University Advancement making plans to work with next administration
Posted March 22, 2010 at 11:23 pm in News
Many students know USC raises a lot of money from alumni and other donors, but few know about the person whose job it is to raise that money.
For the past five weeks that person has been Sam Lopez, USCâs new assistant vice president for advancement communications.
âFundraising is an art form,â Lopez said. âThere are many ways it can be done. In the world of communications, we help get messages to the donors. We help connect the great ideas and talent of this university to its sponsors.â
Lopez said forming strong relationships between donors and the university is crucial to raising money.
âItâs about tailoring the message to the audience,â Lopez said. âWe form partnerships between donors and what they care about. Itâs like matchmaking.â
Though a major aspect of Lopezâs job is to raise funds for the school, his job also encompasses updating the schoolâs infrastructure. The Division of University Advancement constantly evaluates how the school does business and works to make enhancements that will raise the overall quality and cost-effectiveness of the university.
Re-evaluating the current infrastructure is especially important now, Lopez said, since USCâs administration will be facing changes upon President Steven B. Sampleâs retirement. He has to ensure the office of advancement is working to meet the needs of the current administration, as well as the next.
âUSC raises a lot of money,â Lopez said. âWeâre one of the top universities for that, and we donât want to lose that momentum.â
Courtney Surls, vice president of development, said a smooth presidential transition is something the Division of University Advancement has been preparing for the past two years.
âWe know that [Nikias] has a bold vision for the future that will build on everything President Sample has already done,â Surls said.
Nikiasâ aspirations for USC include doubling the size of the schoolâs endowment.
âHeâs very focused on fundraising,â Surls said. âWeâre making sure we have our systems and procedures aligned, that we have the right people in place, that itâs a very professionalized system.â
Peter Lasher, associate senior vice president for development, agreed.
â[Nikias] is coming in with a very ambitious plan,â Lasher said. âWe have to help translate it into different donor postulations and help them understand how their private donations will make a difference.â
Lopezâs job is also made more difficult by the recent economic crisis, which has affected schoolsâ fundraising all across the nation.
âUSC donations dropped 9.8 percent last [fiscal] year,â Lopez said. âIt was still less than the national average, which was 11.9 percent. But as confidence in the economy returns, so will philanthropy.â
Lopez, however, said the biggest challenge facing USC isnât fundraising at all, but changing certain perceptions about the school.
âOur biggest challenge is overcoming the perception that we donât need resources,â Lopez said. âWithout the support of alumni and friends, this place wouldnât have the quality of education, research, academic programs, sports and more, that it has. It would be devastating.â
Lasher said the office needs to ensure that every small donation goes appreciated.
âSometimes when we think about donors, we think about a big monolithic group,â Lasher said. âBut weâre expecting a different kind of generation, and the practices weâve traditionally used are evolving.â
Lopez, whoâs been working in higher-education communication for 16 years and at three other universities, added that working in the division of university advancement has been great so far.
âThereâs a lot of collegiality among advancement staff,â Lopez said. âA university is many pieces, and one area helps raise other areas.â
Though most students donât know anything about the division of university advancement, itâs a function that all schools have and Lopez is more than happy to spread the word.
âThe future philanthropists are current students, so itâs great to spread the word about what we do,â Lopez said.