High 6-figure gift donated for photography fellowship


Photo Editor

Vice President of Development & Alumni Relations Jonathan Stern said the department’s main goal is strengthening relationships with alumni and potential donors while also hiring a strong fundraising team.

By Campus Editor & Senior Photo Editor

Columbia’s trend of declining enrollment and its dependence on tuition as its primary source of revenue makes attracting philanthropic donors an essential goal.

The college recently made strides toward that goal with the procurement of a large six-figure donation from a photography alumna to fund a fellowship, said Kwang-Wu Kim, president and CEO. 

Diane Dammeyer pledged to establish an endowment to the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues, which will grant a $25,000 stipend to students in the Photography Department’s MFA program. The fellowship is to work closely with the Heartland Alliance, a local organization that seeks to eliminate poverty in the Midwest, in producing work that highlights human rights and social issues, according to Judy Natal, an associate professor in the Photography Department and the faculty mentor of the fellowship.

“It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” Natal said. “We see it as a growth opportunity for Heartland, Columbia … and for the individual. I truly believe this will be a game-changer for any individual that is the recipient of this award, and it’s all because of Diane.” 

Kim said fundraising is vital to the college because it provides a supplemental source of revenue that can aid in providing scholarships and other opportunities to the college community.

“We have to bring in other sources of revenue to support the college, and one of the biggest opportunities that you have when you’re raising funds is the opportunity to create new scholarship opportunities for students,” Kim said. “It’s a way of guaranteeing that this school is more healthy financially and that funds are coming in from multiple sources.” 

Kim said approaching alumni for fundraising is advantageous because they already have a relationship with the college, which is why the Dammeyer fellowship is important.

“This money [helps] graduate students in photography connect to a greater sense of social responsibility and allows the person who’s chosen to understand how to utilize their creative skills to help the mission of [the Heartland Association],” Kim said. “It’s a wonderful extension of what we say we’re about as a college.”

The amount of funds raised this year is comparable to last year’s, but an increased focus on building relationships with alumni should help the department bring in more money in the future, according to Jonathan Stern, vice president of Development & Alumni Relations.

“Our challenge is to really work on engagement with our graduates,” Stern said. “We the college [and] our department need to do a better and more consistent job in reaching out to alumni and trying to engage them in activities of the school.”

Asking for nonfinancial contributions from alumni can help the college build strong relationships with former students before asking them for money, according to Kim.

“Particularly with alumni, the appeal to come back, meet our current students, help them understand how you achieved your success and maybe even open doors for some of [them],” Kim said. “Then in the case of people who have the financial capacity, eventually we’re going to start talking about other kinds of ways they can help us, too.”

Stern said the college has a number of approaches to build those types of relationships with alumni, including hosting receptions to show off newly renovated campus spaces and inviting alumni to speak with students.

In addition to strengthening the college’s relationships with alumni, the Department of Development is seeking to fill multiple positions, including an executive director of Alumni Relations and a director of Individual Giving, according to Stern. This goal aligns with the Strategic Plan’s objective to create a five-year fundraising and relationship-building plan, including upgrades to existing technology and other support infrastructures for fundraising efforts.

“My biggest challenge is I have to be patient because [fundraising and relationship-building] takes time, and I don’t want it to take time, I want it to be now,” Kim said. “The only thing I can do to impact that is to keep meeting people because I’m thinking, the more people I meet now, the more people I have to talk about fundraising a year and a half from now.”