Images Development can be a bad word if isn't implemented properly.  Some people cringe at the thought of a development person calling them on the phone because it means that someone wants you for your money.  While others are happy to take a meeting with a development person because they care about the organization and are fully aware of why they are meeting.  Some people just write a check and say we don't need to meet, I know what you want and here it is.  But at the end of the day, development is a fine line between love and hate and it has to be done right for everyone to fall on the love side.

This past weekend we were at Wesleyan for Jessica's parent weekend.  The weather was perfect and seeing Jessica is always great and she is so happy that we are still feeling the after affects of pure joy.  She has embraced the academics, is enjoying the social life and all and all just seems incredibly happy, independent and thrilled.  We really couldn't ask for more. 

The 3 of us were invited to a cocktail party at the President's home on Saturday evening.  Probably about 20 maybe 25 families.  Interesting enough, Wesleyan's endowment compared to their peer schools, is less per student.  The event was only about an hour or so.  Gave us an opportunity to meet the President, the Chairman of the Board and other families at the school.  There is no doubt that this particular event was the first opportunity for the Development office to begin a relationship with us.  Believe me, I get it, I've been on the Development side and I have been pitched by many organizations while sitting on the other side of the fence.  You got to do what you have to do and I am fully aware of what they are doing.

Here are some key points in development.  Do your research and thanks to Google, research has gotten a helluva lot easier over the years.  You should know everyone in the room and their history.  It is all out there somewhere if you really spend some time investigating.  When someone is asked for money, if the Development office is good, they know exactly what range is suitable after all that is their job. So here are some finer points besides knowing who you are speaking to. 

If someone is partners with a Wesleyan graduate who is an involved alumni, don't feign surprise.  I know as well as you know that you knew the information before we walked into the room.  Don't suck up to the husband and ignore the wife or the student.  The saying is a way to a man's heart is through his stomach, well the way to a parents heart is through their kid.  Most important, in today's world, and probably forever, the wife or the partner might have a different role than a full time money maker, show them respect vs fawning over their husband/partner.  There isn't anybody who is called upon from the Development office that doesn't know why they were called.  Focusing on the money and ignoring the rest of the group will get you nowhere.  Just because that person presently brings in the cash doesn't mean they are the person making the decisions about how the cash gets spent.  After all, there is a thing called partnership.  Also, at everyone of these events, the President should say something to the group even it is for a few minutes…like hello, thanks for coming, we are thrilled to have your kids, something.  Don't just attempt to make conversation with random families and then sneak out the back door for your next event.  Embrace the moment.  That is a lost opportunity. 

Ok, that's my Development class today.  Needless to say, we love Wesleyan because Jessica is so thrilled to be there and we know so many people who graduated from Wesleyan that are still involved and just love the place but the Development end needs some serious fine tuning. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. jonathanc

    It is remarkable how awful some development efforts are while others are so good. I am often pitched by my undergraduate alma mater and graduate (b-) school. I have good memories of all both. But the development effort by my graduate school has been sterile for as long as I can remember – maybe that is why less than 10% of the class showed up for a 25th reunion. I wish they would cut out the “give us money” letters and mealtime phone calls. They are just plain annoying. My undergrad school has periodic events in NYC (despite being a California public university – and we all know what the means about their finances) that I really look forward to. I’ve hosted dinner for the undergraduate dean, met the chancellor, and listened to professors talk about exciting research. I feel like I have a relationship with “my” development officer and, more importantly, feel like they deserve the support. Different as night and day….

    1. Gotham Gal

      Exactly….different as night and day

  2. ellen

    For some reason that meeting seemed a bit premature. After all Jessica has been there less than one semester. Usually you give donations because you have had such a wonderful experience at the school or that they are working on something that is personally interesting to you.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Believe me, it is not premature. You join a temple they hit you up thatafternoon. Development starts with a cocktail party, then a coffee, andsometimes meetings can go on for a year. It is the initial impression thatis so important and unfortunately this one wasn’t.

  3. ellen

    you are absolutely right. The rabbi who married me was not the one from my temple and as I recall her asked my husband to make a large contribution to his building fund

  4. shelleypinkhouse

    This was an interesting post and well written. I’m interested because I am on the development committee for a college, as well as in the college counseling business. I totally agree with you on the husband-wife-partnership thing and that all couples should be treated as equals in a situation like this. However, I think that it is inappropriate to include the new freshman student in this kind of wining-dining-schmozing event. I find it very unsettling that they would try to suck up to the parents through the students. It makes me not like Wesleyan and I work with students that apply there. All colleges are desperate to identify the parents who are wealthy to bring them “on board”, but please leave the students out of the mix until they graduate and become alum.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Not so sure I agree with that. Part of growing up happens in college. Tolearn about development and being philanthropic as a young age is a goodthing. It was our option to bring her along to the event. Even if therewas a parents only event in NYC, I’d share that with her. She should bewell aware of what and if we do something for the school and perhaps getinvolved in what would make sense based on her personal interests. At theend of the day, it is her school and she will be the alum. Her relationshipwith the school should start now.