We relocate to Orlando, basing ourselves in a hotel complex designed to look like an Italian village – a impressive example of the hyperreal copy-world charted by Baudrillard et al. The hotel may have be inauthentic, but there is nothing fake about the development professionals we meet, who show deep commitment based on a profound understanding of their institutions’ aims. Which makes me think – people working in alumni and development talk a lot about building affinity – a good starting point is the affinity between alumni staff themselves and the institutions they work for.
Lunch at Rollins College gives us a snapshot of campus life, as we pass students with laptops and lunchboxes in the sun. I felt at home in a university founded in 1885, with a strong focus on applied learning in an attractive campus – just like Edge Hill! Among many enviably successful projects, we learned of a parents’ programme which brings in support from people already paying $40-$50k per annum in fees.
Later we visit the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, part of the University of Central Florida. Rosen is a four-year-old campus created by the gifts of one individual, so we are literally sitting in the concrete results of philanthropy. In parallel with the campus development, the hospitality discipline has become a college in its own right and grown both staff and students. Undoubtedly impressive, this raises some interesting questions about the influence of philanthropy on the pace and direction of change in academic structures.
Notes from today: setting up a development operation is hard work, like ‘pushing boulders uphill’, but the rewards can be significant. And it all comes back to relationships: gifts are made to people, not institutions.
Our last visit takes us to Seminole Community College. SCC take a distinctive approach, ignoring alumni in favour of focusing on major gifts. The hi-tech campus to me exemplified a market-driven approach – labs named after client companies and offices rented by external organisations showing how the College and its stakeholders work together.
Fundraising here seems to be about finding partners with shared objectives and working to achieve mutual ends – making me think that what we would call ‘business development’ has a lot of similarities to fundraising.
Back at the fantasy hotel, the group shared yet another meal. Forming a network has been an objective of the programme, and there is plenty of mutual support and optimism in evidence over the ranch dressing and chipotle sauce.
Our last morning, and time to meet two Presidents. Not the shiny new President Elect, whose presence has infused the places we have been with a palpable sense of optimism; and not the other fellow currently shuffling greyly away from offfice. Instead we meet Ann McGee, President of Seminole Community College, and Rita Bornstein, President Emeritus of Rollins College; living embodiments of two of the institutions we have visited. Their electrifying presentations cover the role of institutional leaders, with ‘understanding of how to ask for money and who should do the asking’ being one of the key qualities. I suspect that few UK Vice-Chancellors’ job descriptions identify this quite so explicitly, although this may change if philanthropy does indeed become part of the mainstream. The relationship between President and Chief Development Officer is explored: the CDO should ‘push’ the President and ‘make the trains run on time’, perhaps literally as US institutional leaders do seem to expect, and be expected, to act as road warriors, spending significant amounts of time meeting donors. The parting message, one that has been returned to relentlessly each day this week, is one that UK institutions will hear increasingly: before you leave , don’t forget to actually ask for the money.