The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Meet Macalester's new lead fundraiser Tom Bonner

By Rebecca DeJarlais

Moving from Tennessee to Minnesota is no small challenge. But what about moving when you know your new job requires raising over $150 million? That’s the story of Vice President of Advancement Tommy Bonner, who was hired by Macalester in the summer to take on a capital campaign for the new athletic facility, fine arts complex and Institute for Global Citizenship.

“It’s the vision that [Macalester President] Brian [Rosenberg] has articulated from where we are and where we want to go that drew me,” Bonner said. “It’s compelling. It just felt right.”

Bonner oversees Advancement Services, which is separated into three distinct components: College Relations, Alumni Relations and Development.

“There isn’t a college who’s going to excel if it only looks internally,” Bonner said. “You’ve got to have external support. If you think of a funnel, the widest opening is College Relations. A small subset you’re going to try to get really engaged is Alumni Relations, and the smallest group is donors. Our job is to maximize all of those areas.”

Treasurer David Wheaton emphasized the public presence of the Development Office.

“The Development Office is the primary place for maintaining relationships with all of our alumni, who are an important part of the college community,” Wheaton said. “It’s also the place where the college interfaces with the outside world.”

From 1991 until this summer, Bonner worked at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. At a college where a dominant church influence was a better selling point than Macalester’s internationalism and diversity, Bonner started as associate director of planned giving. He left as executive director of development, with fund-raising skills that eventually helped him lead $108 million and $180 million capital campaigns in Sewanee.

He begins his Macalester tenure at the beginning of a new fundraising era, with the administration on the cusp of ramping up a major capital campaign.

“More than anything, [a successful capital campaign] is spending time and energy on planning, making sure that we pull the right volunteers on board for the campaign to step up and take on a leadership role,” Bonner said.

Wheaton said the capital campaign will be a comprehensive project linking plans for new buildings, the endowment and the Institute for Global Citizenship. Building costs account for $65 million of the estimated total. The endowment will require about $90 million. The Institute, Wheaton said, will draw from both the building and endowment pools.

So far, the college has raised $11.5 million for the new fieldhouse.

The capital campaign will stay in a quiet phase for two years while the Development Office focuses on soliciting large gifts. Once the college raises 50 percent of the total objective, the project goes public and opens to a broader audience. Most liberal arts colleges begin a capital campaign about every 10 years, Wheaton said. The ideal long-term outcome is a maintained higher level of alumni giving, rather than a dramatic spike.

Though the project will be the most visible component of Bonner’s six- to seven-year plan, his work involves each area of Advancement Services.

The Annual Fund, which topped $3 million for the first time last fiscal year, is another long-term focus for Bonner. By 2011, he said, the goal is $5 million annually, with a 50 percent alumni participation rate–up an estimated 6 percent from last year’s 44 percent.

During the last fiscal year, philanthropic support was at $9.5 million, a substantial improvement from just over $6 million the year before.

But in contrast to the rising gift totals, Macalester’s history of philanthropic support has not matched its peer colleges. Macalester’s five-year average fell far below the top 10 liberal arts colleges nationwide, who averaged $30 million. Within six years, though, Bonner hopes to sustain levels of $20 million per year.

“Being out visiting with very interesting and diverse people is the best part of my job,” Bonner said. “Fundraising is really just about educating people who like giving.

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