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Student Affairs Fundraising & External Relations Conference Re-Cap

by on August 8, 2013

Iris Leon
Region II SAFER KC Rep

I recently had the pleasure of attending NASPA’s annual conference for the Student Affairs Fundraising and External Relations (SAFER) Knowledge Community. The SAFER KC was founded a few years ago in response to the growing field of fundraising for student affairs, an emerging area for many universities filled with trial and error in approaches and models. The annual conference aims to share and exchange strategies, best practices, ideas, and resources, and to discuss issues related to fundraising for student affairs.

Both the KC and conference cater to the two sides of practitioners in the field: development professionals fundraising for student affairs initiatives and student affairs professionals who have started fundraising for their programs. The keynote speaker was Dr. Ajay Nair, Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life at Emory University. Dr. Nair laid out an incredible vision for the role of fundraising and the partnership between development, alumni, students, and student affairs divisions. Other conference topics included tracks for new and seasoned professionals, case examples on successful corporate partnerships, parent programs, and alumni engagement initiatives, and a donor panel.

A key take away for me, after having attended two conferences, and being on the planning committee this year, is just how emerging the field of student affairs fundraising still is, while simultaneously starting to take shape as a legitimate “field”—no one is doing this “wrong,” but no one is doing is completely “right” either. That said, there are incredible learning and best practices to be shared across intuitions—and our collective knowledge, challenges, and experiences are creating a unique field of practice, where successful models can already be demonstrated and replicated.

Furthermore, with the KC strengthening and growing, a real national movement seems to be brewing. The conference has picked up serious momentum over the last couple of years. Two years ago, there were about 40 attendees, last year around 65, and this year we had to close registration almost a month in advance when we reached 84 registrants. It’s very encouraging to see how NASPA had the foresight to advance this conversation and create unique professional development opportunities for practitioners at the intersection of student affairs and fundraising.

I would like to make a special point to acknowledge the conference’s gracious and generous host institution, Louisiana State University in balmy Baton Rouge. They really went out of their way to make it a wonderful experience, and the next host will have big shoes to fill! As my second time attending, the conference was as valuable as ever, if only just to see LSU’s mascot Mike the Tiger—as in the real life Tiger they have in a habitat outside the football stadium. Who knew? I don’t follow college sports, so that was news to me, but big cats rule! Geaux Tigers!

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