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Chapter 06

Driving to work the next day I’m thinking about a conversation I had with my son, who is barely old enough for day care now. His being old enough is the reason I was able to take this job and to some extent I’m wishing he was still only two.It had started with a dinner conversation with my wife, who had apparently been talking with a student who was visibly impressed when she heard she had grown up in California. She immediately stepped in and explained that she was talking about northern California, which is so mysterious to people in the U.S. “Oh, but that’s even worse,” the student had said, “there are all those earthquakes.” We were laughing about it because although there have been terrible tragedies resulting from earthquakes most of them are really nothing to worry about. Natural disasters occur all over the states, you just get different kinds.This led us into talking about the tornado that had ripped through a town just north of ours in Washington the year before we left to come out east. It didn’t kill anybody, but it had caused tens of millions of dollars of damage to the wheat crops and had destroyed some grain silos and torn roofs off some houses. We were less than eight miles south of where it had touched ground, and although it was exhilarating, what with golf-ball sized hailstones and ferocious winds, it was also much scarier than an earthquake.It was one of those adult conversations that you think are so innocuous until the questions start. So while I’m giving the kid a bath later he asks me if Massachusetts gets tornadoes. “No, of course not,” I tell him. “There are too many hills and things for a really big tornado to get going.” I didn’t mean to lie. Apparently Massachusetts has had Fujita 5 twisters in the past. The week earlier I had told him that the state was too populous for bears to be a significant threat, and I was wrong about that, too. Add those things to the lethal winter snowstorms, the possibility of hurricanes, Lyme disease, and the drivers and it is probably a much more dangerous place than most people think. And don’t bother telling the people here that New England is well overdue for a massive quake. They simply won’t believe you. Those things only happen in California and in other countries.I arrive at the office and hunt Sid down. He’s back in the server room, where there is the tremendous and comforting white-noise hum of the email and database servers. He looks to be performing some mysterious server rites involving command lines and a website devoted to some sports team I’d never heard of. He looks up as I come in and raises his eyebrows.

“What’s up?” he asks, because there’s really no reason for anyone to go into the server room but him unless they need his help with something.

“Hey. No much. So this is your sanctuary?”

“Yeah. This is the one place that Paul won’t go. It’s way too warm for him, there’s technology that he doesn’t understand, and it would be beneath him to seek me out this far away from his office.”

I’m thinking that it is nice to hear that Sid doesn’t like Paul either. It is so hard to tell around here who is allied with whom.

“You mind if I move my desk back here?” I ask, but I’m joking. To move office furniture is, of course, completely and psychotically taboo. “I’m actually wondering whether you got pictures of the owls,” I say.

“Oh, yeah. I got pictures, but their not like you’d think. They may be a little weirder, though. Hang on.”

He fumbles around with the computer mouse, clicking on some folders until he finds what he’s looking for. And it is pictures of the ground. It takes me a few seconds, and his finger pointing at the screen, before I see that the ground is littered with dead owls.

“Got a much better look at them the next morning, because they weren’t moving, weren’t staring back.” He clicks the mouse on something else and the picture magnifies a little. Then he moves the scroll-bars so that the frame moves to the left and down a little.

“They’re all sorts of different owls. I called the animal control guy and he said that there were like nine different species.”

I can see that there are small ones and large ones, and the colors are different.

“What did they die of?” I ask.

“Guy doesn’t know. He took a couple back to the clinic with him and he’s waiting for test results of some sort. Weird thing is . . . I don’t know if you can see it, but they are all like emaciated. It’s like they starved to death.”

“Some sort of raptor hunger strike.”

“Yeah. No list of demands, though.”

I laugh, probably one of those laughs that are mostly to relieve tension, because it was funny, but much more creepy than funny. Then I remember about that bird flu thing.

“Any chance it was bird flu?” I ask.

“No, he thought of that, too. The symptoms are all wrong, I guess. He knew that right away.”

“That’s a relief,” I say, and it is, a little.

He nods. “You getting ready for your strategic plan presentation?”

