Leadership in Development Management – days 3-5

Day 3
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.

Day 4
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.

Final day
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.

Leadership in Development Management Day 2

Building fundraising teams is a challenge, especially in the UK where there is a dearth of ready-made talent waiting to be hired. So another day looking at leadership, this time in a broader organisational setting, has been useful. Change management emerged as strong theme. The (re)development of philanthropic culture in HE involves major cultural change, which takes place amidst many other changes in the sector and in society – so no wonder ‘tolerance of ambiguity’ was listed as a virtue to seek and cultivate in team members. As the day unfolded, key differences between UK and US employment practices became apparent – it seems that in America even public institutions have a more flexible approach to hiring and firing than we do. Language differences also cropped up now and again. I was familiar with the word ‘Faculty’ as the descriptor for academic staff rather than an organisational unit, but had not come across the usage of ‘staff’ as a verb, something you can do to a person, as in ‘how are we staffing the Vice-Chancellor’ – meaning not ‘providing the V-C with staff’, but ‘supporting the V-C in staff-like ways’.

Wonder GenSex

THE GENDER AND SEXUALITY RESEARCH GROUP (GenSex) is an inter-disciplinary research-led group interested in sexuality and gender studies, launched last year at Edge Hill University. As their flyer says “We meet regularly to hear research papers, engage in debate, and run seminars and workshops on subjects such as: masculinities, feminisms, gender theories, LGBT &/or queer studies, sexuality and subversion, bodily/embodiment narratives and transgendered identities.” I’ve just heard that my proposal for a workshop-type session has been accepted – for the (scarily soon) Tuesday November 11th slot, 6-8 in M42 right here on the Ormskirk Campus. Mine will be one of two topics – the other session is to be confirmed, but I believe it will concern Carol Ann Duffy.

Rather than delve into my marketing bag of tricks (eg ‘Gendered Aspects of Prospectus Covers’) I’m doing something based more on personal interest… the blurb I’ve written goes something like this:

Polysemic Princess: the mutability of Wonder Woman

An exploration of the gendered aspects of superhero comics, focussing on ‘Wonder Woman’, a character created in 1941 by psychologist William Moulton Marston and continuously published thereafter. Roy will give an overview of the various cultural incarnations of the character and of critical analyses including feminist and queer readings, and interpretations of the character’s body as a site of narratives of nationhood and immigration. This will lead to an open discussion of gender and sexuality in superhero genres, considering specifically whether Wonder Woman’s depicted gender gives creators and fans scope for distinctively fluid and playful readings, compared with those possible for male characters.

The session will include a showing of TECHNOLOGY-TRANSFORMATION: WONDERWOMAN by Dara Birnbaum (USA, 1978, 7mins, video).

Do come along if you can.

The rest of the GenSex programme is still being finalised and I’ll post about it when I know more. For more information about GenSex email the group chair Mari Hughes-Edwards on edwardsm@edgehill.ac.uk

Seed bombing alternative culture

Recently I grabbed a copy of Dazed and Confused, ‘one of the world’s leading style and culture magazines’, to read on an early-morning train journey. The contents were of variable interest levels – it was disappointing to find the ‘new king of the beats’ to be some disco bloke rather than a new Kerouac; the fetish-inspired fashion spreads made me wish I had a copy of Country Walking to shield the innocent eyes of fellow travellers; I needed to know about the Wonder Women of America book. But what struck me the most was that it had a packet of seeds glued to the cover…

These hadn’t migrated from a nearby copy of Organic Gardening. They were part of a tie-in with Adidas, promoting their Grün shoes, ‘a collection that aims to better the environment by efficiently utilizing the natural resources of this world’.

The idea of the seeds is that they can be used to make a seed bomb. Seed bombs were dreamt up as part of the guerilla gardening movement, as a form of nonviolent political direct action. Basically you mix seeds with compost and clay and chuck them on to buts of urban wasteland. (Proper instructions here, if you fancy having a go.) “Vandalise the city with nature” and subversively transform the landscape… I’m not sure where I read about this originally – Adbusters magazine, Permaculture or somesuch – but it has always stuck in a corner of my mind, like a patch of wildflowers colonising some corporate urban non-space, as a life-enhancingly anarchic practice. So seeing it co-opted to sell shoes jars somewhat.

But should it? Adidas presumably sell lots of shoes and has an appealing brand and widepread distribution – more than many ethical clothes brands – so maybe their doing some green stuff has a significant effect. And if subversive actions like seedbombing are a good idea then isn’t it a good thing for them to be spread through the communication channels of mainstream commercial culture?

