Wendy Kobler, vice president for institutional advancement, is the newest member of Ithaca College’s senior leadership team.
Kobler, who began the position Sept. 1, replaced Chris Biehn, former vice president for institutional advancement, who left the college on April 15. Kobler most recently served as the vice president for institutional advancement at Kentucky State University.
News Editor Madison Fernandez sat down with Kobler to discuss her plans to increase philanthropic support at the college.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Madison Fernandez: Can you speak a bit about your decision to come to Ithaca College?
Wendy Kobler: It was very simple. After I spent an amazing day here interviewing, meeting the wonderful people, listening to the faculty share their stories, listening to the deans, learning more about the strategic plan, interacting with President [Shirley M.] Collado, I knew that this was going to be the right place for me. And not only that, look at this community, and look at your strategic location, look at the students, the diversity of students that you recruit and bring to the campus. So you are truly changing lives.
MF: You just recently left a similar position at Kentucky State, and I know that you recently earned a doctorate in global leadership. How will you take these experiences and apply them to the college?
WK: So my plan is to start with a listening tour. … I believe that … the ones doing the heavy lifting know the direction that we need to go and then working to implement best practices within the office based upon the gaps that I see.
MF: What are some of your initial goals for your first year here?
WK: My initial goal is to really get a thorough and deep understanding of the institution, listen to the individuals and people and alumni and what their experience has been with the advancement office and with the college overall and to interact with as many students as possible because you’re the mission. You are why it is that we’re here.
MF: I know the strategic plan mentions increasing the college’s endowment. How do you plan to work with the strategic plan to meet these goals?
WK: Well, specifically goal nine, when it talks about Ithaca Forever, there’s a great opportunity in preparation for a comprehensive campaign, which is all about increasing the endowment and increasing the annual fund. But that all begins with more alumni and friend engagement. And so I believe the strategic plan clearly articulates a message where we can find philanthropic projects to be supported through the strategic plan. And so we will be starting in early in the fall … we’re going to be starting a comprehensive campus project prioritization project identifying those projects across campuses … based upon input from the strategic plan that the final list will be decided upon by the president. It is truly a comprehensive approach. We’ll be approaching everyone on campus, asking them for big, bold ideas in anticipation of a feasibility study with hopefully the outcome of launching into a comprehensive campaign.
MF: What are some of those engagement techniques or strategies to really get alumni to engage?
WK: Well, I’m going to share with you the secret to advancement, to engagement, to philanthropy — you eat a lot. You just are going to spend a lot of time sitting across from people, but it’s building those one-to-one, face-to-face relationships, getting to know you, understanding the experience you had as an undergraduate. What was transformational? Who were the faculty that impacted you? … And so finding out about those transformations, finding out about your philanthropic commitment. … I can’t make you philanthropic or not philanthropic. But what I can do is share the stories of today’s students, reflect back on your time, create nostalgia and ask you to make a financial investment in the institution.
MF: Beyond alumni, what sort of other revenue streams do you anticipate to look at?
WK: Corporations, foundations — they are very philanthropic. They are supporting institutions such as ours. Friends — we have a very active friends group. And so there are a lot of ways to garner philanthropic support, but, still, the number one revenue stream is going to be your alumni. So we need to connect, engage and inspire through stories, more alumni to think about leaving their greatest assets, their gifts to the institution.
MF: What are some things you like to do in your free time?
WK: I’m an outdoor person, and I want to make the most of the beautiful weather that we have this fall. I’m looking forward to the end of September. I’ve read about the Harvest Apple Festival. So I will be there in spades. Just don’t get in the way as I’m trying to get apple pie and apple cider.