Transforming the Business School Through Donor Relationships

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019
By Moez Limayem
Photo by iStock
Ensuring that your school's mission resonates with the people in the community is an important beginning to forging business partnerships.

As the dean of an incredibly dynamic business college, I have focused much of my energy on creating strong relationships with the outside business community. We have forged these close, working partnerships with many corporate CEOs, business owners, and successful entrepreneurs, and the result benefits everyone: them, us, and our students.

Our partnerships have drawn us closer to each other. They provide internships for our students and jobs for our graduates. Most importantly, these bonds result in donations that pay for student scholarship, faculty research, and so much more. As a result, fundraising must be made a priority for academic leaders who recognize that a steady stream of donations makes for scholastic success and allows them to do what state or other regulated funds cannot.

For example, at the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business, many of our privately funded scholarships pay for our students to study abroad, a key element in their education. We have private funding that pays for additional research across multiple disciplines, advising, and upgraded, state-of-the-art teaching tools. It was a donation that paid for a video wall in our building and, partially, for the 21st-century equipment in our interdisciplinary research center that’s about to open.

How do academic leaders get these gifts? We let the world know about our missions and visions and how they lead to the success of our students and faculty. We convey those well-defined aspirations to our alumni, our business community, our corporate partners, and all our stakeholders. This publicity is extremely important; the mission of the university or college must resonate with the people in the community.

Strong relationships with donors create opportunities for engagement with the students whom their gifts benefit. For instance, we host an annual Muma College of Business Scholarship Luncheon where donors have the opportunity to sit with students who are the beneficiaries of their largesse. This allows donors to see exactly what their gifts do and whom they help, and it allows these grateful students to express their thanks in person.

Transformational donations, ones that name buildings, centers, or programs, really help university leaders achieve the success spelled out in their missions and visions. They come from alumni, like Lynn Pippenger, who donated millions and whose name is on our accounting school and the building that houses the Kate Tiedemann College of Business in St. Petersburg. Baron Collier, whose name is on our student success center, is an alumnus, as is Mohamad Ali Hasbini, whose donations to our Doctor of Business Administration program have resulted in his name on the DBA suite.

Transformational donations also come from those who are not alumni. Local entrepreneurs and businesspeople dedicated to certain causes in the community can be keen to contribute to its success and improvement. For example, Jeff and Penny Vinik made a multimillion-USD donation that benefits our sport and entertainment management program, and we put the Vinik name on that program. Jeff Vinik has degrees from Duke University and Harvard Business School, and Penny Vinik earned degrees from American University. Dick Corbett, an alumnus of Notre Dame, handed us a check that paid for the video wall, in what he stresses is for the students and the students alone. Kate Tiedemann donated millions to USF’s business college in St. Petersburg, though she never attended a single class there.

Transformational gifts often lead to named spaces, programs, or initiatives; yet they are not transactional in that we don’t say “Thanks and goodbye” after the checks are signed. Donors who make transformational gifts do so because they want to make a difference and be involved. Successful academic leaders who accept such gifts must work to build strong relationships with these donors. Invite them to be on advisory boards, to judge student competitions, or to give guest lectures. Entice them to attend homecoming parades and college events. Usually, such donors are eager to take part in these activities. Pam and Les Muma and Lynn Pippenger are regular riders on the Muma College of Business float during USF’s annual homecoming parade, relishing the chance to toss strands of beads to thousands of students along the parade route. 

All of our gifts, large and small, are greatly appreciated. They reflect not only the donors’ generosity but their recognition of our mission, which simply put, is student success. They see that we are focused on our students getting the best possible education in whatever field they have chosen and that their degree will translate into well-paying and fulfilling positions upon graduation. It is that mission—not the brick and mortar and name over the door—that compels philanthropists to give to this worthy cause.

It may be true that a business college can churn out degrees without partnering with outside business communities, but the education of our students would suffer, as would their job prospects after graduation. Rather, we must forge these symbiotic relationships so that the education we offer is properly funded, well rounded, and complete. We must weave our students into the tapestry of the outside business community. With that intertwining, our students’ success is assured.

Moez Limayem
Dean, Muma College of Business, University of South Florida
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