College's new head praised as right fit
By DAVID BALLINGRUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001
ATHENS, Ga. -- Eckerd College's new president is shortish and slight. He has an upright bearing and a somewhat round, bespectacled face, often atop a bow tie.
"When you first see him, you think -- Napoleon," said Shell Knox, who, with husband Wyck Knox, is a major contributor to the University of Georgia.
"But," she adds, "very quickly you sense the warmth and humor in the man. It's a happy face he has."
On July 1, Donald R. Eastman III, 55, brings his happy face to Eckerd College from the University of Georgia, where he has worked for the last 10 years as a key planner and development officer. He has a reputation as a fundraiser extraordinaire, a man who somehow convinced donors to Bulldog football to cough it up for the arts.
And he made them feel good about doing it, his supporters say.
As Eckerd's fourth president, it will be Eastman's job to use those skills to lead a financially troubled and embarrassed school back to solid ground.
It won't be easy.
Eckerd College is working hard to rebuild a depleted endowment and expects to operate in the red for the next two years. Staff and faculty salaries are frozen, and student tuition and fees are up.
And it doesn't help that Eckerd alumni have a poor record of giving, at least to their alma mater. Only 18.6 percent of alums for whom the school has a current address made gifts during the 1998-99 year -- about half the average for similar schools.
Of Eckerd's financial problems, Eastman says: "I have no magic pixie dust. It won't be easy, and it won't happen right away."
But Eckerd's trustees are committed to righting their listing ship, he said, and the future is bright.
"The board understands that they had complicity in this (the school's financial problems). We had lengthy discussions on this. I'm impressed with the board. They didn't run. They went to work."
The college experienced what Eastman called "a hiatus from normative bookkeeping" in the months preceding last summer's financial crisis, but he said he is convinced those days are past.
And it is critical, he said, that those problems not reappear. "People won't give you money if you can't take care of it."
Eastman said he lunched with students while visiting Eckerd and found them "happy with the faculty and the academics. That's hugely important . . . we can fix the rest."
For the last 10 years at the University of Georgia, Eastman has done much of the school's heavy lifting in fundraising and long-term planning.
"Take a look at his record," said Georgia's senior vice president, Kathryn Costello. "He's good at this." She credits Eastman with increasing annual giving to the University of Georgia Foundation from $20-million to $40-million.
Eastman is effective, she said, because he "wears well."
"He's warm and articulate, and he has tons of energy. The donors hold him in high regard. I think he will do very well there."
Shell Knox, one of those donors, led the University of Georgia Foundation from 1994 to 1996. Eastman succeeded, she said, because "he worked on making good relationships.
"I know that sounds obvious, but in fundraising it's crucial how you relate to people. If I want money from you, I have to know you a little. . . . I have to understand your individual culture.
"Don is a southern boy, but one who understands many cultures."
Tom S. Landrum, chief of staff to UGA President Michael Adams, praised Eastman's organizational skills and his "creativity" in expanding grass-roots fundraising. Eastman "hired fundraisers who had specific knowledge about and affinity for the university's individual colleges -- pharmacy or business, for example," Landrum said. "Often they were graduate students of that college."
Landrum said Eastman led the work on the college's 10-year strategic plan, a major initiative dealing not only with fundraising, but academic goals, too. He called Eastman well-read, and said his background of literature and poetry, "and a great sense of humor . . . make him a fun person to be around. I think he'll be a good fit on a small campus."
Eastman smiles at the kind words.
"I enjoy praise as much as anybody," he says, "but I always try to remember that the lemon pies are never very far away."
Eastman says successful fundraising is built on a broad, long-term commitment to make and maintain relationships with many alumni -- "in many cases with people who will never give you a dime."
It's this willingness to be patient, to avoid the temptation to squeeze, that puts some prospective donors -- especially big ones -- at ease.
Ed Forio Jr. is a banker and real estate developer whose father, Ed Forio Sr., was senior vice president of the Coca-Cola Co. in nearby Atlanta, "back when there was only one senior vice president."
At Eastman's urging, Forio Jr. was a contributor to the new Georgia Museum of Art on the UGA campus and is the new chairman of the museum's board.
Eastman is no "back-slapper," he said. "I always back up from people who come up and slap me on the back. It was refreshing to meet him the first time, in part because he didn't do that. He seemed genuine and serious. And he was prepared."
Eastman likes a challenge, Forio said, "and he had one here. UGA donors are typically football people. To get them to . . . share with academics and art, well that's a challenge. And he did that."
A difficult job awaits
The naming of a new president is always important to a college, but in Eckerd's case the choice is crucial.