“Yeah. I’ve still got almost two weeks, though.”

“Paul will want you to have a rough draft by Tuesday, though, because TWR is coming.”


“They’re fundraising consultants that he brings in five, six times a year to back him up with the administration.”

“And we all meet with them?”

“Yeah, divide and conquer. Even I have to go in and do a little song and dance, which they won’t listen to a word of. They’ll have suggestions, though, suggestions like ‘maybe we should migrate our servers,’ or ‘we need to use a relational database for this.’ I just nod a lot and promise them I’ll do whatever crazy stuff they say, or research it or whatever. You probably know your job pretty well, but allow me to suggest a strategy.”

“You think I’ll meet with them, too?”

“You’re already on the schedule, check your email.”

“Sure, I’d love to hear your suggestions.”

“Tell them whatever they want to hear.”

I hate telling people what they want to hear. But I nod at Sid and thank him for the advice. At least I know how people get along with him now. Later on I can decide whether to do it.

I go back to my office an find out, sure enough, they have slated me in at 2:00 in the afternoon and even put “strategic plan” on the agenda. I figure I have to move pretty quickly now to think this thing through. And because I don’t know what I’m going to do quite yet I decide that I’ll put together two different plans. One will lay out what I think we should be doing. The other will be what they want to hear.

Fundraising is a strange business, particularly the part focused on foundations. It is difficult enough for most people to get a handle on how other people think. It is a big step from that to get most people to understand how corporate organizations work. But most people make that transition pretty well once they understand the role of the profit motive. For some reason, though, most people never seem to be able to make the next leap, understanding how grant-making non-profits work. They tend to simplify. So usually the reasoning goes something like this: I am doing valuable work for the public good, therefore this organization should give me money to do it. It is even worse, usually, in the hands of fundraising administrators, because they take this ignorance and tack on things that they have heard in fundraising conferences and seminars, things like “this business is all about building relationships.” And they believe that since a college or university does good things, things like educating kids and doing valuable research, foundations should be happy to simply hand over their money. The phrase about relationships suits them perfectly, too, because most university administrators, to whom they report, came from the faculty ranks. And most faculty want nothing to do with “building relationships.” And even if they did, the phrase “building relationships” carries a non-specific timeline with it. How long does it take to build a relationship with a foundation?

But all of this is hogwash. The fact is that there are two main types of foundations. One can be called “local,” and the other can be termed “foundations with a specific agenda.” The local foundation is primarily concerned with the things going on in the town where the foundation is located. And most of these already feel like they know what is good for that town. You can build a relationship with these foundations, but it takes a good bit of time, because you need to do a lot of listening, and you need to be intimately familiar with the social structure of the town and its history.

The foundations with a more specific agenda are simply not interested local issues in other towns and may or not be interested in local issues in the towns in which they are located. They have national or international vision about certain social, economic, environmental, or political problems. They often have a set of tactics towards solving those problems that is also important to consider when applying for funding. Although knowing people at these foundations can be helpful, it won’t get you anywhere if you aren’t applying for money to solve what they see as the most important problems of the day. And it won’t get you anywhere unless they think you have the right approach to solving those problems. And the last thing they want to hear from anybody calling them on the phone is that you are in a fundraising office at a university. They want to hear from researchers or people who are out there solving problems. Not people who want to take credit for these people.

I start by looking carefully at the foundations in town, and this doesn’t take long. None of them could possibly come up with large sums of money in the short term. Certainly none of them could help this university with its miniature version of the Big Dig even if its trustees wanted to. Then I look at the grant-getting histories of institutions that are supposed to be similar to our university, not because I think they’ll be any surprises, but because I am thinking about using it to persuade the Exec and his consultant to think rationally about foundation fundraising.

Most Universities get their large foundation grants from the local foundations. When they get large grants from foundations with specific agendas it is usually for research. It is almost never for projects that are already underway. I spend the afternoon doing research just to reassure myself that none have ever, in the history of grant-making to universities, gotten a grant for cost overruns incurred digging a hole in the ground.

