On this episode of the RAISE podcast, Brent chats with Brian O’Rourke, Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations at Clemson University. These two native New Englanders talk athletics scholarships, staff retention, staying “near, dear, and clear” with donors, and lots more.
Listen here, and catch the highlights below.
A few highlights from this episode…
How did a kid from the South Shore of Massachusetts end up at Clemson? Brian’s good friend Keith was recruited to the Clemson basketball team, and Brian was co-recruited as a “package deal” to manage the team. Brian was one of two freshmen from Massachusetts at Clemson in the fall of 1978. This fall, there were 103 Clemson freshmen from Mass.
What makes an alumni engagement event purposeful? Brian gives a great piece of advice: don’t plan an alumni event in a silo. If you’re traveling to Austin, TX with your president, you should be thinking about how you can steward different subsets of alums there. How can you bring high-potential prospects together in a small group? How can you get as many folks as possible to a spirited all-call event? How can you make strategic corporate engagement a factor in the planning process?
What kind of event follow-up gives the best experience for all alums? Brian and Brent talk about how most alumni events conclude with a blast “Thanks for coming, NAME!” email. But we have the tools to get way more sophisticated than that. We should all be working towards a process in which alumni with certain profiles get flagged for planned giving follow-up; or outreach from a discovery officer; or receive a 1:many ThankView from the director of alumni relations.
What are some of the biggest changes in the past 16 years at Clemson? Brian comments on how these days at Clemson, it’s all about pipeline. Every single Clemson employee is committed to making Clemson stronger for the next generation of students, faculty, and fundraisers. Brian also remarks about the Trustees’ focus on ROI – as Clemson invests in development and alumni relations staff, Brian and his team have to prove that their team is effective and efficient.
What’s one tip you can borrow/steal from Brian? Make time on your calendar every month to have lunch with a student. Brian blocks three monthly lunchtimes to meet with student scholars. It keeps him connected to his “Why” and it enables him to tell more authentic impact stories to donors.
How is Clemson’s staff retention rate almost 3x the industry average? In Brian’s words, “We’ve got a great place, a great product, a great president, and a great vision.” When Brian sits down with his senior leadership team, nearly everyone at the table has been at Clemson for over eight years. That is pretty awesome.
More about Brian…
Brian J. O’Rourke directs a development operation at Clemson that brings in more than $150 million annually and that conducted the most successful fundraising effort to date in the state of South Carolina. Through its Will to Lead campaign, Clemson became the first public university in America with an alumni base of less than 150,000 to raise more than $1 billion.
Clemson’s alumni relations program, led by O’Rourke, consistently ranks as one of the nation’s best. The Princeton Review rated Clemson as having the top alumni network in the country based on data and student surveys about the activities and visibility of alumni and the percentage of alumni who recommend Clemson to prospective students and top four with Alumni participation.
O’Rourke first came to Clemson in the late 1970s as a freshman, sight unseen, from Massachusetts. “The Clemson community embraced me,” he recalls. “I was a Yankee from Hanover, but by second semester, I was at home.” Continuing that kindness, he now sends a personal welcome letter to each new Clemson freshman from the Bay State.
He earned two Clemson degrees: a bachelor’s degree in administrative management in 1983 and a master’s degree in personnel services in 1985. He was an IPTAY scholarship recipient, basketball manager and active member of numerous student organizations.
After graduation, O’Rourke spent five years as Director of Field Activities for the Clemson Alumni Association. He went on to become Vice President of Development for St. Francis Health System in Greenville, S.C., and Executive Director of its foundation. Later, he was a senior consultant for Corporate DevelopMint, a Charleston-based fundraising consulting firm. He returned to his alma mater in 2004 to lead its alumni and fundraising operations.
O’Rourke is a major donor to Clemson academic and athletic programs and a volunteer leader in his community and profession. He also inspires others to give and serve. In 2007, a Clemson couple surprised him by establishing the Brian J. O’Rourke ’83 Unrestricted Endowment for Performing Arts. He was described as “one of Clemson’s finest and most enthusiastic stewards.”
Brian and his wife, Amy, whom he refers to as “my greatest asset,” have two sons, Josh (wife Cameron) and Nick (wife Jennifer) Kendrick, and three granddaughters.