Earlier this month, Josh Hawkins was officially named assistant vice president for alumni relations and annual giving. He has served the dual role of chief operating officer and interim assistant vice president for the department since the fall of 2015, and has been on staff at UofL since 2010.
Hawkins was instrumental in the merger of the annual giving program with the office of alumni relations in 2013. Additional improvements under his watch include staff development, restructure of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, creation of a revenue-generating sponsorship program and more.
UofL News recently had a chance to catch up with Hawkins about his priorities, the changes he faces in his role, and how he sells the University of Louisville to donors, despite being a WKU graduate.
UofL News: What will be your first priorities in your ‘new’ role?
Josh Hawkins: My first priorities will focus on continuity. We have developed the framework for our Office of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving so the key will be sustaining and building upon our success. Proper organization of the staff will be at the top of my list, as that alignment will help each individual be successful in their respective position. Volunteer engagement will also be a top priority. This includes finalizing our Alumni Board structure and development as well as continuing to build and establish our Chapter/Council networks across the country.
UofL News: What are the biggest challenges facing the area of giving at universities right now?
JH: Many organizations are always searching for that ‘silver bullet’ – the one idea that can lead to fundraising success. The reality is that ‘silver bullet’ does not exist. Higher Education is dealing with annual budget cuts and declining financial support from the state on a regular basis – in fact, unfortunately, it is becoming a reoccurring theme. Universities have to be proactive and creative in their approach to fundraising. Private financial support is critical to the sustainability and success of a university. Our focus, as is the case at many universities, focuses on three approaches:
1) Listen to your donors and constituents
2) Be consistent with your messaging and strategy – stick to your game plan but adapt as needed
3) Diversify your solicitation/engagement/stewardship model to fit the needs of our diverse population.
UofL News: What is your favorite part of the job?
JH: I love everything about this job – staff/board development, strategic planning, sponsorship/vendor activation, volunteer management – but the key piece for me is building and establishing relationships. I learned at a young age how strong relationships can lead to success, both personally and professionally. I was lucky enough to learn this trait from watching my father (Rik) and late grandfather (Harold Bewley) on a daily basis. The key to success in this field begins with establishing relationships and I feel this is one of my strongest assets.
UofL News: You’re not an alum of UofL (Hawkins is a WKU graduate). Does that make it somewhat difficult to sell, or does it make it easier because you have an outsider’s perspective?
JH: My passion for the University of Louisville stems from my childhood. I grew up in Elizabethtown, just south of Louisville and fell in love with the university at an early age. As a non-alum of the university, I do not see that as a disadvantage. I have had the honor of working for three different institutions – WKU (alma mater), Auburn University and now UofL. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with outstanding mentors – Donald Smith (WKU), Tina Kauffmann (Bellarmine), Kris Phillips (Austin Peay) and Keith Inman (UofL). The experience I gained from each institution and mentor has been invaluable and helped me successfully build this program at UofL. This business is about relationships. The ability to connect with alumni and friends of the institution and help place them in a position to support the university is our priority. I believe in the University of Louisville and look forward to continuing to build a program that supports the university, as well as the community.
UofL News: What is your favorite city to visit for (non-work) vacations and why?
JH: I am partial to Hilton Head, South Carolina. When I met my wife 10 years ago, I began to go with her family on vacation each summer to Hilton Head. I love to golf and you cannot beat the courses and scenery on the island. We were fortunate to be married in Hilton Head in 2010 and honored to have my father, Rik, lead our wedding ceremony. Therefore, Hilton Head will always be a special place for our family.