Next day is Thursday and I spend some more time researching weird grants for Lisa. The phone has been mercifully quiet. Probably this is a busy time of the year in terms of getting classes going. This will buy me some time to think about the situation before I have to meet with many more faculty.

I try a flurry of keywords related to death and manage to make a couple more lists. Then it occurs to me to try the names of people who have attempted to communicate with the dead. I try Harry Houdini, Madame Blavatsky, Aleister Crowley, Theodore Reuss, a few others, and some strange little foundations come up, but most of them don’t have any presence on the web, so they are difficult to look into. Then I tried all of the associations that seemed to come out regular web searches on these names. The O.T.O., the Golden Dawn, the Abbey of Thelema. Most don’t seem to have any assets either. By lunchtime I’m pretty much ready to give it up, since the list of names and associations seems to blossom without actually leading to any pockets. I have decided to limit myself to researching this stuff only in the mornings, partially because that’s my most alert time of day, partially because I won’t have to think about it when it starts to get dark outside.

Thursday afternoon I devote to developing the strategic plan some more. Part of the research process involves identifying large foundations with specific interests that match those of researchers on campus. In fact this research into our institution is almost half the battle.

There are six colleges that seem about equal in size. The Business School will, no doubt, come to me thinking they should be getting some money to study entrepreneurship or something, but mostly they won’t be banging at our door because the whole idea of non-profit is off their radar.

The College of Sciences is pretty well-connected to industry, and so their main focus is partnerships or alumni with their own companies. Sometimes they will get the idea that there is such a thing as corporate philanthropy, which will send them over to our office. Most, though, won’t know about that weird entity called the corporate foundation at all, or will focus on other types of connections, like funneling scholarship money to students who will be potential hires for these companies later on down the road.

The College of Agriculture is a little smaller than the others and will have business connections. They’ll also look mainly to government grants. So they’re out.

This leaves the College of Pharmacology and Toxicology, which is mainly funded through industry and government grants, too. There are a few foundations that seem pretty interested in medical issues, but most of them prefer to fund institutions that have a medical school where they can perform clinical trials.

The College of Engineering is probably something I can also safely ignore for the time being. Engineering, like business, always seems to be interested in connections with industry. There are a few foundations with specific interests who have periodically funded engineering research or education, but most either specialized in areas where this university has no infrastructure or made large grants to local universities.

This leaves my main focus—the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Essential to any university these are the most neglected departments, partially because they do not bring in federal research dollars in anything like the volume of engineering and science departments. They lack the corporate inroads that engineering, science and business departments get. And they tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to support, although they tend to have the steepest teaching requirements (because they tend to teach most of the general education requirements) and some of the most difficult research mandates (because they have to compete with engineers and scientists, who can publish experimental results whether or not their experiments fail, and where results are often simply spit out by specialized computer programs.) These are gross generalizations and simplifications, but in the main these are the feelings of faculty members in the humanities and social sciences, so it doesn’t matter all that much whether or not they are true. Humanities and Social Sciences are therefore most likely both to need the support and to feel like they have something to gain by seeking it from foundations. So, in essence, they are the most likely to feel like they are getting something from somebody in foundation relations, even though mostly you tell them not to waste their time.

I take a look at the departments and notice that there are some researchers who might benefit from my help, and I start making a list of professors to call during the upcoming weeks. I’ll make some appointments, I’ll start learning what they do and at the same time be thinking about how to put all the pieces together.

I go home that day still unsure about what I’m going to tell the Exec and his consultant. Mostly, I’m thinking, it depends on how much stress he puts on the numbers. If he has some vision of how many dollars I should be bringing in each year, and it is far in excess of what the school brought in last year, I should start looking for a new job sometime around the first of the new year. If he quantifies things like how many proposals I have written to foundations for faculty members, then I should start looking right away.

I do have a pretty good start on a roadmap for what I’m going to be doing, though.

