September 12, 1996

From architect to ambassador

by Daniel McCabe

Attention alumni: Derek Drummond isn't just interested in your money, although he is full of friendly advice about how it can be put to good use at your alma mater.

McGill's new Vice-Principal (Development and Alumni Relations) says that while the University's just-completed Twenty-First Century Fund capital campaign was a whopping success--raising over $200 million and setting a new Canadian record for universities--McGill received its share of criticism from alumni and other donors along the way.

"Donors asked, 'How come we only hear from you once every five years when you need money?' We've got to stop doing that. People want to participate in the life of the University. They don't want us to just be asking them for their cheques."

That's good news, says Drummond, because McGill's graduates can make all sorts of useful contributions to the University. Alumni Association staff, working with colleagues in admissions, have set up a program in which alumni accompany McGill admissions officers to school fairs in cities such as Washington and Boston to encourage students there to apply to the University.

This summer, alumni in 20 cities organized send-off parties for new out-of-province McGill students and their parents to foster a sense of community and to answer queries about the University. The Alumni Association also administers a mentoring program that puts graduates in touch with current students looking for career advice.

"This University has all sorts of committees and advisory boards that need good people on them--our graduates can make a real contribution to this place and we should encourage them any way we can."

When McGill first started looking for a successor to former vice-principal Michael Kiefer almost a year ago, Drummond says he didn't have his eyes set on the position. "I thought I already had the best job in the University," says Drummond, who in different tours of duty had served for over 16 years as the director of the School of Architecture. "I wasn't looking for something else to do."

After a long hunt, a search committee recommended hiring an experienced development professional from the U.S., but at the eleventh hour, that individual changed his mind and declined the job. The principal turned to Drummond and asked him to take on the vice-principalship on an interim basis for two years. "Two years, renewable," emphasizes Drummond, making it plain that now that he is the VP, he isn't just keeping the seat warm. He plans to keep busy.

One of the first items that needs to be addressed is how the University will focus its fundraising activities in the future. "We want to raise at least $40 million each year. The question is, how should we do it?" Drummond says one possibility is to aim for a "perpetual campaign mode" in which staff and volunteers aim for an ambitious, but stable set of targets for several years.

"A major campaign like the Twenty-First Century Fund calls for tremendous commitment--not just from staff, but from volunteers like (campaign chair and Royal Bank CEO) John Cleghorn. It's an awful lot to ask of people and maybe it's better to try to level things off for awhile.

"On the other hand," Drummond continues, "when we look at our records over the last 30 years--every time we've had a capital campaign, it's significantly boosted the amount of money we receive from donors on an annual basis. And that new level of giving stays in place until the next capital campaign brings it to another level. That's awfully hard to ignore." For the next few months, along with his staff and key advisors, Drummond will mull over which course to follow.

While development staff can take pride in helping the Twenty-First Century Fund pass its $200 million target, the news from the campaign wasn't all good. "The libraries didn't receive nearly enough support," says Drummond. The campaign hoped to raise $20 million for the libraries, but had to settle for just over $10 million instead.

Another disappointment concerned the money raised for new equipment and building renovations. The campaign's target in this area was $30 million, but less than $10 million was raised.

As expected, donors heartily supported student-related areas such as scholarships, fellowships and athletics, but the most pleasant surprise involved the money raised for teaching and research--for endowed chairs and research centres, for instance. The campaign aimed for $30 million "and we went far beyond that."

Drummond has only been the interim vice-principal for a month now, and if he seems to know an awful lot about fundraising and alumni activities for an architecture professor, he comes by it honestly. A McGill grad himself (BArch'62), Drummond has served on the board of the Alumni Association and lectured to graduates at scores of functions from Prince Edward Island to Victoria. He's been known to endure flights on rickety aircraft in rough weather to make it to speaking engagements. He jokes that while other senior administrators make the trek to Barbados to check in on alumni, he is busy visiting graduates in Moncton or Hamilton. The Alumni Association rewarded Drummond with its Distinguished Service Award in 1987.

