Tom Tseng, the Director of the Stanford International Division (SID)* had just gotten back from his two-weeks business trip to Asia when I met him for an interview. He greeted me at the lobby of Arrillaga Alumni Center with no trace of jet-lag. With genuine vitality and confidence, Tom shared the key to the university’s successful relationship building with its donors and his belief about the culture of giving.
Q. The Stanford International Division (SID) works within the Office of Development (OOD). Can you tell me more about your division’s role and your relationship with the Stanford Alumni Association (SAA)?
TT: OOD is divided by geographic regions as well as the types of funds we raise, which include annual funds, major gifts, and principal gifts. The major and principal gifts are more geographically oriented whereas annual funds tend to be based on each graduating class. SID focuses on raising major gifts from individuals (alumni, parents, and friends) outside of the U.S. and Canada. We collaborate on a regular basis with The Stanford Fund, units, and schools, representing many facets of the university to a diverse audience abroad.
SID works closely with Stanford Alumni Association (SAA) though the two are distinct and separate organizations. While SAA conducts broad-based outreach and builds networks with our international alumni and parents, SID raises funds mainly from individuals for the university.
Q. To start, I can’t help mentioning The Stanford Challenge, one of the most successful fundraising campaigns in the university’s history. Can you tell me about international aspects in this campaign and what you think our greatest achievements other than 6.23 billion dollars raised?
TT: As part of The Stanford Challenge, a 17-city “road show” called Leading Matters traveled coast-to-coast and to five foreign countries, showcasing Stanford’s best among its faculty, students, and programs. The five overseas cities were London, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taipei. At each stop, enthusiastic alumni and parents organized host committees, resulting in the best attendance at Stanford functions in some of these cities.
On the development front, we raised more gifts from overseas donors than any previous capital campaign in Stanford’s history. Thanks in part to the great success of The Stanford Challenge, we have further increased the university’s visibility around the world. As our senior leaders would remind us, it is not the dollar amount that should impress, but what the money can do to change lives and make the world a better place. We can help provide talented students with access to a Stanford education, regardless of their ability to pay tuition, and educate those students to become the next generation of leaders throughout the world. Finding solutions to global problems and creating new knowledge will be part of the legacy of The Stanford Challenge.
Q. Why do you think SID has been so successful in building positive relationship with donors and providing them with consistent trust and confidence?
TT: First, I think we have benefited from strong and consistent leadership, from President John L. Hennessy, Provost John Etchemendy, the deans, and our Vice President for Development, Martin W. Shell (and his predecessor John B. Ford). The university leaders have articulated a clear vision and set priorities that obviously resonated with our donors.
Second, SID has had few personnel changes going back to 1992, when my predecessor Steve Suda came on board. My deputy, Jennifer Good, who is stationed in Europe, has been on the job for four plus years. By building stable relationships with alumni and donors, we have earned their trust and confidence over time, which can lead more naturally to conversations about significant gifts to Stanford.
Last but not least, the power of collaboration. We are lucky to have so many talented people working together in fundraising at the university, including our development officers in each school. Our work could not have been done without our colleague’s collaboration and support, which sets Stanford apart from many other institutions.
"It is not the dollar amount that should impress, but what the money can do to change lives and make the world a better place."
Q. How is it different to raise funds internationally from domestically and what are the challenges of international fundraising?
TT: There are certainly some challenges in international fundraising. The most obvious one is physical distance. However, I have been able to travel to Asia about once a quarter, or 4 times a year. Relevant challenges include currency restrictions, which might impede potential donors from making a larger donation, and cultural nuances about philanthropy that might differ from one country to another.
Q. Are there any geographic areas the division is focusing or planning to focus?
TT: Traditionally, we have been focusing on Asia and Europe, because most of our overseas alumni live in these two regions. Because we have a small staff, SID leverages campus-wide resources in order to cover more territory. For instance, our colleagues in School of Earth Sciences are doing a great job developing relationships in the Middle East since many of their graduates have returned to the region.
Q. If an undergraduate student who is very interested in building his/her career in development comes to you and asks for your advice, what would you tell him/her?
TT: When I started my job, I had a question: can one be a good development officer without being a donor? As I continued working in this field, I realized that without your personal experience of giving to a cause you care about, whether it’s education, environment or religion, you couldn’t be a successful fundraiser. Only when you practice your own philanthropy, you fully understand how it feels to give and be able to encourage people to join you. In that regard, Stanford Fund Partnership Program* and Senior Class Gift Campaign* are great opportunities for students to experience the culture of giving. We hope that by involving students in the philanthropic process, Stanford students will better understand the role donors play in making their Cardinal experiences possible, which, if internalized, will help these students become more charitably minded at an earlier age.