The lobby at Montana State University’s Alumni Foundation office building is all torn up, being reconstructed as a bigger, better welcoming center—a symbol of the merger underway between two once-separate organizations.
People who walk in the front door of the building on South 11th Avenue, across the street from the Fieldhouse, used to have to make a choice, either to go right into the MSU Foundation or left into the Alumni Association offices. Now the offices and their missions are mixed together.
“Both of us are here to support MSU,” said Michael Stevenson, president and chief executive officer of the renamed MSU Alumni Foundation. “We know we can achieve more as one team.”
As of Jan. 1, the Alumni Association and fundraising Foundation will be officially merged into a single nonprofit organization.
“It is not a (national) trend—we are carving out a whole new path,” said Jaynee Groseth, MSU Alumni Association president for nearly 20 years, who retains her post.
“I think it’s fabulous,” said Linda Reynolds, former MSU Foundation chair and a Bozeman banker. In September, both boards of directors unanimously approved the merger.
Reynolds said the idea started when MSU’s new president, Waded Cruzado, spoke to the leaders of the two nonprofit boards. Cruzado said when she worked at New Mexico State University, its two support organizations working closely together and asked the two board chairs and vice chairs to look into it. A task force investigated and finally recommended the merger.
It’s already paying off, Stevenson and Groseth said. Working together, they raised more than $6 million in donations in a record 150 days to expand Bobcat Stadium and encouraged alumni Jake Jabs, the Denver furniture entrepreneur, to make a state-record $25 million donation to build a new College of Business.
The change comes at a good time, when both organizations are strong, Stevenson said. The Foundation has recovered from the economic downturn, and the Alumni Association has 13,000 members. Last year the MSU Foundation endowment grew to a record $112.3 million.
No one has lost a job in the merger. Alumni Association employees, including Groseth, who were state employees are now employees of the Alumni Foundation.
In fact, the joint Alumni Foundation is adding jobs. Stevenson said the two organizations used to have 39 employees, and now they expect to have 51 employees, including five new jobs being filled.
The Alumni Association, Groseth said, “has gone from a staff of six to having the talents of 51.”
Stevenson said he received no pay raise as a result of the merger. He decided his office was too large, and it’s being divided up into smaller offices and a conference room as part of the $20,000 remodeling to make space for additional employees.
Asked if MSU is gearing up for a $100 million major fundraising campaign, something retired MSU President Geoff Gamble talked about before the recession hit, Stevenson they’re in the advanced planning stages. A consultant has been hired to determine how large the campaign should be, and MSU’s administration is developing a strategic plan that will set MSU’s priorities, which would shape the campaign’s goals.
A new 18-member board of governors has been formed to run the merged organization. There are more than 50 people serving on the two old boards; some chose to become members of new advisory boards. Mike Ferris, an engineering graduate who lives near Atlanta and also has a home at Big Sky, is new chairman of the board of governors.
The future looks bright, despite the lingering weak economy, Stevenson said. The student phone-a-thon, which raises money for colleges and academics, has seen the number of first-time donors jump 58 percent, and the average gift is up 63 percent.
Groseth said people have great “support and loyalty and love for MSU.”