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Written by Mike Thee
November 1, 2019
Image credit: Yosef Kalinko
Seattle University has publicly launched The Campaign for the Uncommon Good, the largest fundraising effort in the history of the institution. With a goal of $275 million, the university recently surpassed the $250 million mark. The campaign encompasses three pillars—the Center for Science and Innovation, scholarships and programs that are critical to the university’s mission. Associate Vice President for Development Aly Vander Stoep recently took some time to discuss how the effort is going so far and what to watch for in its final two years.
The Commons: Let’s start with a very basic but important question—what is the purpose of a campaign?
Aly Vander Stoep: The purpose of a fundraising campaign is multifaceted. In simple terms, a campaign is a targeted fundraising effort that takes place over a defined period of time. But to speak to the impact of a campaign, it is about setting the university up for its future stability, sustainability and financial security. It allows the university to ask itself, “Who are we right now and who do we want to be in the future? Are we relevant to the needs of today’s students, are we relevant to the industries that are emerging?” How will we use private philanthropy to align with our goals and university strategic plan?
The Commons: Can you talk about the three pillars of the campaign?
Aly Vander Stoep: Seattle University is known for its Jesuit Catholic tradition and our commitment to educating students for a just, equitable and sustainable world. This campaign provides an opportunity to promote our differentiators—from academic excellence to student success to mission and programs.
A major priority in this campaign is the new Center for Science and Innovation—literally being built at the corner of 12th and Marion. Seattle U is known for our world-class liberal arts education—we will now be known for our innovative and industry relevant STEM education. We have already received investments from some of this region’s leading corporations which is an expression of their belief in our Jesuit education—in our students, faculty, research and Project Center!
Scholarships are about access to education and investing in our students. Scholarships often equate to student success. We know that scholarships can be the difference between a student being able to attend Seattle U, remain at Seattle U and participate in activities that build community and a sense of belonging.
The third pillar of the campaign is Mission and Programs, which ensures that we keep our Jesuit Catholic ethos and tradition at the forefront of who we are. This campaign initiative focuses on priorities such as student mental health, global engagement, the Center for Community Engagement and Seattle U Youth Initiative, Center for Jesuit Education and much more.
The Commons: How does the public phase of the campaign differ from what has come before it?
Aly Vander Stoep: We are now in year seven of an eight-year comprehensive capital campaign. The first six years or so are what we called the quiet or nucleus phase of the campaign. The term “quiet phase” is a bit of a misnomer, however. Many people assume that means secret, but it doesn’t. The quiet phase differs from the public phase in that we were focused on large leadership gifts—those gifts of transformation. The quiet phase is when the campaign really begins to take form. There’s years of planning to get you to the public phase.
It is very exciting to share that we have officially entered the public phase of The Campaign for the Uncommon Good. The main objective of the public phase is participation. We invite our alumni to engage with Seattle U in ways they never have before. We invite our community—whether that’s Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington state or our Jesuit Catholic community—to get to know us or to deepen their relationship with us. Come back to campus over Homecoming Weekend, mentor students, participate in continuing education classes, attend a lecture, or invest in Seattle U Gives—our one-day online giving campaign. As we like to say, we have made the Seattle U tent bigger so everyone can join us as we embark on the public phase of this campaign in support of our students, faculty, mission and programs and facilities.
The Commons: What sort of preparation and planning went into getting to this place of launching the campaign publicly?
Aly Vander Stoep: One effort that was led by the Marketing Communications team, in collaboration with University Advancement, was working with SimpsonScarborough, a higher education research, marketing and branding agency, to better understanding who our alumni are so that we can serve them better. SimpsonScarborough conducted a broad survey of our alumni and other stakeholders and had good participation rates in looking at some of the key messages that resonate with them. What do our alumni and stakeholders think of Seattle University—who are we to them and who do they want us to be? Better understanding these questions allows us to meet them where they’re at and ask them to join us as we move into the public phase of the campaign.
The Commons: What’s been most gratifying about the campaign so far?
Aly Vander Stoep: There’s two areas that come to mind. The first has been the commitment we’ve seen from our campaign leadership volunteers. We have a group of about 70 volunteers that make up seven campaign task forces. These volunteers were invited to join the campaign in some of the early days, and they’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us as we now enter year seven. I’ve seen their commitment to the success of the campaign and their excitement in inviting their networks to invest in Seattle University only grow as we get deeper and deeper into this campaign.
The other is the pure joy that’s experienced by our donors. We invite them to give in ways that are extraordinary to them that intersect with the priorities of the university. The joy that it brings, that they are able to intersect with an area they care deeply about.
This campaign has touched all corners of campus. What’s exciting about a comprehensive campaign is that you’re guaranteed to have a space on campus that a donor wants to invest in. It’s really exciting to see the joy that it brings and to experience firsthand the impact philanthropy has on our donors, students, faculty, facilities, mission and programs.
The Commons: What is it about SU that has been resonating with the alumni and other supporters of the campaign?
