Q&A The new face of engagement
Kate Robertson's appointment to the new position of Chief Engagement Officer is part of the University of Adelaide's commitment to strengthen connections with our alumni and the community.
In her previous role, Kate led the University of Nottingham's biggest ever fundraising campaign which has so far raised almost United Kingdom £100 million ($172 million) including a gift of UK£12 million ($18 million), the largest corporate gift for higher education in the UK outside Oxford and Cambridge.
In this Q&A, Kate talks about her desire to build thriving relationships between the University of Adelaide and its supporters and how 'giving back' can come in many forms.
Q: What attracted you to this position and the University of Adelaide?
A: The ambition set out in the Strategic Plan really caught my attention—this is a University and a Vice-Chancellor with a real sense of direction.
To call a team an Engagement Branch also appealed to me—it seems a very innovative route to take: a whole branch that focuses on engagement. Fundraising is part of it, but it's a structure that recognises that many things are important, not just fundraising.
Q: The Chief Engagement Officer is a newly created position at the University; how would you describe the role?
A: At its heart it's about building mutually beneficial relationships—those where the University can have influence and a positive impact on people's lives. It's also about seeking to engage with others who can add value and impact on the University and its future.
If we can find and develop relationships that can do both at the same time then we'll be on a win-win basis.
Q: What will be your first point of business?
A: Listening—I really want to get out and meet people and hear their thoughts and aspirations both within but more importantly, outside the organisation.
The challenge will be to have a degree of objectivity and focus in the face of a job where the boundaries and priorities could easily become diffuse—there is no end to the possibilities of what we could do to better engage with our stakeholders but it's right that we should be focused and savvy with the resources we have available.
Q: As Director of the Campaign and Alumni Relations Office at the University of Nottingham for the past four years, what have been some of your greatest successes?
A: Somebody said to me that my contribution had been around normalising philanthropy—I think I made it comfortable and acceptable to talk about and engage with philanthropy. It changed from being an area that few people were involved with, to something that the wider institution really embraced. That shift was very gratifying.
We also diversified the ways in which people could get involved with giving and tried to shift the balance from an over-emphasis on the University's perspective, to thinking more about what is important to alumni and donors. We focused on what the impact of giving would be and unsurprisingly, the numbers and diversity of donors increased. For the first time, staff-giving really took off too.
I care really passionately about the fact that giving can come in lots of different forms—advice, advocacy, time, influence, in-kind—we need to give as much attention and care to all of those things as we do to the way in which we conduct ourselves in relation to philanthropic gifts.
Q: As an active member of the Life Cycle team at the University of Nottingham, you raised funds to support major causes such as Stroke Rehabilitation Research. How does this kind of initiative help you achieve your campaign goals?
A: The underlying idea for Life Cycle was to do something that was a stretch and demonstrated a commitment beyond the day job. In this case, giving up valuable time and agreeing to undergo a physically demanding challenge to raise money for one of our priority projects turned out to be one of the most important communication assets that we had. It said, almost literally, 'We're willing to go the extra mile for this cause. Will you?' We also raised a lot of money: £750,000 across three bike rides (and 3500 miles!)—a wonderful outcome for all that effort.
Q: What do you think is the importance of the University engaging with alumni and the wider community?
A: Our alumni can be found in all corners of the globe and are among our most valuable ambassadors. They have a vested interest in the University, its reputation and its future and play a vital role in upholding the institution's values, traditions and contributing to its rich history. But they also play an important role in shaping our future. Engaging with our alumni and the wider community adds enormous insight, leverage and value to our activities. Advice, advocacy, influence, networks, time, financial support—these are all business-critical contributions that are entirely in tune with the University's Beacon strategy.
Visit the University Engagement Website at www.alumni.adelaide.edu.au
story by Genevieve Sanchez
Photo by James Field