Drummond also played a major role in the Twenty-First Century Fund, leading a successful effort to raise over $4 million for the campaign from McGill staff and faculty--no mean feat given the atmosphere of budget cuts and sometimes rancorous labour discussions in which he and his volunteer team operated. "I'm not totally naive about the way this job works," says Drummond.

Still, it's unusual for an academic to head a university's fundraising and alumni relations efforts. "It's not unheard of, but it's darned unique," concedes Drummond. "I'd be very surprised if there weren't professional fundraisers out there who were looking askance at this development."

With a solid team behind him, Drummond is confident he can handle the job. Besides, hiring a fundraising pro with little knowledge of McGill or Montreal to head the University's development team would have had drawbacks of its own, he points out.

"This job is about serving as an ambassador for McGill and attracting interest in the University. Bringing in somebody who doesn't know a thing about Quebec and who doesn't have a feel for this University--that doesn't really make sense. Knowing this institution should be first and foremost."

Drummond's status as a longtime member of McGill's faculty (since 1964) might pay off in another way. Although Michael Kiefer took pride in helping to foster better links between the fundraising function and McGill's professors--particularly the University's deans--he also expressed frustration at the fact that many academics were still indifferent--if not downright hostile--to the role played by Martlet House staff.

"There are a lot of reasons for that sort of schism between academics and advancement professionals," says Drummond. "It's evident at a lot of universities. Part of it has to do with perceptions about who the money is being raised for, so you have to be clear about your goals and how the University will benefit as a whole. I hope I'll be able to build bridges and I think (my academic experience) will help. The hard truth is we need all the gifts and donations we can get right now. If more of my colleagues became involved in fundraising, we would be more successful. I'm going to be asking a lot of people to help out."

However, Drummond has no illusions that he'll be able to sell that message to every professor. "It's intrinsic to the culture of a university campus that there will always be a lot of people who challenge everything. You can never do anything in a university and have total agreement about it--there are too many people with too many points of view. That just doesn't bother me."

He leads them laughing

Derek Drummond is about to challenge at least one stereotype about senior administrators--that they're a humourless lot. If the funniest man on campus can't dispel that perception, no one can. Drummond's tongue-in-cheek presentations at the Alumni

Association's annual Stephen Leacock luncheon are a high point of autumn for graduates who attend homecoming. A prescient Management Forum named him Vice-Principal (Fun) two years ago, and his wit serves him well in relations with his own staff.

"I can remember one or two times when I stormed into Derek's office, angry about something, ready to let him have it," recalls architecture professor Avi Friedman. "Five minutes later I came out full of smiles. It's difficult to be mad at Derek--he tells you a couple of wonderful jokes, he tries his best to help you out with the problem and you just melt."

"When you work with Derek, you tend to laugh a lot," concurs Friedman's colleague, Professor Annemarie Adams.

While Drummond has an undisputed gift for tickling funny bones, he isn't afraid to take tough positions. He was one of the first critics of McGill's plan to merge several of its teaching hospitals, arguing that the resulting closure of institutions such as the Montreal General Hospital and the Royal Victoria Hospital could have a devastating impact on the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Drummond has also been a tenacious critic of developers and city planners in Montreal, charging that in the rush to erect shopping malls and mega-stores, the downtown area has sacrificed much of its character.

Architecture colleagues paint Drummond as a man with a real talent for managing staff. "Derek can read people exceptionally well," says Friedman. "He recognizes their strengths, but he's very sensitive to their limits as well. He has a knack for assigning the right job to the right person."

Adams says Drummond has a well-known antipathy to staff meetings. He prefers keeping up-to-date through informal doorway conversations with people. "Everybody in the school knew about Derek's open-door policy. It didn't matter if you were junior staff or a first-year student. If you had a problem, you could just show up at his office and he would make time for you."