A Publication for the faculty, staff, administrators and friends of California State University, Chico
September 9, 2004 Volume 35/Number 1

Page One Stories
Alber 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 said.

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.

–Francine Gair



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