Building a culture? Try affecting the right factors.

I’m on an advisory board for one top ranked national research university. We are in discussions, more recently, over how to build a culture of philanthropy. I think the main thing we need to do is build back the culture, not one of giving, but just one in which we change the narrative and reconnect with each other as friends, as human beings. But, my own ideas aside it has made me rethink why some of us remain so connected while many others do not.

I was reminded by a comment a former Director made after having attended an annual STAFF conference. He spoke about a presentation by a Harvard professor about why some graduated had an affinity towards their alma mater and others — many — did not. What occurred in some and not others? Reportedly, this guy points to the relationships that formed between faculty and students. Much to the chagrin of high-minded tenured professors, it isn’t the academic content or their well-funded research that does it, it’s how well their students bond with the people around them: Deans, advisors, department admins, staff and college administrators. I dug around and found that the speaker was Dr. Daniel F. Chambliss, a sociology professor at Hamilton College (not Harvard) who had recently published a book, How Your College Works. I have not read the book, but this NYTimes article showcasing the highlights from Chambliss echoes what some have sensed for a longtime: it’s the people and the relationships that make our experiences worthwhile, memorable, and perhaps priceless. He goes so far as to say how we need to avoid seeing grandiose strategic plans as addressing the factors that really matter. 

All that is to say, as we are looking at building this culture, we should consider affecting the factors that are going to increase the chance that we all make long-lasting, formidable relationships.

And I suppose I need to add Chambliss’s book to my reading list.