Moody's Investors Service still holds a negative outlook on Birmingham-Southern College after its financial crisis in 2010, but at least one outlook is quite positive.
The private Alabama college's new fund-raising chief as of this fall, Ed L. Hand, says Birmingham-Southern's financial problems drew him to his new job, but he's bullish on the college's prospects.
"I saw it as an opportunity," said Mr. Hand, vice president for institutional advancement at Birmingham-Southern, referring to revelations a year and a half ago that the college had gone over budget by millions of dollars as it improved facilities and distributed extra scholarship and grant aid, borrowing to cover the costs.
The college made deep cuts in its budget after a $13-million deficit was projected for 2010, laying off faculty and reducing salaries and benefits. The college, which has 1,500 students, was also burdened with a heavy debt load.
"The thing that I've found is that it has brought the donors closer to the college," Mr. Hand said. "My staff is scurrying around busier than ever. The alumni know what this college means to them, and it's really bringing out the best in everybody." Mr. Hand, a 23-year veteran in donor development, said he has worked through troubled times before—when the tech bubble burst, a stream of valuable stock gifts vanished almost instantly.
Plenty of pressure is put on a development office at any financially troubled college. But generally speaking, fiscal problems don't disappear overnight, said Rae Goldsmith, vice president for advancement resources at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
Ms. Goldsmith said colleges generally need to take five steps to revamp a fund-raising program: gather information about the institution, the potential donor base, and perceptions about the college; invest in infrastructure such as staff members, a database, and volunteers; cultivate strong leadership; and develop goals and a message. And, finally, a college needs time. "Fund raising is not an instant fix," she said.
For those steps to work, a college in a financial mess will need someone with deep experience in fund raising, someone who can inspire trust and collaboration, she said.
Mr. Hand previously served North Carolina State University as executive director of development and external relations for the Poole College of Management, where he developed a $37-million gift for the college and directed a successful $30-million capital campaign. As an undergraduate, Mr. Hand created a phone-athon for Western Carolina University, and a mentor told him he was as good if not better than many people already in the fund-raising business. His mentor asked him, Why not give it a shot?
Several large and small institutions later, Mr. Hand says he loves the environment and access to chief executives at smaller colleges. For Birmingham-Southern, Mr. Hand said, he intends to ramp up the fund-raising staff a bit, hit income marks, and reach out to as many alumni as possible early on.
That's because any fund raiser or administrator will have a limited window of time with a new chief executive, as the president's attention is drawn to running the college, he said. When it comes to fund raising, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, the college's new president, is very effective, Mr. Hand said.
"He cuts to the chase, he has a vision for the college, and he does not mind asking for money. He has already shown me that many times," he said. "He comes through with a clarity that is rare, I think, in a lot of administrators."
As for the challenges ahead, Mr. Hand says he plans to approach donors from a position of strength. "When you show people the vision, they will want to contribute to it," he said. "People don't give to losers; people give to winners. We're a winner here."