President's Perspective: A Vital Perspective
Advancement practitioners operate at critical intersections. Busy junctions. Complicated meeting points. The most obvious intersection is the one between town and gown, which seems like such an antiquated term to describe the space between an institution and the community in which it resides. We work at other intersections as well: between academics and potential supporters; between our institutions and the media (traditional and new); between our institutions and prospective students and families; and, as our students graduate, between alumni and their alma maters.
We are explainers, connectors, unifiers, and conductors. We aim to move people to partner with our institutions, to enter our institutions, move through them and beyond—all in service of advancing education to transform lives and society.
If we have learned anything over the past year, it is that these intersections can be complicated. Education as a sector is under extreme pressure to deliver on our promises, to wrestle within sharp political differences, to solve societal problems, and more. It is easy—and often required—to get caught up solving the crisis of the day and trying to anticipate tomorrow’s before it occurs. And yet, our precise place at these important intersections gives advancement practitioners insights into the path toward institutional success. We are incredibly fortunate.
Advancement practitioners champion our institutions within these communities even when the work is difficult—when our institutions reckon with history, or when people within our institutions engage in ways that may not always serve the greater good. This is when we kick into a higher gear, listen, and respond, ensuring our institutions are able to hear valid critics amongst the noise and respond thoughtfully. And we champion unabashedly—not from a place of defense, but from a place of recognition that while not perfect, our institutions are worthy places rooted in their missions to do good, and sometimes that requires change.
Our members in some regions are beginning a new academic year, and others are well into the second half of theirs. As you are in these points of transition and reflection, I want to thank you for that unabashed championing. The pandemic has emphasized the teaching, service, and research that generate knowledge and prepare students for rich and fulfilling lives. This perspective is vital to the work of advancement. While our days might be filled with to-do lists of tactics and action items, we must hold on to our unique vantage points. It is from this place that we can contribute immense value to our colleagues across campus and our friends and partners in the various communities we serve.
I invite you, over the coming months, to consider your role as a connector and conductor, and take advantage of the opportunities CASE offers you and your team to hone your skills. As you read this issue, which provides framing and ideas to reignite your important work, take time to step back and look at the bigger picture. Your institutions depend on your unique, and vital, view.
About the author(s)
Sue Cunningham is president and CEO of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), which supports more than 3,600 schools, colleges and universities worldwide in developing their alumni relations, communications, fundraising and marketing operations in order to advance their institutions. As CASE president and CEO, she provides strategic and operational leadership for one of the largest associations of education-related institutions in the world with members in more than 80 countries. She became president of CASE in March, 2015.
Cunningham engaged CASE and thousands of its volunteers in a comprehensive strategic planning process resulting in Reimagining CASE: 2017- 2021, an ambitious and comprehensive framework for serving CASE’s members and championing education worldwide. This volunteer and member engagement extends into a comprehensive effort to refine CASE’s governance structure to more effectively support CASE’s global reach and service to members.
Under her leadership CASE acquired the Voluntary Support of Education survey and created AMAtlas. CASE has reinvigorated its global advocacy agenda and is engaged in reviews of the curriculum across all advancement disciplines and an update of CASE’s management and reporting standards and guidelines, which operate as the industry-leading set of standards. She is most proud of CASE’s efforts to diversify the advancement professions and CASE’s commitment to talent management, within the organization and across CASE’s membership.
Cunningham serves on the steering committee of the Washington Higher Education Secretariat, is a member of the Council of Higher Education Management Associations, the International Women’s Forum, and serves on the fundraising committee for the Aurora Foundation.
Prior to CASE, she served as vice-principal for advancement at the University of Melbourne and as the director of development for the University of Oxford. She served as director of development at Christ Church, Oxford, and as director of external relations at St. Andrews University.
She is an honorary fellow of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a recipient of the CASE Europe Distinguished Service Award, and is a CASE Crystal Apple Award recipient. She holds a master’s degree from Oxford University and a bachelor’s degree in performing arts from Middlesex University.
Article appears in:
Town-Gown Relations: How and why institutions should collaborate with their communities. Plus, understanding alumni personas, navigating nontraditional paths to advancement, and creating a new normal as institutions return to campus.