Vision or Capacity – Which is More Important?

So, the alumni at Antioch College (OH) are stepping up – good for them!

While the institution thrived as a bastion of social activism in the 1960s, Antioch had witnessed declines in enrollment and fundraising totals since the 1970s. What happened that led to the decision in 2007 to close the school that graduated Coretta Scott King, Stephen Jay Gould, and Nobel Prize-winning scientist Mario Capecchi, among others?

Well, the “official” position was that they couldn’t attract and retain students, they couldn’t grow the endowment, and alumni and others wouldn’t give enough. I even read at one point that college officials cited the fact that Antioch graduates just didn’t have the wealth capacity to support the school. The argument here was that the school’s liberal arts curriculum produced graduates who were more focused on transforming the world and not the bottom lines of for-profit business. Thus, there just wasn’t much money out there.

Oh really?  Now we learn that Antioch alumni have already raised $16.2 million ($6.2 million to buy the land and $10 million for operations) with a goal to raise $40 million. They plan to re-open the College in 2011.

In other posts, I’ve blogged about the importance of vision. Too often I hear from presidents and executives about the lack of giving capacity they have in their donor databases. But this is almost never the case! Witness Antioch. Would $16.2 million in charitable gifts have helped them in 2005? You bet it would have! Did anyone at Antioch envision they could raise $16.2 million quickly? Did anyone act on that vision? Apparently not. If so, they would have stumbled upon it – because it is clear the capacity was there.

Back in 2007, I read a comment by an Antioch alumnus who said the financial woes of the College were true, but “. . .without some vision, competent management and a financial infusion won’t solve the problem.”

Ahh, yes, there’s that vision-thing again. After a presentation, I once had an attendee ask me, “do you think vision or capacity is more important to creating a thriving organization.” “Vision,” I responded, “because vision can attract and even enhance the willingness to increase giving capacity. But capacity can’t do the same for vision.”

How compelling is your vision?

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