“My light-bulb moment happened when I was an undergraduate student,” says Lisa Woodcock, associate director, annual fund, in Alumni Affairs and Development. “I was working part-time as a student caller doing telefundraising for Queen’s University, and I loved it. I was talking to people about something I believed in. And I realized I could do this for a living.”
After graduation, she worked in fundraising at Queen’s for five years before applying for her current position. What drew her to U of G?
“I like what Guelph stands for, and I’d met many of the people working here at conferences and professional development programs. When this opportunity came up, I knew this was where I wanted to be.” She arrived here in October.
As associate director, annual fund, Woodcock is responsible for the strategic annual solicitation of alumni, friends, employees and retirees of the University, as well as the parents of current students. She calls the annual fund “the lifeblood of the University” because it represents donors who give to Guelph every year — not just for a special project or major campaign — because they believe in the importance and value of U of G’s programs.
“The annual fund ensures that we have technology that works, up-to-date books in the library and all the other everyday things that make the institution work,” she says.
Annual gifts are the type of gift most people can make — smaller than major capital investments — but they can have a big impact, says Woodcock.
“People may not realize how important their $25 or $50 donation can be. It adds up. If we had $25 from every U of G graduate, for example, it would have a huge impact in supporting the University’s fundraising priorities.”
Currently, much of her day is spent developing fundraising strategies and planning for the year. Her goal is to significantly increase the number of annual donors and the dollar amount of individual donations.
An important component of annual fundraising is the student call centre, which employs about 40 students part-time to stay in touch with alumni, friends and parents.
“The students are fantastic ambassadors for the University,” says Woodcock. “They also help us keep our finger on the pulse of alumni. If people are upset about something that’s going on, we’ll hear about it. If they’re pleased with something we’re doing, we’ll hear about that, too.”
For parents, U of G provides an opportunity to enrich their children’s scholarly work and learning experiences through donations to the Parents’ Fund, which supports the U of G Library. The fund strengthens library resources by enabling the purchase of thousands of additional materials each year, including books, journals and databases, she says.
Of course, U of G faculty, staff and retirees are also an essential part of annual fundraising. In 2005, the University established the Cornerstone Fund specifically for members of the campus community to channel their donations directly to Guelph’s highest-priority needs. Woodcock believes such donations are essential.
“We need to demonstrate that our internal partners are committed to a cause before we can raise funds outside the University.”
She adds that she was pleasantly surprised by the potential for fundraising growth when she arrived at U of G.
“The average Canadian university gets annual donations from 10 to 15 per cent of its alumni. At Guelph, the rate is currently less than 10 per cent. Yet we rank very high on all student exit surveys. This is a huge opportunity for us to tap into.”
Philanthropy is close to Woodcock’s heart. “I made a New Year’s resolution two years ago to give to a different charity every month,” she says. “Some months it has actually been a bit challenging to find a charity that I respected and cared about. But I’ve stuck to it, and I think it helps me have empathy for the donors I work with. I know their concerns and the competing demands they have to consider.”
But seeing U of G as a worthy cause is easy, she says. “I believe passionately in what I do here. The University touches every part of our lives. Do you have a pet? Then you know the research done at OVC is vital. Do you shop at the grocery store and wonder about the safety of the food you buy? It’s U of G research that helps make sure it’s safe. Beyond that, Guelph prepares students to be caring, committed citizens of the world, and that affects everyone.”
As she puts her strategic planning into place, Woodcock looks forward to having more opportunities to meet with alumni and other donors to discuss their contributions and the needs of the University.
“If you’re a graduate, it’s an investment in the value of your own degree,” she says. “If the reputation of the University grows, then people consider your degree more valuable. I see my job as enabling people to give back when they choose.”
Woodcock believes fundraising is the most fulfilling career she could have. “I see the results of my work every day. It’s a great feeling.”