Meet 2020 CCCA Chair Lana Fontenot
As a passionate CASE volunteer, Lana Fontenot could not be more excited to chair the 2020 Conference for Community College Advancement. Fontenot has been at South Louisiana Community College for seven years, where she’s now the associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement and executive director of the SLCC Foundation. She recently took time away from her busy schedule to discuss what motivates her work, the need for community college representation within CASE, and what is on the horizon for next year’s CCCA.
What do you like best about working in higher education?
Every day you play a part in changing an individual’s life. Being able to work specifically in fundraising and a comprehensive advancement model, I get to see not only the issues at a macro level with our board members, but at that micro level when we get to award all of our scholarships for an upcoming academic year. You get to meet, one-on-one, with the students that you’re impacting and get their background and learn their stories. You hear about their triumphs and so many of the obstacles they’re facing. But something that you did, and the money that you raised, directly went into changing their lives. It puts the gas in my tank in continuing to be passionate and excited to do what I do on a daily basis.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during your tenure at SLCC?
We have recently received confirmation of our largest contribution to date, which is U.S.$2.5 million. Previously, our largest contribution was $1 million. We’re really excited because this was a relationship that was cultivated in about two-and-a-half, maybe three years. For our chancellor and me, we’re even looking forward to sharing that story with our colleagues at the next CCCA in Anaheim. A transformational gift doesn’t have to take a decade. It literally takes some strategic actions and some engagement.
Where do you find inspiration?
I was very blessed in terms of my upbringing and my education. I had the right networks in place to, more or less, effortlessly navigate higher ed. To be able to give back the kind of blessings that I was just given from my family and my upbringing and pay it forward and help other people get to where I was and allow them to succeed—that really gives me the drive.
What advice do you have for newcomers to community college advancement?
It’s really using your network wisely and using it in order to help your performance at your own institution. Like, for me, we’re a small advancement shop, but I have definitely taken advantage of reaching out to community college colleagues in the state of Louisiana. Through our system office, we’ve formed an advancement peer group. But then, in terms of structured networking, CASE has been a game-changer for me and my professional growth. I have met so many incredible people from across the U.S. from just simply raising my hand one day and saying, “I think I’d like to start getting a little more involved in CASE.”
In terms of expanding your network, think about serving on a committee or being a track chair. My step into CASE was going to a couple conferences, just attending on a very foundational level. I became a track chair and the next thing I know, I’m waking up as the chair for the 2020 CCCA.
We’re a long way away, but what are your goals for next year’s CCCA?
We’re currently forming our planning committee, and it looks like it’s going to be a real powerhouse committee, extremely diverse in makeup. Just every imaginable diversity standpoint. A lot of different ideas brought to the table.
We also introduced a mid-level pre-conference this year, which seemed to go really well. How can we build upon that even further to make sure that there’s a really valid place for professional development, advice, and conversation for those who are in that mid-level span of five-to-10 years in advancement, who are looking to potentially take that next step or up the ante in their career? I’m excited to see if we can take that to the next level.
You’ve been a vocal advocate for community college volunteers within CASE. Why are you so passionate about this?
I feel that community college advancement professionals have their own sets of opportunities and challenges. It’s really important to get that diversity of thought and opinion at all levels within CASE, whether it’s at the top level of the CASE Board of Directors down to a district conference, just making sure there is relevant programming for community colleges as well as the other types of institutions that serve our students. I always look at all levels of CASE to make sure our voices are being heard. Because, if not, then we need to stand up, right? That’s what is going to make CASE a stronger organization. Well-established university advancement shops can learn something from a community college advancement shop and vice-versa. I think, if we’re all able to bring our thoughts and ideas, we can actually raise ourselves as a profession, as a whole.
What are the most important traits of a successful leader?
The top two for me are passion and vision. A leader has got to be passionate. There’s a lot of days where it’s really easy to want to give up. And days where it feels like you have way more nos than yesses.
The other one is vision. We’ve recently received our largest gift. It wasn’t because we thought small. My chancellor is an amazing visionary, so I’m able to work easily with her. She’s the eagle in the sky and sometimes I call myself the fox on the ground. That’s why we make an amazing team. You’re never going to receive those transformational gifts unless you have a big, bold vision.
What have you been reading lately?
My chancellor actually gave me a book, The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. It’s a bio of her and how she’s just a kick-ass woman. She’s been a really strong female in a male-dominated area and how she just stands up and fights for what she believes in. It’s really hard to put down because it’s really interesting.
Want to Get Involved?
Looking for more ways to get involved? Learn more about volunteer opportunities. If you have questions or an interest in volunteering in a community college-specific role, including with the Center for Community College Advancement Advisory Committee or the Conference for Community College Advancement Planning Committee, contact Marc Westenburg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-478-5570.
About the author(s)
Bryan Wawzenek is a content creator at CASE