The ties that bind
|Audacious agenda: Robert Finocchio chairs the board.
Photo: Charles Barry
A Q&A with the Chairman of the Board on what Santa Clara does well—and what it could do better.
Last spring Santa Clara University invited alumni to participate in a brief survey, asking how they wanted to be engaged in the life of the University. Nearly 4,800 responded, and the results have already had an impact on how the University works to nurture relationships with alumni—especially in terms of communication, hands-on involvement, and giving.
Survey numbers tell one story—click here to see more on the survey, as well as a look at open-ended responses.
To discuss the survey results, we sat down with Robert J. Finocchio Jr. ’73, chairman of the Board of Trustees. We’re interested in the range of perspectives he brings—as business leader, alumnus, and a Dean’s Professor of Management in the Leavey School of Business, where he has taught for a decade.
SCM: From the numbers and the open-ended questions, what are the big lessons learned?
Finocchio: The key message is that we need to do a more effective job of communicating and connecting, building and maintaining relationships. We need to talk more about the real challenges—especially what it takes to run a large, undergraduate-oriented master’s-level university with the teaching-scholar model, and what it takes to meet our aspirations. We need to show how the wonderful things that we’re doing relate to our mission as an institution. We have to explain better how we spend the money and why tuition is so expensive. And we need to connect small donations—any donation—to a specific result that’s tangible.
We need to put some meat on the bones of mission and identity—to show how broad it is, how it’s connected to what people really do and how they live their lives. The emphasis on educating the whole person, on leadership and service for others, sets us apart. We serve the world in so many ways. When I talk to employers about Santa Clara graduates, I hear over and over again that we land on the ground ready to go to work, to take action, to have an impact. Our grads roll up their sleeves. We don’t think anybody owes us anything.
SCM: What about how the University communicates with alumni?
Finocchio: Part of communicating is listening. Clearly, we have to communicate across many different media going forward—e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn, various social media. We have to use new media not just to push information out, but also to listen. The magazine is not the only vehicle, and it can’t do everything for everybody—but it’s an important part of our mix. Most Santa Clara alumni I meet also speak very fondly about the place and the role it played in the development of individual lives. As students, they build relationships with professors and the place. We want to keep that alive after they leave the campus. But it was clear from the survey that a lot of people think that the only time they hear from Santa Clara with a letter or a phone call is when we’re asking for money. Instead, we need to communicate more consistently—not just informing, but listening about what we’re doing well and what we’re not.
In the general area of connection, some alumni feel very detached. In some cases, it’s geographic. While one of our aspirations is to be more national, most of our Alumni Association activity centers on things very close by. We don’t have the active regional pockets that other schools have.
Relationships and connections need to be broad-based. I want us all working together, to revitalize the relationships we have with our alumni and really start that level of engagement the minute a student gets accepted to Santa Clara.
SCM: What about Santa Clara drew you to be so involved with the University?
Finocchio: First, I felt that I got an incredibly good education at Santa Clara. When I went on to graduate school at Harvard, I realized how damned good it was. I knew how to write, how to think, how to do math. In my field, I was as qualified as anybody I met who went to undergraduate schools that might have been seen as more prestigious.
Second, I maintained a relationship with a couple professors over the years that I got very close to when I was a student. Several years later, when Paul Locatelli became president, I got to know him and really liked him and the way he ran the school—and I enjoyed working with him and some of the other people involved.
It’s just an excellent group of people who are involved with this institution, and who really care about it. Because I’ve been teaching undergraduates in the business school for the last 10 years, I see the University on the ground, too, and I see it changes over time. It’s very energizing and invigorating—and sort of the fundamental mission: helping people get ready for life.
I want to make this place more valuable for current and future generations. Santa Clara is a different kind of a place. There’s the quality of the academics, but also I’ve got to believe that, on the margin, someone with a Santa Clara degree faced with a tough decision in the real world might make a slightly different decision than someone from a different kind of a school. It’s those key moments in life when you need the judgment and the fundamental values. You find out who you are at Santa Clara. That helped me several times in my life.
SCM: So what’s next?
Finocchio: We are awake, we got it, we’re going to do better, and this is the beginning of a process that a lot of people are going to own. We are going to communicate and listen better. I can’t emphasize enough how important that is to meeting the audacious aspirations we have for Santa Clara—whether we’re talking about faculty, research, teaching, or the service we provide in the world. Steven Boyd Saum
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