Community Colleges: Challenges and Opportunities
Working in community college advancement comes with a unique set of challenges and opportunities. There are generally much smaller budgets and advancement teams, but often many more chances to partner with community organizations. There can sometimes be a lack of professional fundraisers, but there might also be numerous opportunities to create mentoring relationships.
As we gear up for the Conference for Community College Advancement this October, we sat down with Kristen Bennett, vice president of institutional advancement at Trinity Valley Community College and executive director of the TVCC Foundation, who will be chairing CCCA, to hear her more about her journey to community college advancement, the challenges she sees, and tips for newcomers.
CASE: Describe your career path and what drew you to community colleges.
Kristen Bennett: Most of my fundraising career has been at traditional nonprofits and universities, but in 2015 I was presented with an opportunity to work at TVCC and jumped at the opportunity to make a more significant impact. What drew me to TVCC was the type of students served, the community partnership aspect of being a community college, and the overall atmosphere of transforming the lives of some of the most underserved individuals at a fraction of the cost.
CASE: What excites you most about what you do?
KB: The joy of making dreams come true for our students and our amazing philanthropists!
When you are a one-person shop and have a limited budget, you have to focus on the finances and what will provide the highest return on investment.
CASE: What advice do you have for newcomers to community college advancement?
KB: Find mentors, learn as much as you can as often as you can, don’t give up, be mindful of everything you do, and most importantly have fun!
CASE: Do you have any tips for working in a smaller shop or with limited resources? How can you do more with less?
KB: Be strategic with your time. As a one-person shop myself, I would love to focus on all the aspects of advancement, but the majority of my focus has been on major and planned gifts in an effort to complete much-needed capital projects on our rural campuses and grow our scholarship funds. When you are a one-person shop and have a limited budget, you have to focus on the finances and what will provide the highest return on investment. It is not that the other aspects of advancement aren’t important, you just simply have to maximize your time and efforts to make the greatest amount of impact in the shortest amount of time until you do have the staffing and the resources to tackle more problems at once.
CASE: What are the top challenges facing community colleges today?
KB: It’s a long list: Decreased state funding, increased competition for private funding, increased need for professional fundraisers, increased regulations with no additional funds, lack of long-term sustainability plans, increased need for competitive and innovative student programs, non-academic food and familial disparity issues, technology deficits, and staff/faculty turnover.
CASE: How will the Conference for Community College Advancement program address those challenges?
KB: Many of our session address these issues. Each session is designed to give three scalable takeaways for attendees and our organic affinity groups. From student services, IT, and marketing to advancement services, we will have something for everyone!
CASE: What are you most looking forward to at CCCA this year?
KB: Honestly, everything! The sessions, the speakers, the activities, the location, the conversations, the food, the special guests, and the sense of energy and excitement around all of us working together to make an impact!
CASE: What's your favorite CASE resource?
KB: The entire CASE team and the phenomenal conferences, workshops, and summits that CASE offers.