Geneseo recently hired Jon A. L. Hysell to fill the position of interim Vice President for College Advancement, and has been named the executive director of the Geneseo Foundation. Interim President Carol Long made the announcement on Nov. 14. Hysell graduated from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York with a bachelor’s degree in history and worked there as a senior development officer for 12 years. In addition to Hamilton, Hysell also studied at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Massachusetts.
While Geneseo’s college advancement program is young compared to other top-tier liberal arts colleges, progress is strong. Hysell outlined the different facets of developing college advancement and where Geneseo currently stands in each.
“Advancement at Geneseo––which is consistent with many other colleges––includes communications, alumni relations, donations and fundraising,” he said. “Each of these is at different stages of evolution. Alumni relations and communications are pretty sophisticated and consistent with all the first class liberal arts colleges, both public and private, that I know of.”
He noted, however, that Geneseo’s fundraising is less developed and needs to be taken further. “It is critical for the life of a college, for all sorts of reasons,” he said.
Hysell spoke to how larger endowments provide better opportunities not just for students, but for faculty and departments as well.
“The more funds you have to support scholarships, the less student debt there is,” he said. “The more funds you have in the endowment, the more opportunities faculty have to do research. It allows us to retain the best faculty and hire great new faculty.”
Hysell said that the need for stronger fundraising stems for Geneseo’s status as a public school. Many students and alumni look at the state as the source of opportunity.
“State aid is declining for all sorts of reasons,” he said. “That gap needs to be filled. The [private institutions] are way out in front of having the experience and multiple decades of raising money. So their relationships with their alumni are much deeper, they are more closely tied to the institution and therefore invest more heavily in the institution.”
He cited his alma mater Hamilton, a private liberal arts college. There, roughly 50 percent of alumni make a gift every year. At Geneseo, which has one of the best rates of alumni participation in the State University of New York system, the percentage of alumni making gifts sits around only 17 percent.
Still, Hysell noted that it is an achievement. “It’s something to be proud of,” he said. “It grew dramatically last year, but in terms of [Geneseo’s] competition, just locally we’re within 100 miles of probably five to six first class schools. Their larger endowments allow them to be more competitive.”
Yet, the problem does not rest with the size of Geneseo’s graduating classes and its alumni base.
“The size of the alumni base is more than sufficient to generate large amounts of philanthropic support,” Hysell said. “If we can engage them in the life of the college and build a personal relationship with them so that they have a sense of shareholding in the institution even though they’ve graduated, they’ll be excited about supporting Geneseo.”
Hysell praised the fundraising initiatives such as The Greek Challenge and A Knight’s Challenge, but acknowledged their short-term effectiveness.
“I think the challenges are great because they give someone incentive. There is a personal connection … and it’s creating a reason to give,” he said. “Because there aren’t decades and decades of a philanthropic culture for alumni … you almost have to create something that is unique to them. It creates a culture of giving back, but it’s a long process.”
He also praised student participation and leadership in working toward college advancement, mentioning Geneseo’s Phonathon.
“For a student who makes a $20 gift, it’s hugely meaningful. For an alum who’s been out for 50 years, it’s an afterthought,” Hysell said. “But students can provide leadership––all the students who participate in the Phonathon have made a gift. So if an alum resists their request for aid, the last thing they say is, ‘Will you at least match my philanthropy?’ That’s a powerful statement. That’s a leadership statement.”