Gary Cordova, vice president of Advancement at Chaminade, says his job—and the work of his five-member team—is all about building strong relationships. With alumni, with members of the broader community and with others who understand and believe in Chaminade’s strong social service mission.
“We have immediate needs for the university, but relationship building is in the long view,” Cordova said. “The engagement approaches have to be individualized—it’s not a one size fits all. Philanthropy is so impactful in the lives of our students and we need to ensure we’re conveying that message.”
Cordova took over his current role at the University in July 2020, bringing more than 20 years of experience in public and private universities and independent private schools. And he’s hit the ground running, bringing on team members to stabilize what he calls the three-legged stool of advancement.
Two of those legs are enrollment management and public funding.
The third leg—private philanthropy—required significant short- and long-term strategic planning.
“That’s where we come in,” Cordova said, of his office, adding that one of his top priorities has been beginning the work of building a strong alumni outreach program and conducting relationship-building with community philanthropists who share and understand Chaminade’s mission.
That work has already paid off.
Cordova said the University’s Chaminade Fund, which offers direct aid to students, saw an increase in support during last academic year and beat previous records. The help, he added, was more needed than ever as many students and their families struggled financially because of the COVID pandemic.
Serving with Cordova in the Advancement office are:
- Jill Higashi, assistant vice president of Advancement
- Jeanne Lum, ‘05, MBA ‘07, director of alumni relations
- Kendra Sia, director of the Annual Fund
- And Joanne Nakano, executive assistant to the vice president
It’s been Lum, working closely with other members of the team, who has sought to build an alumni network from the ground up. Cordova said reconnection and engagement are key to bringing Chaminade graduates—no matter when they got their degrees—back into the fold.
Perhaps most importantly, Cordova added, alumni need to be reminded of their warm memories of Chaminade and that whatever they give back to the institution (in treasure or time) is so very valuable.
“Universities with very strong alumni programs have very strong endowments. Because they are engaged and they believe in the engagement,” he said. “We need to reimagine our alumni program to reach a varied alumni community. We need to engage our alumni in the life of the university.”
To help do just that, Lum has created an Alumni Council made up of graduates across the decades.
She has also sought to set up exciting opportunities for alumni to offer networking and career development opportunities to current students, and has begun to bolster outreach and communications with alumni about upcoming events and initiatives at the University.
“We want people to remember why they love Chaminade so much,” she said.
Cordova added that alumni relations don’t begin at graduation. The Advancement team is seeking to build bridges between alumni and current students so that both groups feel like they’re part of the same family—“this culture of connectedness that’s got them bleeding blue and white.”
The same goes for broader philanthropic outreach, Cordova said.
He said his team members have sought to strengthen relationships with those who have already given to the university, offering not only their gratitude but important details about where their donations went and how much of a difference it made in the lives of students and their academic journeys.
“How do we create systems that can intentionally engage with our supporters? That’s an important question for us in our planning and outreach,” Cordova said. “When we are reporting the effectiveness of a gift over time—helping donors understand the power of their contribution—we are creating a stronger relationship and potentially creating a cycle of philanthropy that never ends.”