What A New Strategic Plan Could Mean For The NMC Foundation
By Craig Manning | Oct. 16, 2022
In the wake of a record-breaking, expectation-defying fundraising effort – and an ambitious eight-month college-wide strategic planning process – the Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) Foundation is underway with a brand-new strategic planning effort of its own. College leaders say the new plan will reflect a changing landscape in higher education and charitable giving – one where declining enrollments render colleges increasingly reliant on donors, and one where shifting demographics push organizations like the NMC Foundation to zero in on younger donors.
At the helm of the new strategic planning process is Jennifer Hricik, promoted to the role of interim executive director at the NMC Foundation following the July departure of longtime Foundation leader Rebecca Teahen. Previously the Foundation’s leadership gifts specialist, Hricik sees the strategic plan as the logical start to a new chapter for NMC’s fundraising arm, which has been around since 1981.
In 2016, the NMC Foundation launched the Be What’s Possible campaign, a major capital effort intended to raise $35 million in five years. When it wrapped in mid-2021, the campaign had beaten its fundraising goal by more than $5 million, tallying $40.3 million. Be What’s Possible goes down in NMC lore as the biggest philanthropic campaign in college history, as well as the most unique. Where prior fundraising efforts had designated specific uses for the funds, Be What’s Possible boasted a comprehensive approach where the money raised could be funneled toward any area of need at the college – from facilities to programs to student scholarships.
“I was hired right around the time we started with Be What’s Possible, and was part of an intentional growth to the team in order to realize our goals with that campaign,” Hricik says. “At the time, we thought a campaign for $35 million was pretty audacious. And of course, we managed to exceed that. Coming off that campaign, the most important priority to us was not losing any momentum that had been created around Be What’s Possible. And then the college had just undergone its own strategic planning process, which helped us set our sights on where we can go in terms of supporting the exciting initiatives happening at NMC. In other words, our Foundation strategic planning process, which we launched in July, is our chance to say, ‘...And how will we get there?’”
More than just maintaining the momentum or bringing the Foundation in line with the college-wide strategic plan, President Nick Nissley sees this new planning process as an opportunity to prepare the Foundation for an even bigger role at NMC.
“We want to be sure that the Foundation is positioned as an indispensable part of the college,” Nissley tells The Ticker. “This last year, the foundation contributed $3.9 million to the college. At a time of declining enrollment, and at a time of declining state appropriations, we're going to need to lean more heavily on the Foundation. So, while the contribution was $3.9 million this last year, I imagine that number is only going to grow into the future.”
The shifting dynamics of how colleges are funded, Nissley acknowledges, could mean that the Foundation’s next capital campaign will be even bigger and more audacious than the last. “We’re trying to answer the question now of what that could look like,” he says.
Shifting demographics are also likely to come into play. According to one study, baby boomers account for 43 percent of all philanthropic donations, with another 20 percent coming from Generation X. Millennials, meanwhile, only represent about 11 percent. But with millennials now the dominant generational cohort in the United States workforce – and with Gen Xers and millennials set to inherit an estimated $59 trillion from parents and grandparents by 2061 – those percentages are eventually going to flip.
“We need to cultivate a new generation of supporters because of those aging donor demographics,” Nissley admits. One way of doing that, he says, might be experimenting with “shorter engagements,” which research suggests younger donors prefer. “So, maybe it’s a 15-minute engagement rather than a three-hour fundraising event,” Nissley explains. Another strategy might be to engage more with the younger alumni of NMC. “Because we surely have more opportunities to build a more vibrant alumni network,” Nissley notes.
The planning process will also take into account feedback from college stakeholders and the general public. According to Hricik, early public engagement efforts for the Foundation strategic plan have been extremely fruitful – to the point where even CampusWorks, the educational consultant leading the strategic plan development – was surprised. (CampusWorks previously worked with NMC on the college-wide strategic planning process.)
“We did a survey where we reached out to our community, and [CampusWorks] told us to expect no more than 100-200 responses,” Hricik says. “And I'll tell you, our community continues to shock them, because we had over 600 responses to that initial survey from the Foundation.”
What are the early takeaways from those responses? Hricik says ongoing transparency and community engagement are clearly top priorities among stakeholders – both for the current planning process and with any and all Foundation operations going forward. Respondents also voiced their support for the college’s growing commitment to innovation in and around the education space, and for the Foundation’s role in supporting and funding those innovative buildings and initiatives.
The NMC Foundation’s goal right now is to finalize a new strategic plan by the end of the year. Once the plan is in place, the Foundation will kick off another major process: finding a permanent executive director. A national search will kick off in January with the aim of hiring a director by summer 2023. Hricik plans on throwing her hat in the ring for the permanent job.Comment