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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Fundraising style shifted with Brandeis presidential transition

Published: January 27, 2012
Section: Featured, News

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Overlooking the fairway greens and still water ponds that make up senior citizen paradise at Boca Greens Country Club here, at 86 years old Rosalind Schacknow remembers vividly the day when the Brandeis library received the millionth book in her time as president of the National Committee’s Boca Raton chapter.

“When you come in and you see that feeling … it was a very thrilling moment in my life,” Schacknow said in an interview on her porch last month.

For Schacknow, who graduated from Queens College in New York, and never stepped foot on the Brandeis campus before joining the BNC, her passion for Brandeis is rooted in its Jewish identity. She loves attending book and author luncheons with her friends and the socializing that fundraising for BNC involves.

Saul Kravec ’85, vice-president of sales at Elizabeth Arden Inc., supports Brandeis for a different reason. In addition to his Jewish identity, he donates to repay Brandeis for the learning he received and friendships he formed as a student.

“I give because I love Brandeis,” Kravec said on Christmas Eve over a breakfast burrito and espresso at a Las Olas Blvd. cafe. “I give because it did so much for me. I trust the administration. I trust that the money is going to the right place.”

Alumni like Kravec made up less than one-fourth of the university’s cash donations in FY 2011. Friends like Schacknow constituted more than one-third of them. Brandeis development officials and presidents have long been aware that the great challenge of fundraising here is reconciling for the fact that a young school produces young alumni who take time to build their careers and bank accounts.

“Our alumni are our future,” Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement Nancy Winship said in an interview. “Every university says that but now we’re almost grown up so we say that too.”

While the challenge is not new, the president confronting it is. President Fred Lawrence and former President Jehuda Reinharz each acknowledge the trend and share a common goal of raising money for financial aid. Yet in separate interviews this month, they expressed different attitudes toward fundraising, which was telling of both their personalities and visions for the university’s identity.

Personality impacts fundraising strategy

Impacted by the recession and the time it takes to build personal relationships with donors, Lawrence, in his first six months, helped to increase the university’s annual fundraising total to $62 million in FY 2011, nearly one-third less than the $90 million Reinharz delivered in FY 2008.

Reinharz, who listed the top 11 fundraising rules that helped him increase Brandeis’ endowment from $194 million in 1994 to $712 million in 2008, said the job requires strong listening skills, passion and the ability to remain firm rather than compromise over ideas and dollar amounts.

“I wish I could tell you there’s a formula. If I had a formula I would be a billionaire. I could sell it,” Reinharz said in a 90-minute interview Wednesday in his new role as president of the Mandel Foundation and new office at the Tauber Institute on campus.

The cost for creating a chair was set at $3 million and Reinharz never accepted less, explaining that a smaller donation would instead be used for something else.

Reinharz also explained that large gifts must be aligned with the mission and vision of the university, recalling a time when he turned down a $35 million gift for a proposed building on the front lawn.

Citing one of his rules, Reinharz said, “Don’t accept a gift that is damaging to the institution and be able to say no.”

But when it came to recruiting and encouraging donors, he never hesitated, regardless of the time or place.

“Some of my best fundraising was hiking,” Reinharz said. “When you hike with somebody, they’re out of breath so they can’t really say no, so I take it as a yes.”

The former president added that he valued the individual contact with donors and never brought Winship with him to meetings on the West Coast.

“My fundraising, with very few exceptions, was done by myself only,” he said.

“Jehuda is a rockstar in many ways,” said Trustee Stuart Lewtan ’84. “You have that feeling of being with somebody who is really important.”

Lewtan, who majored in the sciences at Brandeis but turned to business for his career, transforming a small start-up planned on his kitchen table into a multi-national corporation called Lewtan Technology, said he always felt a deep personal connection to the university because he met his spouse and best friend here.

But it was through a lecture at the International Business School that enabled Lewtan to teach the lessons of his career that he became reengaged. His support for the school is rooted in his experience here but strengthened through personal relationships with Reinharz and Lawrence.

Winship said that Lawrence’s greatest strength is the personal connection supporters find with him.

“So much of it is social skills … that people want you at their dinner party,” she said. “He really connects in a way that many people cannot do.”

As Schacknow said about Lawrence, “He and his family just seem to be Brandeis people.”

Much of Reinharz’s success at fundraising came from relationships he built during his 16 years here. Once the personal connection was there, he was comfortable asking for money from people who already understood his goals and vision.

Lawrence acknowledged that those relationships come with time.

“A lot of it is about relationships, relationships you build, and relationships I can continue to work on,” Lawrence said in a 20-minute interview in his office this month. “At the end of the day, people have to buy into your vision, want to be part of supporting that, and they also have to feel that you deeply believe it.”

