles Hinkel was named director of development for major and planned gifts.
The college formed a search advisory committee to aid in identifying an executive director of marketing, and a search is under way for a senior director to manage the public relations team, which includes editorial, Web and creative services staff. Also, Alumni Services was changed to Alumni Relations.
Most institutions combine the marketing and public relations, but President Gerald Brouder decided to separate them, freeing each one to focus on their specialties.
The changes in the fundraising structure are the result of Brouder’s decision in late 2007 to set up a group to “review the way that donors to the institution had traditionally been recognized and see if those ways were effective, were meaningful,” said Lindsay Young Lopez, who joined the college in January as the senior director of development, a new position.
The group, made up of a combination of alumni and trustees, was tasked with making recommendations on how to improve the program.
After a series of meetings, the group determined Columbia College needed to better capture the history and traditions of the institution while also celebrating its current position-one very different from its foundation. Founded as Christian Female College in 1851, the name was changed to Columbia College in 1970 when it became a coeducational, four-year institution. Today it has 4,200 day and evening campus students, more than 14,000 online students and a multitude of satellite campuses, including one at the Guantanamo Bay military installation.
So the college, with the help of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa,-based marketing group, ME&V, decided to shake things up.
Several of the old donor societies-like the St. Clair Society, named after former president Luella St. Clair-Moss-are still around. “We didn’t change everything,” Young Lopez said. The Silver and Navy club, for recent alums, and the military service-oriented Stars and Stripes club were formed recently.
The college replaced the term “donor recognition” with “contributor appreciation.”
“That (new term) really expresses that there is a shared commitment between the donor, or the contributor, and the institution,” Young Lopez said. “To our knowledge we are the only institution of higher learning that has adopted this model.”
“I would say Columbia College is staying on the cutting edge of our sector in philanthropy by addressing contributor appreciation,” Kateman said. “I think adopting a philosophy of appreciating contributors rather than just recognizing donors allows us that opportunity to drill down deeper, to make charitable giving more meaningful.”
Ultimately, the new program has two distinct but important aims, Young Lopez said.
“Our goal really is to both honor the tradition and history of the institution while recognizing the people who are helping us to become even more successful than we already are,” she said.
And not all of the contributors are alumni.
“This institution has had such amazing support from employees,” Young Lopez said. “I think it’s just almost unheard of for an institution of our size to boast that employees have contributed over $1 million,” she said, referring to the $1.2 million raised since the college started tracking employee donations in 1993.
At least one employee contributor cited institutional inspiration for her donation.
“It is a family. You do have that family feel, and so it makes you want to (donate),” said marketing coordinator Jennifer Jonas.
Employee donors are recognized just like any other contributor, Young Lopez said. Aside from the “We are C.C.” fundraising campaign, which started only last year, no real fundraising outreach efforts have been aimed at staff, she said.
“We’re not twisting anyone’s arms,” Young Lopez said. “It’s really a conscious decision and choice that they’re making on their own because they want to be supportive.”
Both Young Lopez and Kateman credited the leadership of Brouder, who came to the college in 1995, with inspiring employees to open their wallets.
Of his philanthropic ideals, the president explained that he “would like for contributors to provide for us the opportunity to excel. The margin of excellence, I think, is underwritten by our loyal contributors.”
While the school’s operating revenue mostly comes from tuition, contributor dollars often go directly into the school’s endowment where they can be invested and grow to the benefit of the school, Brouder said.
The benefits can be seen in physical projects like the new students commons, or in more long-term, goal-oriented projects such as the upcoming science initiative drive. That initiative hopes to bring a new laboratory science building to campus and stock it with the best scientists the school can hire.
Donations from contributors have also been used to endow chairs, pay for scholarships and fund events like Columbia’s ongoing series of ethics lectures, Brouder said.
As for employee funding, Brouder credited the college itself.
“I don’t want to brag, but it is a very fine place to work,” the president said. “They believe in it. They believe that they are working for an institution that is one of quality.”
Affinity for the Columbia begins the first time you come into contact with the school, Kateman said, so the school has assigned-and split-departments so as to better handle portion of the student’s school cycle to maximize affinity development.
The departments of development, alumni relations and public relations are tasked with handling post-graduation contact with students, Kateman said.
The split should help Columbia College keep a consistent message running for the five-to-seven year student cycle, from the first flyer a potential student receives in the mail through recruiting, acceptance and enrolment, and on to graduation.
While the current economic problems haven’t yet hit Columbia College, Young Lopez said it was a fortuitous time to adopt the new model and ensure contributors know how appreciative the institution is for their efforts.
Kateman too acknowledged that the current economic situation could be troublesome, but added that even in rocky times philanthropic giving tends to weather the storm. Philanthropy should be fine, he said, although some minor tweaks to exactly how gifts are made might be necessary.
“The base values of this country are that we will help our neighbors, those around us,” Kateman said. “And the greatest way that is demonstrated is through the enormity of philanthropy.”