Advancing Philanthropy

Institutional Member Profile: The Ohio State University

It’s always sunny at Ohio State.

Above: It’s always sunny at Ohio State. All photos by The Ohio State University.

On any given day, a development officer from The Ohio State University (OSU) might be talking with current university students about careers in advancement while another brainstorms ideas with a colleague from a nearby nonprofit and another lines up a speaker for the Central Ohio AFP chapter. And all of those activities would be encouraged and supported by university leaders who consider their AFP institutional membership a very worthwhile investment.

Michael C. Eicher“Professional development is a top and ongoing priority for our advancement team at Ohio State,” says Michael C. Eicher, senior vice president for advancement and president of The Ohio State University Foundation. “AFP’s institutional membership provides opportunities for a broad cross-section of our staff to grow their knowledge and skill sets through education, leadership, mentorship, and networking. It’s a wonderful partnership that benefits both our students who aspire to careers in advancement as well as our most experienced staff members across disciplines.”

The institutional membership enables all staff members to participate in whatever AFP programs are relevant and interesting to them, a benefit that typically reaps positive results for everyone.

Filling the Pipeline

Stephanie MizerBeing able to tap into the broadest possible pool of fundraising job candidates is an AFP benefit that was immediately obvious to Stephanie Mizer, senior manager of talent acquisition and management and chief diversity officer: “I started as a recruiter in 2012, and as someone in charge of bringing fundraising talent to OSU, it quickly became abundantly clear that there’s a talent pipeline shortage. Everyone knows that. The partnership between OSU and AFP has been incredible. It has given us access to lots of talented folks that we’ve hired here; and our staff has the opportunity to grow professionally and give back. Many have taken leadership roles and are being tapped for their expertise.”

ohio university campus with students In addition to her HR responsibilities in the advancement division, Mizer advises OSU’s AFP collegiate chapter, helping to create the advancement leaders of the future. One of her co-advisers, Katie Mellett, senior director of operations and stewardship for the Fisher College of Business, says, “This generation of people is becoming more and more mindful of what it means to help the world, and they’re seeking opportunities to make an impact. Some members come from the Glenn College of Public Affairs, which has a nonprofit studies program, and some come from other colleges. It’s a very eclectic group of students, all of whom want to make a contribution. We offer opportunities for them to learn about development, like having speakers from inside and outside OSU present on topics such as how to steward donors or ask for a major gift.”

Lauren Miller, assistant director of development for the College of Engineering, is a terrific example of an OSU collegiate chapter success. “I was a freshman studying psychology and had only been at the university for two weeks when I stopped by the AFP table at a Student Involvement Fair. A member explained that this is a profession where you can raise money and do incredible things for a cause you were passionate about and sold me on the organization. I [eventually became] the president of the chapter, and I’m really proud of the fact that all of the people who were on my executive board are now working in development. AFP started out as an open door to this career path and continues as a vehicle to learn more and improve myself professionally.”

Professional Development

Laura Baker, CFRE, senior director of advancement for WOSU Public Media and incoming president of the Central Ohio AFP chapter, is one of many staffers who appreciate the institutional membership. “I like knowing that the university is supportive of my engagement with AFP and that I have the flexibility to take the time for myself and my career to expand my horizons. I see being on a board as a learning experience,” she says. She also values having a network of colleagues from other sectors: “I am part of a very large community of fundraisers at OSU, but sometimes you need a second pair of eyes or ears—someone who’s not a part of your organization. WOSU functions more like a small shop than an academic unit, and I’m able to lean on a great, tight-knit community to explore different ways of fundraising.”

Fifth President of OSU, William Oxley Thompson.
Fifth President of OSU, William Oxley Thompson.

For Jessica Grisez, CFRE, director of development for the College of Medicine, chairing chapter committees and serving on the board has been her way of expressing gratitude for the opportunities she’s had: “When I moved to Columbus, I didn’t know anyone, so I joined AFP, which was a great way to get to know people outside of OSU—the local development community, the nonprofit community, and the community in general. I have built a supportive professional network of fundraising professionals; found a fabulous local fundraising mentor in Laurie Beth Sweeney, director of development for The Wellington School; and received a generous scholarship to pursue my CFRE credential. None of this would have been possible without my membership through OSU, so I feel motivated to be involved and pay back my local chapter.”

Bill Bartolini, Ph.D., ACFREThe membership doesn’t only benefit beginning and midcareer individuals, according to Bill Bartolini, Ph.D., ACFRE, senior philanthropic adviser for the Wexner Medical Center and Health Science Colleges. An AFP member for more 27 years, he says, “I’ve been blessed that AFP has been a great part of my educational process. In addition to fundraising skills, I learned behind-the-scenes management (i.e., what a board needs, how a search committee works, what a consent agenda is). Also, times change and technology changes, and AFP is aware of trends and keeps me informed. For me to stay contemporary, it’s important to stay on top of things.”

Strengthening the Chapter

The Central Ohio AFP chapter is one of the 25 largest chapters in the world, with about 70 OSU individuals in the overall membership of 378. “The Central Ohio Chapter was chartered over 30 years ago, and I don’t believe there has even been a time when OSU fundraisers were not actively involved with our chapter, many in significant leadership roles,” says Dale Abrams, chapter administrator.

OSU’s marching band spells out its true colors.
OSU’s marching band spells out its true colors.

OSU’s membership benefits AFP in several ways, according to Bartolini: “With this membership, OSU is able to support and engage more people in AFP. If I’m an employee who wants to serve on a program committee because I think I would learn a lot, the institutional membership says, ‘It’s OK to do this. We support your professional development,’ and that results in AFP’s volunteer pool being broadened. … The institutional membership expands access to AFP programs and services and increases the number of mentors available to other members.” He also believes that OSU’s size and diversity broadens AFP’s perspective by offering a variety of points of view from individuals representing different areas such as the law college, the heart program, and special events.

Generations unite at the AFP chapter get-together.
Generations unite at the AFP chapter get-together.

OSU’s advancement staff members have filled many leadership positions in the chapter, resulting in learning opportunities for them and positive results for the membership. For example, Baker, the chapter’s president-elect, spent the past year focusing on financial sustainability. “I think it’s very important to operate from a position of strength, so I worked with the chapter treasurer to create a zero-based budget for 2019. We didn’t just look at revenue. We looked at critical needs and were able to shape a budget in which we’re not spending reserves, and we have a great foundation for heading into the new year,” she says.

And Grisez is very proud of her efforts as chair and co-chair of the education committee, which ultimately included recruiting a broader slate of national presenters and finalizing the education calendar a year in advance to facilitate members planning their professional development activities.

“We knew from our members that they wanted more than just fundraising training, so we rolled out an RFP process to get proposals from people outside the box. We didn’t go just to fundraisers or AFP members. We started looking for people outside the norm, and we have seen new names submit proposals. This has also been a way to re-engage senior members to get them to present.”

This institutional membership is a winning collaboration from all angles: OSU invests in the staff, the staff benefits from that investment, and the donors reap the rewards of working with knowledgeable fundraisers who are committed to the university and their profession.

Mary Ellen CollinsMary Ellen Collins is a freelance writer from St. Petersburg, Florida, who specializes in feature stories and profiles for association magazines and a variety of for-profit and nonprofit clients. This is her 13th year as a regular contributor to Advancing Philanthropy.

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