Kravec, drawing on his background in marketing, said that successful fundraising requires listening to the concerns of donors without changing the vision or values that the school supports.

“I think being sensitive to donors is important. I don’t think you can change the character of the university for its donors,” Kravec said. “Maybe you have to hit more people. We have a great product. You’ve got stuff to sell. You’ve got a Jewish-sponsored university.”

An identity paves way for fundraising

But making that sales pitch requires knowing precisely for what Brandeis stands, and where in relation to its core constituencies.

“I always think of it as the first Jewish-sponsored school,” Schacknow said, reflecting on her support for Brandeis.

Brandeis’ identity as a Jewish school, non-sectarian or not, has motivated outside donors since the university’s inception. For such a young school, the support has been crucial: Where other universities also benefit from mature endowments and alumni giving, Brandeis has relied on core support from donors invested in the university’s mission.

Nevertheless, the university’s image as a Jewish school has remained a point of tension. From the beginning, the question has been whether Brandeis was “too Jewish or not Jewish enough,” Reinharz explained. “That [debate] is not going to go away.”

Through his tenure, Reinharz continually and clearly embraced Brandeis’ connection to the American Jewish community. In comparison, Lawrence has placed less of an emphasis on that connection.

Reinharz recognized that the debate could have alienated donors. “You have to be very clear what you stand for,” he said. Then, donors will say “now I understand [that mission, and] I want to be a part of it.”

For years, then, Reinharz would liken Brandeis to rye bread in a world of white bread universities. Fitting given the prominence of rye bread in Jewish-American cuisine, Reinharz saw parallels between the distinctive tastes of both Brandeis and rye bread.

Reinharz explained that the university’s commitment to the American Jewish community is what separates it from peer institutions.

“Every institution in the world says that they’re excellent. Brandeis is really rye bread. It has a different taste,” Reinharz said. “It is obviously the fact that it was created by the American Jewish community.”

“In the case of Brandeis you’ve got the entire Jewish world who thinks that they know how to run the university better than you do,” Reinharz said. “One of the things you have to realize early on is that you’re not going to be able to satisfy everyone to the full extent.”

When starting as president, his was a much-needed vision. In 1995, alumni giving represented a small fraction of annual giving, at $3.2 million of $24 million in cash fundraising. Much of the rest would come from friends of the university. And many of them have historically been Jewish.

Today, donations from friends are no less important. But in his first year as president, Lawrence has placed less emphasis on the historic connection to the Jewish community of the school than Reinharz did.

Reinharz spoke often of the four pillars that support Brandeis: Jewish sponsorship, social justice, excellence and pluralism. The four pillars touted by Reinharz, and each still represented by a pillow resting atop his bookcase, have been replaced on the university’s website.

In Lawrence’s inauguration speech, he instead spoke of three rocks: dedication to non-discrimination; commitment to the liberal arts and sciences; and community and social justice.

The difference may seem trivial and simply a change in communication strategy, but it reflects the broader image that Brandeis seeks to portray.

While speaking with The Hoot, Lawrence strongly disagreed that the university could not be diverse and Jewish at the same time—though he did not employ bread in making the case.

“We have a set of values that spring from the Jewish roots, but as I always like to put it, these are roots that don’t narrow us, they broaden us,” he said.

He accepted that social justice has a “special resonance with the notion of Tikkun Olam”—the Jewish imperative of repairing the world. But in discussions of Brandeis’ identity, Lawrence is also quick to emphasize Brandeis’ diversity when mentioning its Jewish roots. “The school that I inherit has got a strong set of traditions but also has got an extraordinary diversity,” he said. “I think both of them are great strengths of ours.”

“In terms of my own background, this is the world in which I live,” he explained. “I am, as everyone around here knows, a practicing Jew. … At the same time, my career comes out of the legal world,” including a background “filled with issues of diversity.”

Lawrence was particularly adamant in underscoring the consistency in his views: “I never view these as pulling in different directions … Each of us comes from a particular place, but we bring it to the general community. I think that’s one of the strengths of this place.”

Reinharz embraced diversity too. Yet he is more comfortable talking about the school’s vision simply as one tied to the Jewish community. He feels less compelled to finish every thought about the strength of the Jewish community with sentences also emphasizing a commitment to diversity.

To Reinharz, diversity is a given here and nearly every school in the nation embraces it today. Jewish roots are what separate Brandeis from its peers.

For many donors, some of whom have never even set foot on Brandeis’ campus, the school’s Jewish identity trumps all else.

To Schacknow, certainly, who never attended Brandeis but nonetheless gives generously, Brandeis as a Jewish institution has real significance. Today, she tells stories of Jewish friends who sought higher education in Scotland, having been unable to gain acceptance to U.S. schools in the 1940s.

