PMA Spotlight: Michelle Davis of Greensboro College
By Katie McDowell
After working in the corporate world for over a decade, Michelle Davis knew she wanted to make a more tangible impact on the community around her.
“I had a few months in between jobs with time to reflect and thought, “Do I really want to jump back into for-profit?’” Davis said. “Where at this point in my professional career can I use my strengths to actually make a difference in the world?”
At Greensboro College, a private liberal arts institution that currently serves approximately 1,100 students, Davis is carrying out that goal as the school’s Director of Institutional Advancement. She describes the field of higher education as one of “organic growth,” where improvements made in a school translate to increased opportunities for students to succeed in their postgraduate lives.
“When I started looking at higher education, I thought about the students I’m affecting who are going to turn around and have an effect throughout the world,” Davis said.
Since coming to the college in 2011, Davis has played a major administrative role in revitalizing the institution’s financial well-being and reaffirming its commitment to a 176-year tradition of alumni relations and philanthropy.
Much of this transformation can be attributed to a successful fundraising campaign, Pride in the Future, that began in 2010 with the appointment of the college’s new president, Dr. Lawrence D. Czarda. In addition, a five-year strategic plan set to finish in 2020 is off to a promising start.
“With the vision Dr. Czarda has had, faculty and staff have worked so hard to bring us through some tough years,” Davis said. “Regaining the financial stability and regaining the trust of our supporters has been a major conversation.”
Pride in the Future raised $16 million for the school, a crucial upturn after the financial turmoil of 2008 that left many small, private institutions struggling to stay afloat. As a result of this campaign, Greensboro College has eliminated its short-term debt. The school met its goal of doubling annual giving, and brought in several donations of six and seven figures.
The five-year plan, abbreviated GC2020, both caters to the university’s financial needs through well-researched budgeting and reaffirms its emphasis on tradition thorough instituting a female alumni-based philanthropic board. While a coed institution now, much of its history featured an all-women student body.
According to Davis, the strategy for the campaign’s success is twofold.
“For one, we want to capitalize on the history of the college and the strengths that lie within those many years,” Davis said. “We also want to capitalize on the strength of the leadership team that’s in place under our president, who’s been here for five years.”
Davis graduated from UNC Greensboro with a degree in business management and a concentration in marketing. She worked in the Commercial Real Estate and Residential divisions of Bank of America for thirteen years, where she was encouraged to pursue volunteer work and sit on the boards for charitable organizations in her community.
“As I reflected on my work in the for-profit sector, where my passion always seemed to lie was in my volunteer roles,” Davis said.
Davis attributes her experiences volunteering for the Junior League of Greensboro and the Greensboro Homeowners Association as major pushes for pursuing the nonprofit sector professionally.
“I was given the freedom and quickly became chair of events that raised money to give back,” Davis said. “As I reflected back on those activities, that was where my passion lied.”
Davis made the transition to the nonprofit sector professionally when she accepted the position as regional director of development for Lifespan in the North Carolina triad area.
“There were very specific circumstances that at the time made me evaluate what I wanted to do for what I was considering the second half of my professional career,” Davis said.
After working at Lifespan for two years, Davis shifted her professional skills to higher education by accepting the position of Director of Institutional Development at Greensboro College.
“Certainly affecting the individuals we were serving at Lifespan was a wonderful experience, but I began to think how I could grow,” Davis said. “I decided I wanted to continue to grow my professional opportunities within the field of philanthropy.”
At Greensboro College, Davis worked with PMA Consulting for the initial analysis and development phases of GC2020. Davis’ work has focused on the importance of alumni relations and philanthropy.
“One of the components of the structure of the capital campaign includes the upstart of women’s philanthropy council,” Davis said. “For 150 years, this college was women only, so of the constituent base we have with alumni, a very large component of that is women.”
Davis researched women’s philanthropy councils in higher education and discovered platforms the college could mimic. The initial response from alumni has been encouraging since Davis began reaching out.
“I have already received commitments from several women,” Davis said.
In the future, Davis hopes to see Greensboro College continue to thrive as she anticipates strategic administrative changes, including a change in her own role. Effective August 24, Davis will hold a new title as Vice President for External Relations.
Replacing Davis’ position will be Anne Jones Hurd, who graduated from Greensboro College in 1981 and will serve as the new Vice President and Chief Advancement Officer.
“Strategically, we made that move because of the legacy of family involvement at Greensboro College,” Davis said. “She grew up in Greensboro, she is an alum of the school, and her father used to have this position.”
Hurd will oversee the fund development and alumni programs that the launch of the five-year plan has catalyzed.
“Anne brings a multitude of relationships to the college,” Davis said. “With this new hire, the goal of the department is to strengthen human resources and to utilize the relationships that we have built over the past five years.”
Davis stresses the importance of ensuring that institutions like Greensboro College continue to thrive because of the resources and skills liberal arts provides to the students who choose to attend.
“In higher ed., there is much controversy about the value of a liberal arts education,” Davis said. “We believe very strongly in offering a well-rounded experience for the student so when they come out they have the ability for critical thinking and critical reasoning. Those are the individuals you see in leadership communities in your communities and corporations and governments.”