Eckerd's long-simmering financial problems came to a head last summer, with the discovery of the unauthorized transfer of $19.5-million from the school's $34-million endowment. The money was spent on campus projects but without board knowledge. Then-President Peter Armacost retired and J. Webster Hull, the school's chief financial officer, left.
The endowment has been "by and large returned to pre-problem levels," according to board chairman Miles C. Collier, but problems remain.
The operating budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, is balanced only because trustees made substantial contributions. And the school is expected to operate at a deficit for two more years.
Jolted by the now-you-see-it now-you-don't endowment, the board has taken a much more active management role, and members report that Eckerd's overall financial health has improved.
But for the school to reach its potential, alumni giving will have to improve dramatically.
Asked why alumni giving lagged, Rick Haskins, vice president for development, said, "I wish I knew the answer. In part, it's because half of our alumni graduated in the last 15 years; they're young, and many graduated with (student loan) debt."
He noted that alumni giving in 2000 was $801,956, a substantial jump over the previous year's $546,668. But he acknowledged that for many years Eckerd did not "foster continuing relations with our alums. Many drifted away, and formed relationships with grad schools, churches. We did not continue to be a part of their lives."
A team game
For UGA, Bernard Ramsey is a success story built upon a success story.
Ramsey was a Macon native of modest means and a 1937 graduate of UGA's Terry College of Business. He joined Merrill Lynch & Co. in 1945 as a salesman and retired in 1973 as senior vice president and chairman of the executive committee.
He died a wealthy man in 1996 -- without children.
"Fundraising is a team game," Eastman likes to say, and in the Ramsey case a key teammate was William C. Hartman, a classmate of Ramsey and a backfield coach for the Bulldog football team.
"Ramsey had an interest in the football program, and he would send me these hand-written notes," said Hartman, now 86. "So over the years, I kept in touch with him. If we went to the Sugar Bowl or some other big game, I'd give him a call on game day. . . . For a long time we didn't know he would ever have any money."
And that's the point, Eastman said.
"Bill Hartman kept Bernie Ramsey in contact with the institution long before Bernie figured out he was mortal," Eastman said. "Then it was our job to put Bernie in contact with things he loved."
The key was scholarship students. "We put him between two scholarship students at a dinner, and he became interested in what they were doing. He stayed in contact with one of them," said Eastman.
In 1997 Ramsey left the school $33-million, much of it earmarked for the University of Georgia Foundation Fellows Scholarship Program.
"People give money because they want to," said Eastman, "and that's how it should be. If you want to raise money for football, take people to a game."
And if you want to raise money for a new art museum on campus, as Eastman did, you take them to Philadelphia for the opening of an exhibit featuring the works of Paul Cezanne. And before the trip you get them together with members of the art school faculty for lectures on post-impressionism. And when you're there you take them to nice restaurants.
In doing these things, Eastman says, "we make positive connections. We create interest not only in the museum, but also in our school, our professors and their work.
"Development is bringing people in contact with an institution, so that they eventually fall in love with the place, and then they will want to help."
It's not all about money, however.
In the long term, Eastman said, Eckerd must not only develop a strong capital campaign to sustain it but also must have a clear idea of what kind of school it wants to be, and a plan to get there.
That's welcome thinking to many Eckerd faculty, who felt their school's failed land development schemes were a threat to it academic reputation.
David Kerr, a math professor who until recently led Eckerd's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said Eastman made a good impression during his visit.
"We see him as pro-faculty. He has written articles in support of academic freedom, and he believes that faculty should be involved in governance."
With more than 31,000 students and a budget of $1.1-billion, UGA is a big school and an overwhelming presence in the small town of Athens. For a decade, it has been home to Don and Chris Eastman and their three children, now grown.
Eckerd is the opposite kind of campus, small (1,568 students) and struggling for recognition.
Leaving Athens won't be easy, and Eastman confesses to some wistfulness -- not about taking the Eckerd job, but about leaving the Georgia one. "There's some sadness that goes with that. But we feel good about the opportunity to start something new again, too."
Eastman, at 55, acknowledged he wanted an opportunity to be "at the center of things. If I'm ever going to do it, now is the time."
Eckerd College "should count itself fortunate," said Georgia vice president Costello. "He is bright, warm and humorous. You're going to like him."
Donald R. Eastman III
Current position: Vice president for strategic planning and public affairs at the University of Georgia. Has been at Georgia since 1991.
Previously employed at: Cornell, University of Tennessee, Florida Endowment for the Humanities, University of Florida
Education: B.A. in philosophy and English, University of Tennessee; Ph.D. in English, University of Florida; School of Irish Studies, Dublin
Personal: Married to the former Christine McKinnon, three sons.
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