Matches Passion with Programs
Bob Alber sees himself as a kind of matchmaker. As interim associate
vice president of Advancement, Alber says his job is to put together
relationships between people and the university and see what happens.
Alber came to CSU, Chico in January 2003 as director of Development
for Major Gifts and served on the task force that studied the future
of advancement at CSU, Chico. As a development director at San Diego
State and Arizona State universities, he saw some “unbelievable
things” happen in development, such as a campaign that raised
$500 million in just five years. He brings a strong background in
communications, with experience as a journalist, a professor of journalism
and creative writing, and the chief community relations officer in
charge of communications, marketing, and resource development for
the American Red Cross in San Diego and Imperial counties.
Like any good matchmaker, Alber looks for the characteristics that
will build successful, long-lasting relationships: common interests,
compatibility, and mutual benefit.
“I don’t use the term fundraising,” he said. “I
look at development, which means creating a partnership.” Alber
matches alumni, community members, corporations, and university friends
with campus programs that excite their interest. “What really
gets people excited is interaction with students,” he declared.
“When they see what students are doing, they see the importance
of investing in the university.”
At Arizona State University, Alber learned of a major microchip manufacturer
who was an alumnus but had no relationship with the university. Alber
arranged to meet him, and over several months fostered a relationship,
showing him how investing in the university’s Material Science
program could benefit his company.
Becoming more involved with the university and its students, Alber
said, shifted the man’s interest from a business orientation
to a more personal, philanthropic one. After a few months, Alber suggested
that he invest on a formal basis. That suggestion led to a new laboratory
and an endowed chair in Material Science. “We wouldn’t
have had all that without the developmental partnership,” Alber
People often ask Alber how he can ask people for money, and his answer
is that giving makes people happy. “I’ve never seen anyone
so happy as the microchip maker was in his endowment,” he said.
“He became so proud of his contribution, not in an egocentric
way, but in seeing the students profit from his contribution.”
“This is a very philanthropic country,” Alber said. “We
have a desire to help others. It’s a matter of lining up personal
passions with the right organizations.”
For Alber that means highlighting CSU, Chico’s many special
strengths that will interest potential donors. “We need to draw
attention to the contributions the university makes to the community,
the state, the nation and the world,” he declared. Those strengths,
Alber said, include engineering, forensic anthropology, water policy
and preservation, environmental protection, agriculture, and more.
A strong development program can provide the faculty with funding
to do research in vital areas, Alber stated. He loves brainstorming
plans with departmental deans and faculty. “I get to stick my
fingers into all kinds of things—that’s the creative aspect
of my job.”
As state funding decreases, Alber noted, private contributions become
more important. When the CSU system started, he explained, it was
entirely state-supported, and fundraising was in fact forbidden. It
was not until the early ’90s that each university was required
to raise a part of its budget. Today, CSU, Chico’s budget is
70 percent state funded, and Alber can’t see ever going back
to a fully state-funded budget, making advancement a vital part of
the university’s future.
Alber graduated from Oregon State University with a B.S. in technical
journalism and earned an M.A. in journalism and mass communication
from South Dakota State University. His fondest memories include sharing
a sweat lodge with Russell Means (legendary American Indian Movement
leader), chauffeuring renowned anchorman Walter Cronkite in the backseat
of his car, and meeting ‘60s cult literary figures Ken Kesey,
Kurt Vonnegut, and Tom Wolfe.
Alber lives a rural lifestyle in south Chico with two horses, four
cats, and two Great Danes. His wife, Marilyn, is a specialist in natural
hoofcare for their two “barefoot” horses, which do not
wear traditional metal horseshoes. The Albers have a teenage son and
daughter at home and two older daughters.