Aly Vander Stoep: In Advancement, one of the ways we phrase that is “Why Seattle University, and why now?” And there’s several reasons people are giving to the campaign and inspired to invest in Seattle University. For some, It’s their belief in our leadership. There are many individuals with whom Father Steve has developed very deep, personal and meaningful relationships.
Others, who are close to Seattle University, recognize that we educate our students differently—our students leave the university and enter the workforce more prepared than graduates from any other place. One of the ways I have heard this described is through the T-shaped graduate. As you think about the vertical line of the “T,” that is, we graduate our students with the expertise they need in their particular field or discipline. However, we don’t stop there. We go further and also prepare our students along the horizontal line—that’s where we focus on the things that are so indicative of who we are and that are in our DNA—critical thinking, team work, partnership, collaboration, leadership, communication skills and most importantly, what we hear from individuals, is ethics.
Our graduates leave Seattle University with an ethical and moral compass that guides them, whether that be in business, nursing, leading nonprofits, fine arts or the sciences. It runs throughout the university. We see it every day in the professional lives of our alumni. And, we are hearing it from C-suite level execs who are investing in the new Center for Science and Innovation. For example, Microsoft’s gift to the new CSI was in support of the capital project AND an investment in a new computer science and tech ethics initiative. This is extraordinary!
The Commons: The name—“The Campaign for the Uncommon Good”—what does that mean to you?
Aly Vander Stoep: The intention of the campaign name was to get you to stop and ask yourself, “What does that mean?” The Campaign for the Uncommon Good, to me, means the campaign for the extraordinary, the campaign for the out of the ordinary. And if you unpack that a little more, looking at the areas we’re focusing on and taking our Jesuit education into account, it means that what we do at Seattle University is not for the faint of heart, it’s not for the everyday. The way we solve problems is going to be different from how you see most others solve problems. We see things differently and we act in extraordinary ways based on how we see ourselves connected and interconnected. We feel a deep commitment to the greater good. That’s who we are at Seattle University.
The Commons: What can we look for in the public phase of the campaign?
Aly Vander Stoep: When you shift into the public phase of the campaign, you start to show up differently. Coming out of the partnership of Marketing Communications and University Advancement, for instance, you’re seeing billboards starting to show up across the city’s skyline, buses will have campaign messaging on them. We had a takeover of The Seattle Times’ homepage, which was branded with the marketing communications work we have been doing over the past year-plus. We are taking the campaign on the road with the Uncommon Impact Tour, which began with an event in Portland and will soon be going to Hawaii, LA, as well as the East Side, eastern Washington, and Bay Area. We will be showing up in communities, bringing Seattle U and the campaign to our alumni, friends and parents of our students.
We have an opportunity to celebrate the campaign during Homecoming (Nov. 6-10). We have been very deliberate this year to create a weeklong series of activities for everyone—for our veterans, alumni with families, young alumni and our athletics fans. We have class reunions, a Day of Service for those who want to connect with the heart of who we are, and events celebrating and honoring our Veterans. We hope alumni from across the globe will join us for our global day of service. Or, show your Redhawk spirit by joining Redfest, the pre-game rally, and men’s basketball game.
On Feb. 6, we invite our alumni and the Redhawk Community to join us for Seattle U Gives, our annual one-day online giving campaign. Whether you can give $5 or $5,000, our goal is participation. Please join us in support of Seattle U!
The Commons: How can faculty and staff get involved with the campaign?
Aly Vander Stoep: I’d first like to acknowledge the work of our faculty for investing their time and talents every single day to educate tomorrow’s leaders. Our faculty truly inspire innovation and transform lives. We invite faculty to join us in promoting Seattle University. In the short-term, participate in Homecoming and encourage friends, family and students to join them in the suite of Homecoming activities that are bringing our Seattle University community together. They are invited to join us at the Seattle U Day of Giving. We recognize that not everyone is going to be able to support this university financially, but they can post things on their social media channels, they can be champions for Seattle U. They can be ambassadors and advocates for the university.
The Commons: Years from now when we reflect on The Campaign for the Uncommon Good, what do you hope we’ll be able to point to as a result or impact of the effort? Aly Vander Stoep: The first is our reputation as a leader in STEM education. That our investment in the Center for Science and Innovation cements our reputation as a world-class institution. That our faculty are advisers to this region’s C-suite executives and that are academic excellence is known world-wide.
Next, I know there will be generations of students who will access Seattle University because of the investments made in scholarships and the future of students. Hundreds of endowments have been established during this campaign. These are investments permanently woven into the fabric of Seattle University and will provide scholarship support for generations to come.
Finally, I know our alumni will be leading their respective industries grounded in our Jesuit Catholic ethos and tradition. My hope is that our alumni, inspired by this campaign, will continue to show up for Seattle University. That we will have created a deep sense of community, the uncommon good, where we are committed to the care of this institution and, in doing so, the care for each other. In 10 years, 20 years or even 40 years, most of us won’t be on this campus any longer, but what we have done during this campaign should be enduring and everlasting.
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