By Frank Stanko
Kim Nelson, who has been with the North Dakota State College of Science since 2002 in positions ranging from alumni coordinator to major gifts officer, has reached her pinnacle. She was recently promoted to Executive Director of the school’s Alumni/Foundation.
According to Nelson, her responsibilities will include leading the foundation at the college and carrying out its mission, “which is to be the arm for fundraising for the college.”
“One of the biggest things with fundraising is getting to know your donors,” she said. “Many of our donors started out as (giving) an annual gift of $25 or $50 or $100, and now they are maybe (giving) gifts of $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000 annually. The most rewarding part of this is getting to know those donors and then leading them to understand our mission at the college and leading them to be a part of helping the foundation be that arm of the college and raise the funds.”
Although not a NDSCS alumni herself, Nelson, who grew up in Wyndmere, North Dakota, said she knew the school all her life and went on to send a daughter and son there. According to NDSCS, Nelson graduated from the University of Minnesota Crookston with a bachelor’s degree in family service and from Minnesota State University Moorhead with an elementary education degree.
“I was one of those rebel children who decided I wanted to move away from home … (in) hindsight, I wished I had gone here, but now I know,” she said, laughing.
According to Nelson, her biggest challenge is finding and reconnecting with alumni.
“We have a database of over 35,000 active alumni, and in that 35,000, they’re spread out all across the country. I’d say 70 percent are in the tri-state area. When people graduate from here, they don’t always say, ‘Well, I graduated from NDSCS, come and seek me out.’ That’s one of my missions, one of my goals going forward is to be better at communicating with our alumni and getting them more engaged,” she said.
Nelson invites all alumni to come back and see “what the foundation does and how we have helped the college over the years.”
“I think if they came back, if they’re in the community and took a tour of the college and understood what our programs do, and what our scholarships and endowments do for our students, I think that would be very encouraging for them to come and get reconnected,” she said.
She also said reconnection “at any level” is welcome, whether as an alumni or a friend of NDSCS.
“Our friends of the college are just as strong and ‘bleed the red and black’ just as much as I do,” she said. “We have strong ties with business and industry. Many of our (local) business and industry have alumni … they talk about the strength of their education here and how they’re in the position they are because of where they started.”
A ideal workweek for Nelson is split between in-person visits with donors and correspondence through e-mail and phone calls. No matter the amount they gave, a donor to NDSCS is still someone the school wants to stay involved with.
“Everyday, there’s somebody that I call,” Nelson said.
Event-planning is also a top priority for Nelson. She’s currently gearing up for overseeing the upcoming 21st Annual DREAMS Auction, which will be held at 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 8 at the Blikre Activities Center in Wahpeton. Money raised from the auction helps goes toward continued communication with alumni and donors.
“It’s the Alumni/Foundation’s largest fundraiser,” she said. “It’s a community, faculty, staff event, and we raise somewhere over $250,000 annually. No tickets are sold at the door, so you can go to the website, you can call the Alumni/Foundation office … we sell tables, we sell individual tickets.”
Along with pride in the Wahpeton-Breckenridge community for providing auction gifts with a total value she estimated at $80,000, Nelson said she also feels excitement for the increasing amount of attendees from places such as Fargo, Jamestown, North Dakota and Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
“The Red River Valley is really well represented now, and that’s alumni coming back and giving back,” she said.
Nelson has a big goal for the future of NDSCS.
“I want to raise our scholarship endowments from a little over $11,000,000 to $19,000,000 in five years,” she said. “We want to bring students to this campus, and if we don’t have a scholarship base that we can recruit from, it’s going to be harder to do that. We can retain students, but we want to be able to recruit them, and scholarship money does recruit. I think that’s going to be a challenge, but I look at it as an attainable challenge.”
For more information, visit www.ndscsalumni.com and the Facebook page, NDSCS Alumni Foundation.
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