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Behind The Scenes At A Unique UK Business School

Cranfield School of Management’s development director reveals the inner workings of her office

Tue Jun 28 2016

Benedicta Morrow-Slason heads up development and alumni relations at the Cranfield School of Management, a distinctive, entirely post-graduate institution located on a former RAF base in the Bedfordshire countryside.

While Cranfield has long tradition of alumni relations dating back to the mid-1970s, its development office is in start-up phase. Strong connections with alumni have not, in the past, translated into development support.

Now, as the UK b-school enters its 50th anniversary year under a new director, Benedicta is determined to take the school’s development office to the next level.

With over 18 years of experience in the field, she’s well-placed to do so. For almost a decade, Benedicta worked as a senior development officer at the prestigious, all-women’s Wellesley College in the US, where she helped raise a record $472 million in five years. She then returned to the UK and took up a deputy director of development role at her alma mater, University College London, before joining Cranfield.

How did you get into a career working in fundraising and development?

I feel fortunate to have fallen into this profession purely by luck.

benedicta - -

I went to the US directly after graduating from university and took a job as an admin assistant in a development office for Emmanuel College, a small liberal arts college in Boston.

I was the only admin person in an office full of directors and the experience gave me insight into every single aspect of alumni relations and fundraising; from events and communications to annual giving, major gifts, trusts and foundations. That’s how I started off.

What is the best thing about your role at Cranfield School of Management?

We have such a warm, engaged and supportive alumni community and I love the emotional connection that alumni feel towards the school.

Although we’ve been involved in alumni relations activities for quite some time, the development aspect of our work is in start-up phase. For me, that’s hugely attractive. I’m not just going through the motions; everything that we do has an immediate positive impact.

What are the prospects for the future?

I feel like we’re on the verge of something great.

Last year we welcomed a new director, Maury Peiperl, who’s worked at IMD and LBS and has degrees from Princeton and Harvard in the US. He completely understands alumni relations, how important it is and how it works. He’s got a big vision for the school and really wants to engage alumni in that vision.

What challenges do you face?

We don’t yet have all of the internal infrastructure in place that we need to manage our activity.

We’re building a bike and riding it at the same time. We’re trying to put in place some basic structures and processes to support our alumni relations and fundraising activity, while also trying to develop those relationships and increase engagement and support.

A big problem we have is maintaining the quality of our alumni database. And of course, everything rests on that.

What projects are you fundraising for this year?

Our primary focus is a new faculty building which we’re looking to raise roughly 10 million for over the next few years. Another area of focus is support for an MBA loans scheme run by Prodigy Finance.

The loans scheme is compelling because it’s a leg-up rather than a hand-out. Alumni can either make a personal investment themselves or make a gift to the university to invest on their behalf. That then becomes gift in perpetuity, it recycles; students take loans and pay them back, the university then re-invests that money back in.

How much do you raise for the business school on average per year?

Given that we’re a start-up operation, our fundraising results have been quite up and down. This year, we’ll raise between £500,000 and £1 million. We raise about £70,000 through our regular giving program each year, and are expecting to substantially increase that figure in the coming years.

What is the largest donation you’ve received during your time at Cranfield?

£150,000 from a single donor in support of scholarships, bursaries and the loan scheme.

What methods do you use to solicit new donations?

There isn’t any silver bullet in terms of major gift fundraising. It’s about going out and talking to people, building genuine relationships with donors, listening to what’s important to them and matching their interests with our priorities.

What advice do you have for anyone starting a new development office in a school or college?

Get your systems and processes in order. You can’t develop alumni relationships and manage fundraising activities without having the internal structure in place to do so.

Another challenge is managing expectations internally. There’s an expectation that if you throw a couple of hundred thousand on establishing a development office, the results will be immediate. People need to be patient, trust the process and trust how it works.