Edward J. Thompson, 46, became one of the youngest college executives in the country when he was named Molloy College's vice president of advancement at 31.
Since then, he has coordinated efforts that have raised about $50 million for the independent Catholic college in Rockville Centre. He says he was prepped for the job by his experiences running for office (Town of Oyster Bay council candidate, 1993), and serving as staff attorney for The Long Island Neighborhood Network.
At Molloy, he's doubled the number of endowed scholarships, raised millions for science education and the newly constructed Public Square student facility, and, with president Drew Bogner, co-founded the The Energeia Partnership, a two-year leadership academy dedicated to addressing issues challenging Long Island.
What should people keep in mind to raise money during tough times?
People want to be philanthropic, but economic constraints mean that they will be more selective. Thus, it is incumbent upon the fundraiser to step up his or her game. Success will come to those who have done their homework and discerned what will most appeal to a particular donor . . . Generic asks don't work. A good rule of thumb is: Unserious solicitations get unserious money.
How do you break the ice when asking a perfect stranger for money?
I start by telling the truth. Say, "You know what? I don't know you. I've never met you so forgive me for having this somewhat awkward conversation, but I have something here for you that I think is very interesting. Could I have a moment of your time?" Sincerity and truth work really well . . . slick superficiality doesn't.
What do donors most like to contribute toward?
Half the answer is endowments for scholarships. I think people [also] wanted to see Molloy expand in terms of their facilities, because you need to provide great facilities today. We actually raised $5 million through [Senate Majority Leader Dean] Skelos to build our student center.
How does the Energeia Partnership work?
Many of the people in Energeia truly are excellent in their fields, the best of the best, but they're so caught up in their world, their life, that Energeia provides them a chance to step back and see how all the different issues on Long Island interconnect. So they might think they know a lot about taxation in a school district or the problems of Huntington Station . . . but they might not have the time to see how all the issues interrelate, and how people with different voices contribute to the conversation. [We're] focused on running every issue through an ethical/moral prism. What's the right thing to do here? Who wins? Who loses? . . . The responsibility for changing the issues on Long Island lies with us.
One-sixth of the economy of Long Island comes from recent immigrants. I would say that most Long Islanders don't know how important it is . . . When data is presented impartially and then we can talk about it, people's minds change.
What's a suggestion to help solve an issue facing the Island?
Look at the numbers of young people 25 to 34 who've left. The way we set things up is not working. I'm a proponent of smart growth: You can have limited density . . . and "cool" downtowns . . . as a way to attract young people around transportation hubs, keep things fun and interesting, and give them affordable places to live that will help infuse economic vitality.
What book are you reading?
"The Universe in a Single Atom" by the Dalai Lama . . . how to make sense of the fight between faith and science. My business is the business of asking people you don't know to give a very large amount of money to a cause that they might not be familiar with. It's good to have a good sense of the interconnectivity of people and institutions to be able to be good at this job. It's helping me. It helps me sleep.
Responsibilities. Oversees marketing, branding and fundraising
Employees. 467 full time, 585 part time
Students. 3,400 undergraduates, 1,000 grad students (Enrollment has doubled in the past 10 years.)
Revenue. $84 million