HE sector or HE system?

The first day of the Guardian HE Summit had its moments. There have been some interesting insights, and some lengthy periods that have led me to wonder if modern manners would allow me to get away with listening to an iPod as well as discreetly answering emails and texts (or else whether I could slip next door and join ‘Fire Retardants 2008’, to see what their burning issues are.)

One thing that happens at conferences is the subtle evolution of the language used in a particular professional group. I can see this happening here, in the cavernous air-conditioned spaces of the QEII Conference Centre, as the overcaffeinated hours tick by. Does ‘knowledge development’ sound less patronising than ‘knowledge transfer’? What should we call ‘widening participation’? Does ‘persistence’ locate the agency of people staying on courses better than ‘retention’? How many meanings does ‘research’ have in different universities?

And then there’s the C word.Those uncomfortable with the idea of students as customers would have been heartened to hear Bill Rammell (Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education) saying that he ‘rejects the view that the student is just a consumer’, as education is a two-way process, placing demands on learners as well as those teaching them. Although I’ve never heard anyone suggest that students are ‘just’ consumers, it’s good to hear this reinforced.

A reported opinion from an official in Rammell’s own department might be less popular. Apparently this un-named individual insisted, in conversation with a Vice-Chancellor, that the UK needs a higher education system, as opposed to a sector. This may sound like a minor semantic issue, but there are crucial differences in the concepts. A sector comprises autonomous organisations working in the same field – for instance, in the tourism sector there are all sorts of businesses and organisations competing and collaborating. A system comprises mutually linked functions in an overarching managed structure. (In the tourism example, this would be a nationalised tourism system such as the Soviet Union used to have. An HE example would be the state systems that operate in the US.) I can’t see the idea being embraced with enthusiasm outside Government circles…

Greener marketing

Along with many organisations, we’re doing lots of things in a greener way than before. Our low carbon funding is a big example; the appearance of plastic bottle banks a more modest one. But what can marketing do? We’re trying for greener production of our Prospectus – the annual launch of tons of paper on the world offers scope for greener materials and processes. Freebies like carrier bags and pens can be degradable and recycled. And no more badges made from depleted uranium could be a good move. But these feel like small beer somehow – maybe the marketing process itself can be greened…

I’m looking forward to reading John Grant’s new book, The Green Marketing Manifesto, to see if it sparks any ideas…

Your friendly neighbourhood business card

A friend commented at the weekend that ‘American university business cards are more friendly than ours’. I failed to probe much into what this might mean at the time, though the view that the Edge Hill ones are ‘corporate’ was expressed. Today I’ve pulled the US cards from my Rolodex (a Luddite piece of equipment which nevertheless has yet to be improved upon) seeking to discern the extra friendliness. I’m struggling: none have smiley faces 🙂 dotting the ‘i’s, exhortations to ‘have a nice day’, or discount coupons for Care Bears redeemable at a nearby mall. They don’t say things like ‘Hi! I’m Frank’ and as far as I can recall none were presented with an invitation to a group hug or immediate adjournment to a family barbecue, ‘baby shower’ or ‘kegger’ . (Having said that I did get taken to a church service in Wisconsin once. As it was July 4th, much was made of independence from the yoke of the beastly English. The patriotic hymn ‘America’ was sung, ironically to the tune of ‘God Save the Queen’, the lyrics of which I mumbled subversively… before handing out my unfriendly UK business cards accompanied by spitting and head butts.)

What the American cards do have is serifs on the fonts, and heraldic logos. To me this approach could signify tradition and prestige more than friendliness – but it’s all in the eye of the beholder of course. The Edge Hill visual identity seeks to be modern and does not attempt an appeal to heritage. Hopefully this doesn’t in itself make for an unfriendly image – we actually score highly for friendliness in surveys so overall we must be doing something right.

Meanwhile, I’m going through my own stock of cards and handwriting ‘S.W.A.L.K’ on them with a pink gel pen… just to soften the blow.

My favourite brands 2: WSU

My enthusiasm for Washington State University is of a different order from my love of Bic pens. Whereas Bics are a tactile part of my everyday life, WSU is an organisation I admire from afar, mainly for the way they do their branding. At meetings I often summon the WSU website to whatever online device comes to hand, and prceed to froth at the  mouth with enthusiasm… Their ‘World class. Face to face.’ is a great concept, one of the rare HE brands that actually means something. But what I really admire is the relentlessness and creativity they show in applying it. It really does permeate everything they do, and their communications demonstrate this excellently – eg video clips of students describing what ‘world class’ means to them.

Go Cougs!