Conversations about fundraising efforts, student engagement and relationships with international alumni dominated the January candidate forums for Ohio University’s next vice president of advancement, and president and CEO of the OU Foundation.
Four finalists spoke at the public forums, which search committee co-chair Scott Titsworth hosted.
Here are the highlights from each conversation.
JR Blackburn | Ohio University
The only candidate employed by OU, Blackburn has been with the university since 2008, and has experience in both the public and private sectors of advancement.
While Blackburn managed volunteer efforts for the “Promise Lives” campaign, his team raised more than $500 million — an accomplishment he calls “monumental.”
“We grew a lot as an organization,” Blackburn said. “We learned a lot about who we were as an institution.”
Blackburn said he was especially excited to work with OU President Duane Nellis, who is creating “an enormous amount of energy on campus.”
“I want to continue to grow on what we’ve learned and who we are,” Blackburn said. "I want to bring my passion, not just for fundraising but for the advancement profession.”
When asked about fundraising from a younger generation, Blackburn highlighted the importance of engaging students from the start, rather than waiting until graduation day.
“You have to engage students and the alumni network from that beginning and introduce them to what it means to be a student, and to be a Bobcat,” Blackburn said.
Christopher Brittin | Drexel University
In his 30-year career in higher education, Britton has held 14 different positions at universities across the country, working in fundraising, management, recruitment and staff retention.
In his current position as vice president for institutional advancement at Drexel University, Brittin led the development office in closing more than $80 million in major gift contributions.
Due to a decline in OU enrollment, Brittin emphasized the importance of incremental donations from students.
“What the industry needs to do is figure out how to make it easier,” Brittin said.
Brittin said although he does not have “a lot of hands-on knowledge” about investing, he would rely heavily on the advice of the OU Foundation. The OU Foundation uses an outside service to manage its investment portfolio.
In terms of keeping in touch with international alumni, Brittin said Drexel has found tracking through LinkedIn to be effective, although it can prove expensive.
“You have to have the money to do this,” Brittin said.
Rickey McCurry | University of Tennessee System
A native of Humboldt, Tennessee, McCurry grew up with his parents’ mantra that education is “the great equalizer.”
After earning his law degree, McCurry began working in the advancement industry — or as he puts it, the “business of relationships.”
“I’ve understood the interrelationship of alumni relations, fundraising and communications,” McCurry said. “And I think that is critical to what we do.”
When asked about the impact of the success of a university’s athletic program on fundraising efforts, McCurry said that although athletics serve as a “front porch” to many schools, he has found no significant correlation.
“Alumni will come together when things are going good, and alumni will come together and complain when things aren't doing what they want them to do,” McCurry said.
McCurry said he has struggled to find new ways to engage with international alumni.
When asked how he would address a lack of diversity within the advancement field — a question posed to each candidate — McCurry said it was important to hire young people of diverse backgrounds.
“You have to work at it,” McCurry said. “You have to actively pursue it and … you want good people, but you realize that the more diverse an organization can be, the better decisions that come out of (the) organization.”
Nico Karagosian | University of Cincinnati Foundation
Karagosian, the vice president of advancement and executive director of the University of Cincinnati Bicentennial, may work in Cincinnati, but he lives on a 40-acre horse farm in Warsaw, Kentucky.
“So we're used to that small-town atmosphere,” Karagosian said. “When I look at this opportunity, I thought, ‘this is the best of both worlds,’ and all my interactions since then have only confirmed what I thought about (OU).”
In 2012, Karagosian began work on UC’s bicentennial campaign — an opportunity, he said, to re-engage alumni and donors, while engaging potential students.
“It’s not the foundation’s bicentennial, it’s the university’s bicentennial,” Karagosian said. “And we need to make sure we’re involving our faculty and staff, and our deans and all the people on the academic side in order to put something together that’s meaningful for everyone involved.”
Karagosian said he is “very involved” with UC’s international development, and sees engaging international alumni as a university-wide effort that he hopes to bring to OU.
“I started this process probably about a month ago … and there’s just this pride and this commitment that people have toward the university, and it’s really remarkable,” Karagosian said. “There’s really something special going on here that I would like to be a part of.”
Correction: A previous version of this report misstated who asked how candidates would address a lack of diversity within the advancement field. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.