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A Man for All Reasons

John Lippincott puts members first in his plans for CASE

By Deborah Bongiorno


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Great sense of humor, smart, thoughtful, genuine.

So says a longtime friend and colleague about CASE's new president, John Lippincott. And John Martin should know. He and Lippincott have been friends since 1988, when they both were advancement officers at the University System of Maryland. Lippincott was the associate vice chancellor for advancement; Martin was vice chancellor for advancement and foundation president.

"John's one of the smartest people I know in higher education and one of the most thoughtful, creative communicators in the profession," says Martin, now president of the University of Connecticut Foundation. "But he's not an 'in your face' personality." Lippincott is also humble, Martin says.

Exactly. During the interview for this profile, Lippincott was bold, articulate, expansive, and visionary when speaking about CASE. He talked about the organization and advancement in fully crafted paragraphs that fit together like short essays—and did so entirely off the cuff. But when asked to recount personal anecdotes as a way to introduce himself to CASE members, he was self-effacing and reticent, managing only a few sparse snippets. No long, pre-planned stories about unusual hobbies, exotic travel, or esoteric reading lists orchestrated to make an impression.

Ironically, such "un-anecdotes" reveal plenty of insight into Lippincott's character: CASE counts, not personalities. Substance matters, not style. What you see is what you get.

Assessment-based process

Lippincott, most recently CASE's interim president and its vice president for communications and marketing, succeeds Vance T. Peterson, who stepped down in December 2003. The CASE Board of Trustees appointed Lippincott in August following its review of an extensive assessment of the organization by an eight-member team of advancement and association leaders.

Among other things, the assessment team's report detailed the skills CASE's new president requires to be successful, says Board Chair Kent Rollins, adding that it "matched remarkably well" with Lippincott's performance as interim president and throughout his career. "The board considered carefully the idea of conducting an international search," Rollins says, but it unanimously decided that CASE would be better served by making an offer to a person who already had the support of leaders, volunteers, partners, and the general membership. (For details about the assessment team's other findings, see "Assessing CASE" below.)

Lippincott has more than 25 years' experience in advancement. He's worked at two community colleges, a private liberal arts institution, and at the 12th largest public higher education system in the United States. He has a long track record of involvement with the profession and CASE—initially as a volunteer, then in senior-level staff positions. (See "Meet John Lippincott" below to learn more about his background.)

More important than what he has accomplished thus far, however, is the task at hand: How does he intend to lead the organization? How does he see things from his unique vantage point?

"As I look at the current state of the organization from almost five years as a member of the staff and seven months as interim president, I see an organization that's much greater than any one individual sitting in a corner office. That's why I think it's fair to claim, on the occasion of our 30th anniversary, that we've never been stronger," Lippincott says.

As evidence, he cites today's record levels of institution and professional membership, a solid financial footing, and an increase in the number and diversity of programs, among other milestones.

"This is a great time for CASE," Lippincott says. "The job of president is to ensure that the things that make CASE strong—volunteer leadership, member loyalty and engagement, a brand to die for, and a talented and dedicated staff—are cherished, nurtured, and developed. If they are done so with a focus on quality of service to members, there is no reason that our 31st year and our 32nd year and our 33rd year and our 50th year won't also be times when we can point to new all-time highs, record-breaking success, and a healthy organization."

Members matter most

One of the most significant indicators that CASE is a healthy organization, Lippincott says, is that its members "have a remarkable willingness to give their time, energy, and wisdom to the betterment of this organization"—a commitment he witnessed firsthand during extensive travel early in his interim presidency.

"It really is extraordinary and gratifying—actually energizing," he says. "For me, it also reinforces the need to keep staff tuned in to volunteers and members. Doing so will serve the same purpose—it will energize them about what a great group of people we have the privilege of serving."

Coupled with this strong member-focused philosophy is Lippincott's mantra to keep things simple. "I start from a very simple premise regarding CASE's goals: The service we provide to members today will be better than it was yesterday, and the service we provide tomorrow is going to be even better than the service we provide today.

"When we're looking for touchstones within this organization in making decisions about whether to proceed with an initiative, the first—and last—question we should ask is if it enhances member service," he adds.

That's not to say that Lippincott doesn't see the value in strategic planning or in actively pursuing the four overarching initiatives articulated in CASE's existing strategic plan: diversifying the profession, growing internationally, expanding a research agenda, and strengthening technology to serve members. In one way or another, Lippincott says, they all tie back to members.

"As we identify new directions, we must come back to whether we are serving our members well. By helping to make advancement individuals better professionals, they can help make their institutions better. That's the fundamental goal of the organization."

Nuance and complexity

The "keep it simple" philosophy doesn't mean oversimplifying matters, Lippincott says. Rather, he defines it as understanding complex issues well enough to develop straightforward principles, messages, and approaches. He points to two such issues currently facing CASE.

World affairs. CASE's international operations are gaining traction, but they remain challenging and aren't without controversy, Lippincott says. "There has been some skepticism on the part of U.S. members about whether our international initiatives are serving their needs. We have some work to do to demonstrate that there is benefit to all members as CASE grows as an international association, which it's actually been in some dimension since its beginnings. We need to demonstrate to our North American members why being part of an association that's also actively engaged in advancement in France, for example, is a good thing."

Lippincott does detect a growing awareness of the value of internationalization among U.S. members, but he says "it's still something we need to work on."

Communities of practice. An additional challenge for CASE is to embrace and support communities of practice—like-minded and similarly focused advancement officers who gather to discuss their particular niche and pursue professional development opportunities.

