J. Michael Goodwin is president and CEO of the Oregon State University Foundation and a member of the CASE Board of Trustees. He previously served as vice president for alumni and university relations at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and held additional positions in development at Georgetown, Washington State University and Eastside Catholic High School in Bellevue, Wash. In October, he spent a week in the Republic of Georgia talking with senior university leaders about best practices in fundraising. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The following Q&A is adapted from an essay he wrote about his experiences. The full essay is available on the CASE Web site.
What led to your trip to the Republic of Georgia?
The week-long trip was sponsored by the U.S. State Department as part of an ongoing effort to introduce Georgian educational leaders to best practices of American universities. As part of Georgia's effort to chart its course for the future, there is a spirited debate about future funding for the universities. The U.S. State Department is right in the middle of the conversation, introducing Georgian educational leaders to best practices in American universities. My visit was part of a series of activities designed to introduce American concepts for funding universities.
What activities made up your week there?
During the course of the week, I conducted an opening lecture and three full days of seminars and made consulting visits to four universities, including two large public institutions and two privates. I was also the featured guest at a lunch hosted by the deputy director of the U.S. Embassy, Kent Logsdon, a Notre Dame graduate. Attendees included the rectors of seven of the major universities, a member of the Georgian Parliament who is a strong advocate for higher education, and a deputy from the Department of Education. l also participated in an interview with a reporter from the major Tbilisi newspaper.
What are the similarities and differences between Oregon and the Republic of Georgia?
There are many interesting parallels. The populations are roughly the same, and a high percentage of citizens live in one major urban area. Both areas possess great natural diversity and beauty and both produce great wine, although Georgia has been at it for about 5,000 years longer than we have.
Both places have disinvested in higher education during the last 20 years and yet still look to universities as a source of innovation and economic development. In response, Oregon universities have moved dramatically to diversify their funding base. Georgian universities, facing similar challenges, are interested in learning whether our methods might work for them.
There are also many differences. There are more wealthy Oregonians, and wealth is more broadly distributed. We have good infrastructure, strong legal and financial systems, and a rich history of volunteerism and philanthropy.
How does the state of Georgian higher education compare with the U.S.?
While strong institutions of higher education are a critical component of the strategy for independence and economic development, state support for higher education has declined dramatically in Georgia since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Consequently, tuition levels have increased significantly (although they are much lower than in Oregon), and there is concern that students will be priced out of the market.
In addition, the physical condition of the universities is quite poor, with significant deferred maintenance on every campus. There are also very few facilities for conducting advanced scientific research, and student interest in the sciences has declined precipitously. Georgian leaders are concerned about brain drain. Highly trained Georgian scientists who might otherwise live and work in Georgia have moved to the United States, the European Union or Russia so they can have appropriate facilities for their work. We have one such scientist at OSU.
How did you translate the U.S. fundraising model to Georgia's situation?
Because of the many obvious differences between the United States and Georgia, I approached the seminars cautiously, not wanting to take the position that "this is how we do it in the States, and you should do it this way, too." I was a little surprised that they were actually very eager to hear about our best practices and were hungry for practical suggestions. Throughout the sessions, I emphasized that successful fundraising programs enjoy the support of the university's leadership, have a strong major gift component and benefit the institution beyond the bottom line.
While my Georgian colleagues could easily wrap their minds around the concept of gifts from foundations and corporations, they had a much harder time with the idea that individuals might make sizable contributions to their institutions. Some of their concerns included the absence of tax benefits, the lack of a tradition of giving to education, and the absence of a wealthy class in Georgia.
While I acknowledged that these are very real differences, I held my ground on the importance of developing a culture of individual giving and pointed out that well over half of what we raise for our institutions in the United States comes from individuals. The lack of tax incentives is clearly a drawback, but they are working to address that issue through legislation.
What did you take away from the experience?
The trip gave me a much greater appreciation for the stable and largely predictable political and legal structures in the United States. It also gave me an inside look at what "nation building" is all about. And it left me with great admiration for the emerging generation of Georgian leaders who are working to transform their society into a prosperous democracy.
It also reminded me what a great resource CASE is around the world. One of the major challenges the universities in Georgia face is the complete absence of an alumni relations database. A few of the smaller and private schools are in better shape, but the public universities clearly have no organized way of tracking their alumni. The records apparently exist in hard copy form in dusty archives, so there is hope of recovery.
This is a problem many universities in the European Union, Asia and Africa are facing as they start programs, so I was able to get some very good information about the rational for a relationship database from CASE colleagues in London to pass on.