Member Profile: Brent Waugh
Brent Waugh, Assistant Vice President, Philanthropic Engagement and Campaign Communications at the Washington State University Foundation, serves as chair for the 2023 CASE District VIII Annual Conference (Feb. 8–10 in Bellevue, Washington). It’s his first time taking on such a high-level volunteer role for CASE, and he says he’s thrilled the conference was sold out by the first week in January. He attributes this to “really solid, timely programming thanks to our incredible program and opportunity and inclusion chairs, as well as the entire conference leadership committee. I also think this shows how ready people are to be back to in-person networking with their colleagues.”
How did you find your way to the field of advancement?
I’ve been in advancement for more than 13 years now. I started my career in the nonprofit arena at Big Brothers and Big Sisters of East Tennessee. I went to graduate school for communications and media, receiving my degree in 2006 from the University of Tennessee, and I’ve taught public speaking and writing at the university level. So even if not directly in higher education advancement, my experience has been career adjacent.
After graduate school, my wife and I were moving to Colorado, and I saw a posting for an advancement position at Colorado State University. I have to admit, I texted the alumni relations director at Tennessee Tech University, my alma mater where I serve on the alumni association board, to ask what advancement is. She explained it was a lot of what I was doing on the board and in the nonprofit world—outreach, engagement, communications, fundraising. I got the job and that’s been pretty much it for me from that moment.
What do you love about working in advancement?
I’m very inspired by the mission of higher education. I’m particularly passionate about providing opportunities and scholarships for first-generation students—those who might not otherwise get a degree. Though some of my family members have since received their degrees, I was a first-generation student and both of my degrees were funded thanks to scholarships. Education changed my life. Helping others get an education inspires and excites me.
I also enjoy supporting the research mission of the university. And I love the day-to-day work. My team manages campaign comms, and we are in the silent phase of a campaign now. It’s so exciting to ramp up for the public launch. I love the stewardship piece as well—getting to know donors, communicating impact, and learning what inspires them to support WSU.
Can you name something good that came out of the pandemic that you think might become a mainstay in advancement operations?
It was scary initially. I’m proud that our profession adjusted and innovated so quickly. As we moved events to digital platforms, we had an opportunity to be much more inclusive across the state, the nation, and even the world. There was no limit to who we could engage with. I think this digital and virtual engagement is here to stay.
But we can’t underplay the power of in-person interaction. So, the challenge for us right now is finding the right balance. It’s not unlike the challenge we currently face in advancement communications. We have so many platforms—social media, direct mail, email, text, video. We are trying to find the right balance, and the right mediums to meet our unique constituencies where they are. It all comes back to communicating impact. If we keep that as a central focus, I have no doubt we’ll get the balance right.
What are you enjoying about your role as CASE District VIII Annual Conference Chair? What can members look forward to?
Because the conference is in Bellevue, our district chair wanted someone in the state to lead the conference. He reached out to my supervisor, who saw it as an opportunity to showcase Washington State University and the advancement talent throughout our state. He asked me to take on the role. I’ve been so impressed with the people I’m working with at CASE and within the district. They are all-stars! This experience has been more rewarding than I could have imagined, and it’s allowed me to connect with colleagues across the state and the region.
Attendees can look forward to a diverse program lineup and some important conversations about trends and challenges in higher education. I’m especially excited that the conference will host the Discover the Next event. This project—making the case for and communicating the impact of higher education—is so critical to the work we do.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
I’ve had pretty amazing supervisors both in higher ed and the nonprofit world. I always think back to my first supervisor at Big Brothers and Big Sisters. She was a great influence and she instilled in me this idea, “Don’t let anyone outwork you.” I took that to heart in my 20s, and it remains at the forefront of my philosophy, but it’s morphed into “Work hard, but with balance.” I take pride in a job well done but make time for my family and my health. Sometimes, going on a run or spending time with my daughter is more important than a deadline. I encourage my team to prioritize their health and well-being too. Now I’m giving advice: “Take care of yourself—that will ultimately enable you to do an incredible job at work.”
Discover the Next: Perceptions of Higher Education
Discover the Next aims to empower colleges and universities to share and reinforce the many benefits that they have on individual lives, communities, and society. It is a joint project of CASE, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, generously funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Perceptions of Higher Education event, held during the District VIII conference, will consider trends in public opinion, explore the root causes of the challenge for our industry, and discuss the potential impact of our collective action to change the trajectory. The event will be hybrid with an in-person panel discussion and the ability to participate virtually through a livestream of the event.
About the author(s)
Ellen N. Woods is a CASE content creator.