I clean my desk before leaving and even though I have spent the entire afternoon researching traditional routes to foundation funding my mind immediately turns to the researches of the morning. It is truly amazing what one can find on the internet, I reflect. Many of the works of Aleister Crowley were published so long ago that they are public domain now. I remember when I was a kid finding it difficult to locate the books I wanted either at the pathetic city library or at the local bookstores. There simply was no variety. Now, though, you can read books that have been out of print for decades or order books through the library from other libraries in distant towns or purchase them used.

I shut down the computer and head out the door, almost bumping into one of the major gift officers.

“Hey there, big guy, I was just coming to see you. Have you got a minute?”

“Sure, Ted,” I say as he brushes past me into my office, “have a seat.”

He doesn’t sit but waits until I do and grabs the back of the chair next to my desk, putting one of his feet on the seat of it. Ted Stanley is a bear of a man and a pretty good guy as well. He seems to be able to smile though just about anything, although during the retreat I thought that I saw him actually falling asleep during some of the presentations. He dresses well, but not as well as the Exec, almost like he is intentionally being careful not to appear threatening to the boss. Probably a good strategy for him, because he seems to be able to take credit for a lot of the money that flows from industry to the University. He has dark features, Mediterranean-looking, but he apparently grew up in New England, as did his family, all of which live nearby, and their ancestors going back generations. He predominantly deals with the engineering school alumni, and it seems to show in the precise and unnatural way he uses his hands while talking. He gestures like he is drawing a schematic in the air with his hands as he talks. He has a tendency to make prefatory remarks that indicate how many points he will make, and then to list them and delineate them one by one. Mercifully, he doesn’t do this now. At the end of the day I imagine I’d find it pretty difficult not to stare at his hands quizzically.

“How are you settling in here? You got everything you need?” he asks.

“Thanks for asking, Ted. Yeah, I’m just now digging into the funding environment a little and trying to understand the institution a little better. It’s pretty overwhelming, but I’ve scratched the surface, I think. I’ve got my meeting with Paul and the consultant next week early and I’m a little worried about that.”

“Don’t worry about those guys. You’re new, so you’ll get kind of a honeymoon period before they start to ask any hard questions. Best way to handle them this early on is to treat them like father figures. They are suckers for that kind of thing.”

“You think?”


“Hmm. You’ve been around here a while, right? You have any hints about how I should actually proceed?”

“Well you probably already know that we don’t really have any alums on big philanthropic boards, except their own, of course.”

I nod.

“And the engineering school is pretty slim pickings for foundation money, he says, “but actually, that’s what I came to talk to you about. Hey, this must be your lucky day. Tomorrow I’ve got a meeting with one of our finest new engineering professors to talk about a new nanotechnology initiative that she’s involved in. They might be in a position to put together a campaign and maybe a proposal for some equipment or a new building sometime late in the year.”

I just nod and smile. “So, what maybe a Kresge grant for the building. Do you really think anybody is going to be able to leverage some capital spending on campus any time that soon? I mean, . . .”

“They’re pretty sharp, these people. And they seem to have a shot at some federal and state money for this stuff. So it’s possible. Do you want to come along and meet them, find out what it’s about?”

“Sure. I can spend a little time with them tomorrow. Maybe an hour or so.”

“Great,” he says, “that’s just great.”

“Where? Who? Should I meet you there?”

“I’m leaving about 9:45 or so if you want a ride to the engineering compound. If you want to get there yourself . . .”

“No, a ride sounds good,” I say, thinking that the meeting must be at 10:30 or so if we are going to be anything close to punctual. “So what is the nanotech stuff connected to? I thought we didn’t really have anybody doing that kind of silicon chip engineering stuff?”

“This is all materials science stuff. They are mostly connected to the polymers people. And I don’t really know the details, hoping to get that from them tomorrow. But it is exciting.”

“I guess it is. I’ll see you in the morning.”

He leaves and I’m thinking that it’s probably good to have some allies higher up the food chain in the office as well. And Ted is in line to get the Exec’s spot when the administration catches up with him.

Take me to Chapter VII




1. Chapter VI is out of the way « Sure as a Blog Returns to its Vomit - November 12, 2006

[…] This leviathan can be found here. […]

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