July 26, 2011
Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology
The last thing any administrator wants to do is embarrass a donor, but sometimes events and schedules conspire to create crisis management. That’s what happened this week concerning one of our alumni legends who passed away and for whom we were trying to raise funds for an endowment, with help from his family.
This is a town-gown story, which can be especially sensitive, as our beloved alumnus was active in a civic organization as well as our program.
Earlier this year I was asked to speak to the executive board of the civic organization and make an appeal for endowment funds. Rather than make a direct contribution, the board asked me to make a presentation to show its membership.
Individual members would be asked to donate to the account.
I was told that the organization was known for commemorating its long-time members, and I was encouraged to invite the family of our deceased alumnus to what would be a memorable occasion.
Then in July I was notified that the organization had switched the date of my presentation. Another speaker—and VIP of the national organization—had been booked for the same date, and his speech could not be changed to accommodate me. The problem was my alumnus’ family already had booked plane tickets and hotel rooms. Worse, they would be not be available on the new date.
After several emails and phone conversations, we decided the best solution was to shorten what was supposed to be a 45-minute presentation to 15 minutes. I could present it after the VIP’s speech. This way, we could hold the commemoration for my alumnus on the same date as originally planned.
Now the challenge was to encompass the illustrious career of my alumnus in 15 minutes and to make his family’s trip to Ames worthwhile.
Luckily, I could rely on my broadcast journalism background to assemble a documentary video that my IT colleague, Andy Messersmith, formatted for Internet.
I also asked my wonderful staff—business manager Kathy Box, program coordinator Kim McDonough, and assistant director Barbara Mack—to help plan a reception in the same hotel where the organization meets each month.
We’d cater the after event and invite alumni and friends of the alumnus to spend time with his family while the above video premiered for those in attendance.
The ISU Foundation also would be on hand to help us raise funds.
As for the ASJMC lesson here, I realized long ago that the job of an administrator is to take a crisis and transform it into a win-win situation without the dean or provost even knowing that there were problems in the first place.
That can only be accomplished with a first-rate staff, with which I am blessed.