Some observers might say that such groups fragment the profession and compete with CASE's ability to provide targeted services. "I don't actually characterize it that way," Lippincott says. "Rather, CASE is going to embrace communities of practice and help them prosper. That's where our reach—our significant information resources and the CASE Network—can be brought to bear to help those communities achieve their goals, even as CASE continues to achieve its goals. I don't think they are incompatible."

Advancing advancement

Lippincott is mindful of CASE's responsibility to develop and communicate messages that support the profession in other ways, too—most notably, by "advancing advancement" and fostering its integration.

CASE has a fundamental role to play in helping others on campus, including CEOs, better understand the profession's strategic role. "The perception, at least in the past, often has been that advancement functions are tactical, not strategic," he says. "We're making some progress in this regard, but I think there is a very important role for us to play in helping institutional leaders understand the strategic role of advancement."

He also points to the importance of integrating the profession across its traditional disciplines and with the operations with which it is increasingly partnered such as government relations and student recruitment.

Regardless of an advancement office's organizational structure, "it's extremely important that all of the disciplines within advancement—the three principal disciplines plus advancement services and advancement management—are perceived as a whole," he says. "But in talking about integration, it's also important to acknowledge that each discipline is an important enterprise in its own right."

In particular, he notes, in recent years the perceived independence and value of alumni relations have been blurred to a certain extent as some advancement operations have defined it as an extension of or secondary to fund raising. "Enlightened advancement operations recognize that thinking of alumni relations only in those terms greatly underutilizes an enormous asset of the institution—its alumni base. It's an asset that can and should be valued as an advocacy network at the community, state, and national levels."

Further, he says that the alumni relations operation plays a vital role in helping set the overall direction for the institution. "After all, the alumni are in many ways the most knowledgeable group about the institution and what it has meant in their own lives, certainly. And they are constituents for life."

Consequently, he adds, it's particularly important for CASE to encourage advancement's integration based on a respect for each discipline's equal status. "If you look at the challenges our institutions are facing, they are not going to be solved solely by raising more philanthropic dollars," he says. "They are going to be solved by a team skilled in communications and marketing, alumni relations, and fund raising, by professionals who look at comprehensive approaches to the challenges that face institutions in the fulfillment of their missions."

How can CASE help? Lippincott says the organization can share this message in CURRENTS and at conferences in collaboration with other associations, particularly those that serve campus CEOs. Further, he plans to make this point as he talks with both advancement officers and their campus colleagues.

Still, he says, advancement professionals often face an uphill climb on their campuses. "Even when you work hard at helping people understand what you do, that doesn't necessarily mean that you are successful in gaining the respect you would like to have as a professional or in gaining the confidence to do your job the way you know it should be done."

CASE's duty, as Lippincott sees it, is to provide advancement officers with the knowledge and insight they need to scale new heights.

 

Assessing CASE

Lippincott shares findings from the CASE assessment team report

When the Board of Trustees began the presidential search process in January, it focused on a basic question: What kind of leadership was right for CASE now?

To find answers, the board appointed an eight-member team chaired by Ann Die Hasselmo, managing director of Academic Search Consultation Service, to conduct an extensive assessment of the organization. Other members were Brett Chambers, executive director of volunteer relations, CASE; Laney Funderburk, associate vice president, alumni affairs, Duke University; Roland King, vice president, public affairs, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities; Sherri Schmidt, associate executive director, North Dakota State University Alumni Association; William Walker, vice president, public affairs, Dartmouth College; David Warren, president, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities; and Susan Washburn, partner, Washburn & McGoldrick.

The assessment team interviewed more than 80 individuals affiliated with CASE, including past presidents, board chairs, and trustees; current and past commission members; district leaders and volunteers; members from all advancement disciplines; Educational Partners; and staff. The team also surveyed more than 2,000 CASE members.

That assessment informed Lippincott's appointment, says Board Chair Kent Rollins, and it revealed key organizational strengths. Lippincott shares his perspective on three of the assessment's findings.

Volunteer involvement. "CASE is a remarkable organization in a number of respects," he says. "First and foremost, we are unique among associations in the degree of volunteer involvement in the life of the organization. From that we take a very important message: Staff members' stewardship of volunteers is essential to the health and well-being of this organization—and the president is the key staff member in this regard."

A strong brand. Second, he says, is a reaffirmation of the CASE brand. "The CASE brand, nationally and internationally, is associated with quality, member service, and with the concept of advancement as an integrated enterprise," Lippincott says. "In some ways, CASE owns the 'copyright' on advancement. We are the organization that more than any other is dedicated to all dimensions of the education advancement profession."

"Cradle to grave" services. Third is that CASE serves its members at every stage of their careers. "Many education associations are presidential—they serve members at the pinnacle of their careers," Lippincott says. "CASE, however, serves members from their entry to their retirement from the profession."

The report also identifies some challenges, Lippincott says, including the ongoing need to develop and deliver services for senior-level professionals and the evolution of CASE as a global organization that's relevant locally. (This concept, termed "glocalization," also arose at a recent joint meeting of the CASE board and the CASE Europe board.)

"CASE is the largest association of education institutions in the world, which gives us enormous strength, leverage, and reach; networking potential; and many opportunities for collaboration," he says. "But it also presents us with the challenge of making sure we are still relevant to an individual member sitting at his or her desk at an independent school in the Midwest who's juggling several advancement-related tasks at once."

In general, however, he says the assessment report describes a strong organization. "CASE is very resilient. It faces some serious challenges, but they are to be expected, given the nature of the organization. With the continued support of members and volunteers, we're certainly up to the task of addressing them."

About the Author Deborah Bongiorno

Deborah Bongiorno is the editor of CURRENTS.

 

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