“You can write, kid,” was the note at the bottom of a first year English student over 50 years ago. This note ignited a flame that started a distinguished writing and journalistic career of a new friend of mine, Don Reichardt from Roswell, Ga. Don was honored along with my longtime, good friend Ron Loewen from Columbia, SC at the Emporia State University Distinguished Alumni Award ceremony Friday evening.It would be easy for me to write today about Ron’s career and accomplishments that are impressive by any standards, the personal and professional support of me over the years, and to herald the role ESU played in setting him up for his success in life.But I am not going to do that.I am going to focus on recognition. Not because I don’t think Ron deserves more accolades than those lavished upon him over the past few days, but because this is, after all, my blog about fundraising opportunities seized and lost.I am constantly amazed at how nonprofits miss opportunities to advance a friendship, galvanize a connection or just bring glory to those who they love and those who love them back.Now, I am not talking about recognizing people who are only tangentially related to you. I am talking about people who could really help.In the university environment, the conflict between celebrating a friend or alum and seeking their financial support is frequently pronounced.It shouldn’t be.Honoring someone doesn’t guarantee a gift and yet, you should not just honor those who give you money.I believe an institution cannot have enough recognition opportunities. Several years ago when Warren Armstrong at Wichita State and I was working under him, he asked me to put together a recognition program beyond the one the Alumni Association had. He respected that the Alumni Association had a role to play in recognition, but not an exclusive one.We set about to consider the audiences of the University that deserved recognition. Ultimately, we initially added the Honorary Doctorate, which was a few years later removed by the Kansas Board of Regents—but not before a few had been awarded.But three others were the province of the University and the President. First was the President’s Medal, awarded to an individual or couple who best exemplified support of the University’s growing mission. At that time, it was bestowed at Commencement. The Fairmount Founders Award recognized again that individual or couple who showed great respect for the heritage of Wichita State, founded as Fairmount College. This award was given at a special dinner that honored the largest gift donors to the University, recognized as the Fairmount Society. Finally, we offered WSU Board of Trustees Award. The Board was created during the transition of WSU from the University of Wichita in the 60’s. This award was to be given for great appreciation and value of the city and county relationship.That was over 25 years or more ago. The introduction of these recognition awards was met with mixed reviews. Some in the Alumni Association thought the University should only have their awards. In respect for the Alumni Association, none of these awards – at least as we started – occurred at Homecoming or Alumni Association events.Some thought we would never find enough people who were worthy of the honor. Well, it wasn’t that tough.There was also a concern that only the donors were going to get these awards. Certainly, one way to demonstrate support of the university is through gifting. The history now shows a slight tilt to this, but it is balanced.As you read the obituaries of many at WSU, you will repeatedly see the acknowledgement of receipt of one or more of these awards.And what is wrong with that? If you can help add meaning and appreciation to someone’s life, what are you waiting for?Well, back to my friend, Ron, who received the Distinguished Alumni award this weekend. To start, there was, a Presidential Luncheon, a special lecture, a social hour and dinner on Friday night. Ron gave a very fitting speech that was sharp and paid tribute to ESU. (When I received this award several years ago, my good friend Kala Stroup, who has been honored so many times, gave me good advice, which I passed on to Ron. She said, “Bob, be funny.”) And Ron was funny.That was Friday . . .then Saturday began with a breakfast with alumni, a lunch at his fraternity, a parade, a football game and going out to the 50 yard line. As you can imagine, it was a special day for him and his family (his sisters came to participate from Phoenix).As the weekend wound down, Ron called me on his way to the airport. I could tell he was exhausted. But clearly, the day meant a great deal to him and the other awardees.As fundraisers, we frequently have influence or even control these opportunities. They should not be treated casually or without purpose. Emporia State honored Ron, the man who made the internet profitable to the television industry, was President and CEO of Liberty Insurance preparing it for sale, was a senior executive of a media company that sold for a billion dollars to Raycom and is now consulting and has recently accepted the role of CEO of the South Carolina Business Incubator Center which oversees 46 emerging businesses.Congrats to ESU for figuring this out.Don Reichardt’s professor told him he could write. Who knew the impact that simple acknowledgement would have on his life?Look around. Opportunities are right in front of you. If you can’t see them, contact me and I’ll help get you started.Few of us need a plaque or a trophy or public praise, but all of us like to be appreciated.
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