On this episode of the RAISE podcast, Brent chats with Mike Wallace, Associate Vice President for Development at Santa Clara University. Check out this recap featuring our favorite takeaways from the episode, and then tune in for the real deal.
Mike took his first job in development to subsidize a running habit (he was an avid cross country runner in college and later ran for the Nike Farm Team at Stanford). But thanks to some amazing mentors at Stanford, Mike came to love the work and built himself a pretty awesome advancement career. He worked his way up from an Administrative Assistant on the Reunion Campaigns team at Stanford, eventually managed the team, and then made the tough decision to leave one of the highest performing fundraising shops in the country to build out a development shop at Santa Clara University.
Brent and Mike talk about what drove that decision, the structures and programs Mike has borrowed from Stanford and adopted at Santa Clara, and the challenges and beauty of creating a small but high-performing advancement team. They exchange ideas for educating current students about philanthropy; for personalizing alumni communications; and for discovering donors’ true passions (like the ones they demonstrate on social media platforms). They also talk candidly about about the implications of being down 25% of staff during the past year’s hiring freeze.
Some of our favorite takeaways
Mike is an avid runner. A high point of his running career was during his time on the Nike Farm Team when he advanced from 30th to 3rd place during the final leg of a big race. And a low point was when he got escorted by an ambulance during mile 18 of the Chicago marathon. Any career has its ups and downs!
When he was just starting out, Mike “didn’t realize how hard it is to get your foot in the door at a development shop without development experience.” The first advancement position he applied to was Reunion Class Giving Officer position at Stanford. HR told him he could either work in a small non-profit for a few years and then reapply, or he could take an Administrative Assistant position on the Reunion Campaigns team. He chose the latter, and he stayed the course.
Eventually, Mike moved to Santa Clara University where he led an increase in alumni donor participation from 15% in 2009 to 25% in 2013. How? By educating students and young alumni about the collective power of philanthropy, by paying attention to alums’ true interests and connecting them to programs at Santa Clara, and by personalizing alumni outreach.
As Mike points out, we can’t text message our way to annual fund growth. After a year and a half of virtual engagement, human-to-human connection is more important than ever. How can we scale 1-1 connections and outreach to thousands more alumni?
Recently, Mike’s team sent a fiscal-year end email to 20,000 alums. It had a 20% open rate. It yielded $0. We know so many institutions experienced this scenario at FY-end. Mike talks about why this is happening and how the industry needs to pivot its alumni communications.
Recently, Santa Clara raised over $525,000 from over 650 donors to endow the Black Excellence Fund to recruit, retain, and educate Black students. (They raised $40k from faculty, staff, and students before marketing the Fund externally.) The first scholarship recipient is a transfer student, and during their tour of Santa Clara, Mike plans to shoot a quick, 30-second video of the student to send to all donors to the fund.
For nearly 20 years, Mike has passionately raised money for scholarships, programs, and capital projects for Santa Clara University and Stanford University. In his role as the AVP of Development and Constituent Relations at Santa Clara University, Mike oversees the Annual Giving and Donor Relations efforts, manages SCU’s Board of Regents, and serves as the liaison between the University and external organizations, facilitating relationships and advancing University priorities within the community. While at Santa Clara, Mike helped launch the University’s largest ever comprehensive campaign, led the implementation of a successful reunion giving program, and drove the strategies behind reversing an eight-year decline in alumni participation.
Mike graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Art. While at UCSD, he was a four-year member of the Cross Country and Track and Field teams. Mike lives in Santa Clara with his wife and two sons.