MAKING CONNECTIONS: As Bryant University’s vice president for university advancement, James Damron is always looking to develop relationships with alumni, parents and others that lead to growing support of the school.
Despite a stalled economy and uncertain job market, particularly for recent college graduates, James Damron feels good about the steps he and his team at Bryant University are taking to develop strong relationships with current and potential donors.
As vice president for university advancement since joining Bryant in 2008, Damron is leading the preparations for the school’s sesquicentennial celebration next year. With more than 70 programs aimed at engaging its 40,000 alumni around the world, the university is always seeking innovative ways to accomplish its goals. And so far those efforts are enjoying strong interest and support from the school’s alumni base.
PBN: How long have you been involved in fundraising?
DAMRON: I began my fundraising career in 1986 and have worked with five colleges and universities, a major academic medical center and an international relief and development organization.
PBN: What is the size of your staff currently?
DAMRON: Bryant has 13 positions dedicated to the development program, as well as four positions in alumni relations that provide close support to our fundraising programs.
PBN: Describe the relationship you have with your team – how much do you rely on them?
DAMRON: Like any organization, ultimately success depends on having the right people. From our annual giving programs to our major donor initiatives, I rely on each of my team members to create and execute effective strategies for engaging alumni, parents, friends, corporations and foundations in the life of the university and securing their philanthropic support.
PBN: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
DAMRON: Developing a relationship with prospective contributors, discovering their personal passion, engaging them with the right people at Bryant who can help them achieve their philanthropic goal, and securing their ongoing personal involvement and financial support.
PBN: What is your least-favorite aspect?
DAMRON: Administrative tasks.
PBN: Is giving up, down, flat? Why?
DAMRON: Bryant has seen a strong and steady increase in both long-term commitments and outright gifts over the past three years. Our current success is attributable to the implementation a few years ago of strategic fundraising initiatives that take time to mature but are now bearing fruit.
PBN: What does a typical day on the job look like for you?
DAMRON: I serve as a member of the president’s cabinet, so the institutional priorities that [President Ronald K. Machtley] sets become my priorities as well. In addition, I prioritize my time to focus on my personal fundraising work, which involves scheduling and conducting meetings with current and prospective donors to cultivate their relationship with Bryant and, ultimately, secure their financial support. My next priority is supporting my four directors who lead our Development, Alumni Relations, Public Relations and Marketing, and Advancement Services departments.
PBN: With the university’s 150th anniversary coming up, how are you and your staff using that event to increase giving?
DAMRON: Bryant’s sesquicentennial celebration, which will kick off in 2013, provides a powerful opportunity to heighten people’s awareness of Bryant’s rich and distinguished history, and highlight the university’s many accomplishments. Our story will instill pride about being associated with Bryant in our alumni, parents and friends. We believe that the celebration will help engage many more people in supporting the university philanthropically.
PBN: What other fundraising initiatives does the school have ongoing?
DAMRON: We have a broad array of ongoing programs aimed at encouraging philanthropic support from our students, faculty and staff, alumni, parents, friends, corporations and foundations for the university’s priority needs. In addition, we have targeted programs to secure support for scholarships, capital projects, athletics and other special initiatives.
PBN: What steps do you take in attempting to tap into and grow your alumni’s emotional connection to the school to help generate revenue?
DAMRON: One of the four goals of Bryant’s Vision 2020 strategic plan is to “enhance and expand alumni engagement.” We reach out to our 40,000 alumni around the world with more than 70 alumni programs each year, vibrant print and electronic communications, an online community and opportunities to engage meaningfully with our students by providing mentoring and internship opportunities.
PBN: Is there a market for fundraising outside of alumni? Is there growth in that area?
DAMRON: In addition to alumni support, we are fortunate to enjoy strong support from individuals who are not Bryant graduates but who have developed a strong interest in Bryant’s mission and programs, as well as from parents – both current and past – who value their children’s educational experience. These two constituencies probably represent the most potential outside our alumni community.
PBN: What are the biggest obstacles you and your staff face in accomplishing your goals?
DAMRON: Certainly the sluggish economy remains a challenge, since potential supporters are uncertain about the future. Beyond that, the challenge is always persuading busy people who spend their time making money to take time to discuss giving some away.
PBN: What are the major differences between soliciting gifts from individuals versus corporations?
DAMRON: Individuals give based on their personal relationships with the university and members of its community – the president, faculty, board members, students and others. While we work hard to develop relationships with corporate leaders, corporations also consider how their philanthropy relates to their business interests. The key is finding a way to meet both the needs of the university and the needs of the company.
PBN: Given the economy and the tough job market, how do you approach today’s younger alums about giving?
DAMRON: One of our most successful programs in recent years has been our Senior Class Gift Program. For each of the past four years, more than 50 percent of our seniors have made commitments, with the Class of 2012 raising more than $60,000 for scholarship support. We are working now to see that they continue giving once they have graduated and started their careers. Consistently more than 95 percent of our graduating seniors have jobs or are in graduate school within six months of graduation, last year with an average starting salary of more than $50,000. We believe that our young alumni recognize that their early success is a direct result of the value of their Bryant education. •