Lawrence would not attribute Brandeis’ Jewish identity as driving support from friends like Schacknow. But he acknowledged Brandeis’ donors are unique in higher education philanthropy.

To some degree, the Jewish connection is merged with alumni support. Like friends, there are also many alumni who continue to support the school because of its Jewish roots. Yet the need to engage alumni more as friends as the school ages is clear.

In 1975, alumni provided 1.3 percent of overall giving. By 2011, that number had reached 23.4 percent. The rise in alumni giving has by no means occurred overnight. But as alumni have come of age, the pressure has waned to rely solely on friends for support.

Reinharz said that under his administration, the university received its first seven-figure alumni gift. The highest gift from an alum during his tenure was $16.5 million.

In FY 2011, the university raised $62 million: 23.4 percent came from alumni, 26.7 percent from corporations and foundations, 14.5 percent from parents and 35.5 percent from friends. Brandeis is ranked in the top 10 percent of national universities for alumni giving participation.

“I’d like to see more alumni giving,” Kravec said. “You’ve got to have people talking to the alumni. It’s harder to say no the person in front of you.”

To target young alumni who graduated between 2002 and 2011, the university recently launched a new initiative called Brandeisians Of the Last Decade (BOLD).

The idea is that if Brandeis wants alumni to donate six- and seven-figure gifts in their 40s, the development office needs to engage them immediately, from the time they are students, and continue building that relationship in the early years after they graduate. For alumni in their 40s, who are busy balancing careers with family life, it can be difficult to recruit them in fundraising efforts if they have not been significantly engaged since graduation.

Lawrence, who has worked to engage alumni and friends at roll-out events across the country this past year, recognized the unique source of financial support Brandeis receives.

“To have wide-based, committed, generous people who didn’t go here [is an] amazing attribute,” Lawrence said. “They are deeply connected with the place. It’s a great asset.”

However differently Lawrence and Reinharz may portray and discuss the school’s Jewish identity, they each share a common goal and top priority of raising funds for student financial aid.

Reinharz raised $1.2 billion in his tenure as president and despite the buildings that transformed the campus, he said that the majority of money went to financial aid.

“Student aid was always the number one priority,” Reinharz said, explaining that one of his main goals was to ensure any student enrolled at Brandeis would not be forced to leave because they could not fund their education.

Lawrence has reiterated that stance that financial aid is the top priority of his presidency.

Kravec explained that donors can be just as encouraged to donate to financial aid than to buildings, explaining, “The biggest donor could be the Smith Scholarship Fund. That lives on forever.”

The Rose legacy

The same boldness to resist compromise on values or core ideas that Reinharz used to transform Brandeis and its identity led to a crisis when the board of trustees announced its decision to sell paintings from The Rose Art Museum in 2009.

While that decision alone did not directly impact fundraising, it created instant name-recognition, most of it negative for Brandeis in the media.

Reinharz acknowledged that whatever the error in communication may have been at the time, he was president, so he accepts responsibility for the decision and process by which the university explained it to the community.

“The way he did it was horrible. He’s going to take the pictures and sell them? Number one they didn’t belong to him and the school,” Schacknow said.

What Reinharz does not regret is the principle that guided such a decision. It is the same belief that drove his fundraising campaigns—poor students should not be excluded or forced to leave Brandeis. In this case, however, Reinharz was thinking about the economic security of the university’s staff, not just its students.

Reinharz explained that as the school was facing the decision to lay off workers, it was evaluating not tenured faculty positions, but employees who make less than $50,000 a year.

Imagine arriving home at the end of the day and saying to your spouse, Reinharz explained, “I was fired today but it was a good day for Brandeis. Not a single painting was sold.”

For whatever anger, controversy and debate The Rose provoked, the former president did not hesitate to say that it was most important for leaders to stand firm in their beliefs.

“It’s not possible to be in this position without knowing what you stand for,” Reinharz said.

After acknowledging the controversy he provoked over The Rose, Reinharz said that he made decisions in the best interest of Brandeis and its future development.

“I raised more money for the Louis Foster Wing than all my predecessors put together. I raised more money for the university than all my predecessors combined,” he added.

Reinharz’s legacy of raising $1.2 billion for Brandeis is tainted with the community uproar and art world backlash he provoked at the end of his presidency.

Reinharz’s worst mistake was the decision to propose selling artwork. Lawrence’s greatest accomplishment was his ability to settle the lawsuit that his predecessor provoked.
At a week-long celebration for the renovations and reopening of The Rose last October, Lawrence praised the new era for the museum and for Brandeis.

He did not mention the $1.5 million Reinharz, in an attempt to rehabilitate his image, told The Hoot he raised for those renovations.

“I care first and foremost about this university. For me this was not a personal issue,” Reinharz said. “I know what I’ve done for this university.”