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Change of culture around fundraising needed at CMU



High expectations — they’re a powerful tool for parents, business leaders and coaches in any endeavor. They become our de facto road map to outcomes if we are also smart enough to design a plan that can succeed and willing to work hard enough to achieve it.

This is where CMU needs to start rethinking its advancement, or fundraising function. Our administration has thus far refused to allow its efforts to be measured. The university has avoided setting any kind of expectations.

Elevating expectations is the place any leader starts to change an organizational culture. A sense of urgency, bordering on paranoia, is essential to success in the ultra-competitive world of competing for alumni donations.

We need a change of culture around fundraising at CMU. We need a mission statement and aggressive goal setting coupled with complete transparency so the university community can judge and hold CMU accountable. My challenge to our Board of Trustees is to make this happen, as our president will not. Our history has been to nearly ignore fundraising altogether, thus we have “earned” our position near the bottom of the Mid-American Conference. This was the subject of my recent guest column.

Our future depends on changing the culture of the past and succeeding at the highest levels to meet the financial needs of a growing university. The pursuit of excellence comes at a very high price and we are far behind our MAC cohort universities.

We are competing against other MAC schools for students and dollars.

For CMU, we need to be establishing high, public goals. We also must report publicly our annual fundraising performance and investment returns. Both should be benchmarked against our peer institutions, starting with the MAC schools. For years we have been delusional believing that we are good at this critical function.

Another profound benefit of high expectations is that they empower and inspire us. To overcome certain institutional disadvantages, including a start from well behind, CMU must work harder and smarter than others. We need to create a culture of innovation to sustain us.

I have devoted my career to creating such spaces for Silicon Valley companies. It is an art form, not a science. Nothing squelches creativity like discouraging idea generation or countering it with bureaucracy. I have encountered this personally many times at CMU. It stifles and kills initiative. We need to be smart enough to embrace new ideas, set ambitious goals and allow the public to measure our results. That’s how we can create a better future for our great university.

As frustrated as I may get, I remain a proud Chippewa and will never give up the fight to make us better.

Todd J. Anson is a California attorney, real estate developer and venture investor and major donor to CMU. He has been recognized professionally by Ernst & Young as “Entrepreneur of the Year” in San Diego, by NAIOP as its “Developer of the Year” and by CMU as a “Distinguished Alumnus” of the College of Science & Technology. He has taught at the Haas School of Business at Berkeley in the MBA program. He is a graduate of Mount Pleasant High School and graduated Summa Cum Laude from CMU in 1977.