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The St. Norbert College Story:
A Faithful Community That Is Inspiring Donors & Making History

Life is busy at St. Norbert College. The fall 2012 launch of a $90 million capital campaign and preparations to welcome a new member to its campus facilities, the Medical College of Wisconsin, have the development team working full speed ahead. Or, to be more exact, they are working Campaign St. Norbert: Full Ahead.

“There is no question that the momentum here is palpable. This is a pivotal moment in the history of St. Norbert College,” remarks Thomas Kunkel, President. “We are asking ourselves, as a college, the same question all people of faith ask themselves at some point: Are we doing literally everything we can to best use the talents God has given us? This simple question motivates us to be the very best college we can be. It fuels our ongoing pursuit of excellence. It is what is driving Campaign St. Norbert: Full Ahead.

About the Campaign
St. Norbert College was founded in 1898 by Abbot Bernard Pennings, a Norbertine priest. Enrollment in its first freshman class totaled…one. Today the college serves 2,200 students and offers 30 areas of study. It is among the top liberal arts colleges in the nation and is named as such by Forbes and US News & World Report. The college’s history—its journey—is rich with accomplishment. Loyal alumni, dedicated faculty and engaged students perpetuate the college’s distinctly energized, tightly knit community.

With an extraordinary legacy of success, it’s no surprise that the leaders of this vibrant college continually look for opportunities to further strengthen the organization’s contributions to higher education. As they state in their campaign case statement:  The college is united in its vision to “…bring the world to our students, and our students to the world – thereby enriching both.” To achieve such requires that the college reach well beyond its current resources and ask of its supporters a substantial commitment to this vision. To this end, the college embarked on Campaign St. Norbert: Full Ahead.

Campaign gifts will support five goals that the college’s leaders feel are critical to the achievement of their vision:

  • $20 million in student financial aid, including endowed scholarships and fellowships
  • $15 million to provide faculty resources and increase the scope of academic programs
  • $35 million for creation of a new facility for the natural sciences
  • $10 million for enhancements to the student experience
  • $10 million for improvements to facilities

Well On Their Way
With $70 million of their $90 million goal raised, the development team is prepared for the final stretch. Their work began in 2009, and Marts & Lundy Senior Consultant Tom Thomsen has been a regular member of the school’s particularly well-structured and efficient team. Phil Oswald, Vice President for College Advancement, believes the team’s success is due, in great part, to a common understanding of the vision and of the plan for achieving it. “Our success in the planning and quiet phase has many reasons. Among them are a clear vision from President Kunkel, a great group of campaign chairs, and a convergence of donor passion with a college that has tremendous momentum moving forward,” says Phil.

Fundraising for Campaign St. Norbert: Full Ahead has familiar roots: working from the top down on the donor pyramid, closing leadership and major gifts from the Trustees, creating a clear and compelling case statement and engaging the greater community in the excitement surrounding the campaign. It is much about going back to the basics, a strategy that is driving a robust response from every level of donor.

“Every time I come back to campus, I am amazed with a place that is so focused on how it can impact the lives of students and the world,” shares Tom. “There is electricity radiating from each and every one you visit with…it is no surprise to me that Board members, alumni and friends have stepped forward in support of the vision for the future. This place IS making a difference and people are anxious to join with the President in making the vision a reality.”

The campaign has celebrated two eight-figure gifts to date, and there have been many other reasons to celebrate as well. “Some of the best moments are with people who have never before volunteered but are now saying to us, ‘What can I do? Take me with you; I want to help tell this story,’” shared Phil.  “People really surprise you with their passion, and that really makes your day.”

Their Corporate Relations Take On A Familiar Tone
Worthy of note is that this relatively small college has two people in corporate and foundation relations. This staffing structure gives the college the resources to personally reach out to the numerous family-run businesses in their community. Not your local grocery stores, these family-run businesses include companies with international reach, such as Schneider National. Though Schneider operates 172 facilities worldwide, the advancement team at St. Norbert can spend time with the Schneider family, who still reside in Green Bay, and with Schneider’s corporate leaders to gain a meaningful understanding of the philanthropic interests of both the family and the company.

This approach to individualized donor communications runs throughout St. Norbert’s development work. In fact, each member of the development team is specially trained to assess donors’ interests and discover their passions before there is any discussion of giving opportunities. The result is a powerful alignment of donor commitment and institutional need.

Forging Powerful Partnerships
Fundraising success is just one dimension of the story that is unfolding at St. Norbert. As part of the college’s commitment to new facilities, the Campaign makes a bold and inspiring statement about its goal for a new science complex: “Not content merely to bring the institution’s science facilities into the 21st century, we will construct them to help us define it.” And define it they are. The Medical College of Wisconsin will share space in St. Norbert’s planned new science building. This will make St. Norbert one of the few, if not the only, liberal arts colleges of its size in the nation to partner with a medical college on its campus. The medical college is working with St. Norbert to create a new branch and house its classrooms, offices and learning laboratories in the new building, with the expectation that the medical education program will admit its first 15 students in July 2015.

The Beauty of Storytelling
The development team at St. Norbert has a keen understanding of the value of a good story and hear many of them from donors who share life experiences that have shaped them and their passion for philanthropic support of the college. And the team has a great role model in President Kunkel, who himself has a gift for storytelling. In fact, his stories act as parables for the entire St. Norbert community. A particularly favored one is about the St. Theresa of Avila Reflection Space, one of the newest features of the campus. President Kunkel’s story goes like this.

Some years ago, a trustee emerita and longtime supporter of St. Norbert College, Marianne Van Drisse, made a gift to us of six beautiful stained glass windows. The windows had been commissioned by her parents nearly half a century earlier when Marianne was a nun in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, and they hung in the order’s Green Bay chapel until it was razed in 2001.

There was just one problem. The windows, outstanding examples of contemporary stained-glass art, were nine feet tall, and being made of thick chunk glass and concrete-like resin, they were extremely heavy. It was not immediately evident how we would put them to effective or appropriate use. Meantime, as we contemplated our dilemma, the windows sat in storage, their colorful brilliance hidden away from appreciative eyes.

Then came the recent renovation of Todd Wehr Hall, our former library. The plans called for transforming the old atrium into a reflection space. Here, surely, was a perfect opportunity for Marianne’s windows. But how? As actual windows? There were no window openings. As a hanging mobile? Interesting idea, but the atrium roof couldn’t support the weight.

Finally, drawing on the collective imagination of our own Art faculty and our construction partners at Performa, we arrived at a plan. We designed the six windows to stand in a gentle arc, a kind of stained-glass “screen” to define the boundary between the reflection space and the rest of Todd Wehr. The windows were incorporated into a handsome wooden cabinet that made the whole assembly a work of art unto itself.
Now when people come into Todd Wehr, they are immediately drawn to what has been christened the St. Theresa of Avila Reflection Space, one of the best new spots on a campus full of them.

Moral of the story? When resources meet creativity, the result is opportunity.

The past year has been a phenomenal year for St. Norbert— driven by strong leadership with a vision, blessed with individuals who have affirmed the vision and stepped forward in philanthropic support  and guided by the historical mission—St. Norbert is truly moving full speed ahead. One does not know the final destination when the campaign comes to a conclusion, but it is hard to imagine that the result will be anything but inspiring.


Thomas W. Thomsen

Senior Consultant & Principal

Detroit Lakes, Minnesota