Leading the Foundation
UMF's new CEO and President, Cindy Williams, discusses her new role and the future of the foundation.
What first brought you to Montana and the UM Foundation?
My husband Ezra and I chose Missoula after he completed his graduate work in landscape architecture in California. We were eager to return to this region; I was born and raised in Spokane, and we met there early in our college years. Ezra accepted a position with an architectural and engineering firm in Missoula, and I immediately sought employment with the UM Foundation. I had been working for a healthcare foundation in California and was excited to return to a higher education environment. It was a stroke of good luck that the director of development position working with Dean Larry Gianchetta in the School of Business Administration had just come open.
Why is leading this organization meaningful to you?
In more than ten years with the UM Foundation, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the impact donors and their support can have on students, campus and this region. During that relatively short time, I’ve heard from hundreds of current and former students who describe how the University of Montana changed their lives in ways they could have never imagined, I’ve seen the campus transformed through investment in the learning environment, and I’ve admired the new companies and job opportunities emerging through the work of the University and its graduates. I don’t know of another venue in which my work could have such broad-reaching impact. I’m privileged to have this opportunity to lead the UM Foundation staff. They are treasured colleagues who work with such passion and dedication to help the University achieve its mission. It is a joy for me to work alongside them.
What do you think are the University’s biggest opportunities, in terms of fundraising?
Our alumni and friends believe in the power of this University and its graduates. The Foundation’s greatest opportunity is to connect them with the programs and projects that they’re passionate about. All of our donors make a difference. During the last four years, UM supporters have collectively established more than 200 new scholarships, 100 new program funds, and nine new faculty endowments; supported several capital projects; and in total contributed more than $200 million in support of the University’s mission. I don’t believe that private support has reached the high-water mark yet. The percent of alumni who give each year is growing, our donors understand that the need to ensure access to higher education through scholarships is greater than ever before, and others are inspired by the leadership of donors like Bill and Carlyn Franke, Zander and Andy Blewett, and Dennis and Gretchen Eck to make truly transformational gifts that will forever enhance the experience of students at UM.
What do you hope the Foundation can achieve in the next five years?
We have a tremendous opportunity to help the University achieve the strategic evolution in which it has embarked this year. Direct support for undergraduate and graduate students in the form of scholarships, experiential learning, study abroad opportunities, internship support and career development will always be priorities for private support. We’ll continue to be responsive to the University president and other campus leaders in regard to their vision for UM and its programs. I believe private support will continue to grow steadily over the next five years. Our challenge as a Foundation is to ensure we’re effectively connecting alumni and friends with those opportunities that they care about.
Why should friends and alumni support UM?
The University of Montana accomplishes so much with the private support extended to the campus. For example, because of relatively modest tuition levels, a private scholarship of a thousand dollars or two can mean the difference between a student with financial need earning a college degree or not. Endowed faculty awards to supplement state compensation can help the University attract and retain leading faculty who elevate the minds of students the way Paul Lauren, Mary Ellen Campbell, Nathaniel Blumberg, Martin Burke and others did before them. I mentioned before a strategic evolution of the University; private support can help the University launch new programs and advance others to ensure we’re preparing students for the ever-changing world they’ll encounter as professionals.