The Lasting Legacy
After nearly 21 years of service, Robert M. Beagle, vice president for advancement, retired in June. URI’s longest-serving vice president, Beagle is credited with leading a team of professionals who redefined URI’s advancement functions and created a new level of pride in the University.
Beagle’s leadership created a new culture for communication, philanthropy, and pride throughout the community. He led the University’s first-ever capital campaign that raised $17 million more than its $50 million goal. The success of this campaign provided an effective formula that resulted in five other philanthropic campaigns plus significant increases in annual giving.
What was your first impression of the University?
That the University was a very friendly place—in fact, as our branding messages now reflect, it was indeed a small, beautiful place with wonderful people. It is a place where I immediately felt at home and have since built up a great deal of my own Rhody pride with strong, lasting friendships.
My years at URI have been blessed by working with an incredible team of advancement professionals and dedicated volunteers who bring their Big Rhody Spirit to accomplish critical goals. When someone asks me what I’m going to miss most about this job, I always say it’s the people!
What were some of the challenges you faced?
Number one was (and still is) the budget. When I was hired, I was surprised to find that there was no budget for the proposed capital campaign. The biggest challenge was convincing people that it takes money to make money, that fundraising campaigns and annual giving programs are investments.
When I recently described this challenge, one alumnus said, “It sounds like you were being told to ride a shiny new bike at the same time you were building it.”That comment really sums it up. We (Paul Witham, our development director; myself; and our volunteer leadership) were building and riding at the same time. Adding to our challenge was that the campaign was conducted during bad economic times in Rhode Island and a weak economy nationally.
A special thank you to all who have offered their support to the Robert M. Beagle Family Endowment. Listed below are donors who have contributed $500 or more.
- America’s Pride
- ATR Treehouse
- Geraldine and Robert Beagle and Family
- Gary and Barbara Bowen
- Winifred E. Brownell
- Gustin and Winnie Buonaiuto
- Wes and Dianne Card
- Frank and Patricia Caruso
- Thomas Cerio
- Wayne and Bernice Durfee
- Donald Farley
- Paul and Janet Fradin
- Richard and Jean Harrington
- Higgins Family Foundation
- Mary and Robert Higgins
- James A. Hopkins
- Ronald and Karen Jordan
- Harold and Hillary Katersky
- Donald and Caroline Kaull
- Kullberg Consulting Group, LLC
- Pierre and Susan LaPerriere
- Joy Lewis
- Robert and Maureen Melfi
- Peter and Sandra Miniati
- David and Cortney Nicolato
- James and Roberta Norman
- Andrew and Michele Nota
- Daniel and Carol Pendergast
- Anthony J. Rose Jr.
- Thomas and Cathy Ryan
- Philip and Judith Saulnier
- Albert and Donna Skinner
- The Office of the President
- The URI Alumni Association
- The URI Bookstore
- The URI Foundation
- University Advancement Staff
- Alfred and Geraldine Verrecchia
- Paul and Constance Witham
- Carol J. Young
- Tom Zorabedian
How did you achieve all of this?
During the interview process for the vice presidency, I was clear about my philosophy: Unless you have an aggressive, comprehensive, and effective alumni relations program, nothing will happen. People won’t donate money, they won’t encourage their kids or grandkids to come here, they won’t serve as advocates or volunteer for University activities. The core of everything we do in advancement is the alumni relations program. That became our strategic focus. Borrowing a phrase from my grandchildren’s favorite song, I would say a strong alumni base “really makes the wheels go round and round!”
Sticking with that bicycle analogy, we started with the frame. During the silent phase of the campaign, we overhauled and expanded alumni programming, publications, marketing and communications, and the information system. In 1991 the alumni database was practically non-existent. But with funding and moral support from the Alumni Association, we were able to develop a database that now includes more than 110,000 active alumni and another one with about 160,000 contacts who we consider key stakeholders. I chuckle when I think that 21 years ago, people said they never heard from URI; now people say they hear from us too much.
The single most important and enduring constituency for any university is its alumni. Our alumni are the legacy of our institution—they form our past, our present, and our future. They also present the best opportunities for showcasing the quality of the institution and the impact that URI makes when its alumni go out into the world.
Was there one event that you will always remember?
Yes. In our Centennial Year, 1992, people came together to set things in motion—alumni relations, communications, publications, and the entire University. It was the beginning of everything. We had a volunteer Centennial Committee chaired by Jim Hopkins ’62. That year we hosted a series of big events—including an Education Summit, a CEO Forum, a URI 100 event that featured Willard Scott broadcasting his Today show weather report from the Quad, and a clambake on the Quad honoring the families of URI’s original founders.
Many of our notable events that continue today were based on ideas driven by our alumni leaders and other friends. For example, the Big Thinkers series that we hold around the country began in 1993 as the CEO Forum featuring American Airlines President Robert Crandall ’57. The idea for such forums came from Ted Tedesco ’56, who was then vice president for corporate affairs at American Airlines.
What was the biggest surprise?
The response to fundraising for the Ryan Center, the renovation of Ballentine Hall, and the restoration of Green Hall. Everybody said we couldn’t raise money for buildings. But with such volunteer alumni leaders as former Governor Lincoln Almond ’61; Dick Harrington ’73, Hon. ’02; Tom Ryan ’75, Hon. ’99; Joe Formicola ’69; Dan Pendergast ’59; Caroline Kaull ’66; Henry Nardone ’43, Hon. ’93; and the presidents of the Alumni Association, we proved them wrong.
What this showed is that we were steadily building a culture of philanthropy for URI. And we were steadily building awareness and pride among our alumni and many others.
What do you see for future advancement challenges?
Colleges and universities are going to increasingly rely on advancement and fundraising. Such demand will grow because it is one of the few ways public institutions have left to enhance resources for students and programs. For example, for URI to fully achieve President’s Dooley’s goals for student experiential learning, URI must raise substantial amounts of private funding to provide some form of assistance for students who otherwise may need to work in non-academic related part-time jobs.
There will also be demand for greater accountability in fundraising. While it does take money to make money, the results must demonstrate a worthwhile return on that investment.
Strong marketing and branding in this very competitive marketplace will also remain critical. Stakeholders have numerous choices in terms of where they give their attention, their support and even where they attend college. Therefore, URI must aggressively differentiate itself, while relating directly to its constituencies.
It will require our “Big Thinking” skills. We’ve got to continue working to keep URI—its name and its attributes—uppermost in people’s minds. URI will also have to keep adapting. Over the years we have turned our alumni communications approach as well as our overall external communications approach from print-based to an extensive use of the web, of social media, and of email. We have also gone from what was pretty much just a Rhode Island focused alumni program to one that penetrates all areas of the country and the globe where there are significant numbers of alumni and parents of students. My motto has always been “no group is ever too small to engage. Every alum and every friend is important!”
What is your message for the new generation of alumni?
That we are very proud of your accomplishments and honored to have you as alumni. I would also say that while you can’t give money right now, don’t let that stop your involvement. Come back to campus, go to events, give your time, share your ideas. If the University isn’t offering programs or events that interest you, suggest ones that do. Reach out and connect with the growing global network of alumni—young and old. It will be good for you and for your career.
Above all: Proudly display your Rhody Pride!
—Jhodi Redlich ’81
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