For Rich Bundy, A Running Start
When we dropped in on Rich Bundy’s Old Main office in January, the university’s new vice president for development and alumni relations was still unpacking boxes. He laughed when we asked if he felt “settled in,” but given his background, Bundy ’93, ’96g is better positioned than most to adapt quickly to his new role.
The son of longtime Blue Band director O. Richard Bundy ’70, ’87g, Rich began his career in Penn State’s annual giving office before leaving to gain extensive fundraising experience at Michigan State, Iowa State, and Vermont, where he served as president and CEO of the University of Vermont Foundation. He returns to his hometown and alma mater in time for the start of a new fundraising campaign, A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence. An avid marathoner, he understands well the need to hit the ground running.
It’s been 20 years since you last worked on campus. How different does this place feel?
I was coming back to State College on a regular basis, but it had been a long time since I actually just walked across the campus. And this place has grown—the Millennium Science Complex was an intramural field when I was an undergraduate. So the place has grown in ways that are really impressive, and the campus is beautiful in a way that I don’t remember. It always was a beautiful campus, and maybe there’s a little nostalgia there, but I just think this is an exciting time to be at Penn State. There’s a robust sense of all the things that make Penn State a top-notch institution.
You know as well as anyone the size of the shoes you have to fill in replacing Rod Kirsch. What lessons or insight do you take from his tenure here?
Rod is one of very few people in the country who’ve led multiple billion-dollar-plus campaigns on the same campus. I think his longevity in the role is really what we aspire to in the advancement profession. So much of our work is based on relationships that we build and maintain. To have that kind of tenure is extraordinary, and Rod exemplified service and leadership in a way that I think is really meaningful and aspirational.
Most Penn Staters hear your name and automatically think of your father, who retired in 2015 after more than 30 years with the Blue Band. I’m guessing you don’t mind that connection.
Certainly being linked to my father is a plus. Very much like Rod, I think my father is just one of the good guys. You’d be hard-pressed to get a bad word out of my father about anybody or anything. He was a humble, dedicated leader who aspired to be the best at what he did, so that the Blue Band could be the best at what it did. I think there’s an important lesson there, and I hope I can be like him as I lead the development and alumni relations teams to even greater accomplishments.
You arrive just as the university is gearing up for another major fundraising campaign. How do you see your experiences leading campaigns at Vermont and Iowa State helping you in that role here?
I have a network at Penn State that I’ve developed over my lifetime, so I think the learning curve will not be as steep for me coming in. I think I can marry the experiences I’ve had at other schools with a knowledge of the traditions that make Penn State great. We’ll have to do some things differently to be successful in this campaign, but that’s not a repudiation of the past—we want to respect tradition while recognizing that Penn State is forever evolving and growing.
Regarding the campaign, what are your top priorities right now?
Communicating to our stakeholders how this campaign will be different from past campaigns here—particularly that this is a shorter campaign singularly focused on achieving the objectives laid out in the institution’s strategic plan. That’s very exciting, and part of what made the job attractive beyond the emotional connection I have to Penn State. Not many universities have undertaken campaigns that are that directly linked to their long-term strategic plans, or are that focused in duration. A five-year campaign means that some of the normal trappings of quiet phases—like opportunities to really build your infrastructure before you go public—that’s not going to happen. We’ve got to create a sense of urgency. Penn State has a great tradition of really robust volunteer leadership in its campaigns, and we just need to get that structure in place.
The Alumni Association also falls under your leadership. What are your thoughts on the work we’re doing?
I think the Alumni Association is often the friendly face inviting our stakeholders into the institution. I really see it as a solemn responsibility of people who are in our line of work to be stewards of the lifelong relationship that alumni have with their institution, and the Alumni Association helps to bring rigor and thoughtfulness to that lifetime of engagement.
That said, I think that the traditional role of alumni associations is going through a profound change. The key piece of that change, particularly with our youngest alumni, is that they no longer need us to be the connecters to their classmates, or to other members of the alumni community. They can do that themselves, through LinkedIn, through Facebook, Twitter, you name it. I think the challenge for alumni organizations is to identify what the new value added opportunities are and aggressively pursue those opportunities—for example, how we can partner with career services, and make sure that Penn Staters everywhere have access to career opportunities, career counseling, those sorts of things? That’s one example of many where I think we can continue to provide great benefits to our alumni community.
It’s a huge challenge. And layer on top of that, we have students now who are graduating with enormous debt, so their economic connection to the institution is strained. We have students on 24 campuses, some of whom never step foot on University Park. I worked out at a gym in Burlington, Vermont, with a Penn State alum who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in plastics engineering from Behrend; he’s never once been in State College, he’s never seen a Penn State football game. So his Penn State is not the same as my Penn State. But they’re both Penn State. So I think we’ve got that challenge as well. And then you layer on top of that just demographic difference—the millennial generation feels very differently about big organizations than Generation X does. So we have to tailor our communications and our message and everything that we do with some understanding of how that’s going to be received.
Lastly, I know you’re a marathon runner. As you arrive at the start of a five-year campaign, I’m wondering if your hobby provides a useful analogy for your work.
Yeah, I think it does. There’s a saying in the marathon community that you can’t win the race in the first mile, but you can lose it. I think there’s some synergy to what we do in campaigns: I’d rather start slow and maintain a solid, steadily increasing pace than start really, really fast and crash and burn at the end of the campaign. We want our fundraising to be sustainable over the long term.
Ryan Jones, deputy editor