By Patty Gelb
Although he has had little time to decorate his office in the two months since starting his position, The University of Toledo’s Vice President for Advancement, Sam McCrimmon already shares his Rocket pride in his work surroundings. With few personal items in his office, he proudly displays a Toledo Rockets’ football helmet and framed football poster celebrating the September 12 win against the Arkansas Razorbacks.
“It has been an amazing ride to start my career here at UT under such an amazing football season,” said McCrimmon. “The pride of the alumni in their football team is incredible. It’s what we hear about when we’re on the road in places like Cincinnati, Fort Wayne, New York and Philadelphia. To have over 200 people show up at a pregame event in Foxboro, Massachusetts, is incredible. We’re hopeful that the continued success of the football team will translate into continued success for the University.”
McCrimmon, who started his position in September, is the leader of the offices of alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and special events. His job at the University was created by President Gaber as a new role, combining two separate departments into one unit. One of his first tasks is to fully merge the former divisions of development and external affairs.
“What we need to do in the first six months is speak in one voice for the University and really act efficiently and effectively with all of the public we serve, be it alumni, media, community or our students.”
Reducing administrative costs was behind this change in the University’s structure and one of President Gaber’s top priorities. Another of her top priorities that McCrimmon is directly responsible for is to dramatically increase our philanthropic efforts.
“Philanthropy is key to the continued positive momentum of The University of Toledo, and in Sam, I’ve found a leader who will elevate UT’s fundraising and messaging on a national and international level,” said President Gaber.
This new leader for UT grew up in the world of academia. His father was a zoologist specializing in bird populations, moving the family around the country as he moved up the academic ranks. They started in New York, then moved to California, followed by Maine before moving to Michigan. Young McCrimmon went to high school at Lake Orion in suburban Detroit.
“Moving around was a lot of fun,” said McCrimmon. “But for me, suburban Detroit in many ways is home. Being in Toledo means I am back in the Midwest and back here at home.”
When it came time to choose a college, McCrimmon shared that it was marketing that helped him chose his university. The first recruiting piece of mail he received while in high school was from Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He liked the look of the materials and decided to research the school. He went to the library and the more he learned, the more interested he became. He asked his father’s opinion and they felt the school had great academics. The family went down to the campus and after a visit they really liked the school. McCrimmon applied and was offered a scholarship to attend.
“I had a very different experience from the average college student,” said McCrimmon. “For one, Wabash is one of two schools left in the country that are all male. I think in a lot of ways that was very good for me. I was able to spend a lot of time studying, a lot of time in the library, a lot of time really thinking about academic subjects in a way that, who knows, perhaps I would not have done at a different university.”
McCrimmon was a religion major at Wabash with an interest in the academic pursuit of religion, not as a minister, but as an intellectual interest. He developed a lifelong love of books and reading which began during high school where he held a job shelving books at the public library and grew during his academic studies at Wabash.
Beyond a love of books, he found another kind of love during college in his future wife, Courtney.
The couple first met at what McCrimmon endearingly called “nerd camp” in high school. It was at a summer camp on the campus of Eastern Michigan University in July of 1994 that Courtney and Sam first met.
“We developed a good friendship,” said McCrimmon. “She is from Alpena, Mich., so we were about four hours apart from each other. This is before email really took off so we would write each other letters and we stayed in touch all of the way through college. We actually started dating our senior year and it went from there.”
McCrimmon knew he wanted to go to graduate school following Wabash and he chose Duke to pursue his master of theological studies. During the course of his studies, Sam and Courtney were married.
McCrimmon knew after his first year in graduate school that he wasn’t going to pursue his Ph.D. in humanities, but he wanted to stay in higher education. He consulted with a family friend and mentor who was also a Catholic priest and provost of the University of Detroit Mercy at the time. It was suggested that he look into educational fundraising because he felt it fit McCrimmon’s skill set and personality. Newly graduated and married, he took a position at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia, overseeing the conversion to a new donor database.
“I am forever glad that I learned databases that way because it has allowed me to learn the flow of information in fundraising and development, which is critically important,” McCrimmon said.
Shortly after, Courtney got into graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh and McCrimmon took a position as director of programs for Executive Service Corps of Western Pennsylvania. It was during this time he witnessed a nonprofit go through the classic case of relying too heavily on one funder and the struggles that occur when the organization isn’t prepared to support itself. McCrimmon knew he wanted to get back into fundraising so he accepted a job at the University of Detroit Medical Mercy to lead the annual giving. He concurrently was accepted into law school.
“Basically within one week, I got the law school acceptance and the job offer,” said McCrimmon. “I said to Courtney ‘well off to Detroit we go.’ We moved back to Detroit and I went to law school at night and raised money for the University during the day for four years.”
In the spring of 2008, his wife was recruited by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) to handle media relations. When McCrimmon went to his bosses in Detroit and told them they would be moving to Pittsburgh, he was asked if he would consider staying on as the national fundraising representative for the University.
“My job there was essentially to look at all of the United States minus the state of Michigan as my fundraising territory,” McCrimmon said. “The University had historically focused on the state of Michigan and wanted to expand.”
He traveled across the country meeting with alums for two and a half years before being promoted to oversee all of the major gifts officers working from Pittsburgh. He held that position for a year before deciding to take a job locally for very personal reasons. Courtney was pregnant with their first child and McCrimmon was traveling around 120 days a year.
“I knew that with a child coming, I didn’t want to travel quite that intensely,” McCrimmon said. “I wanted to be there and watch her grow up.”
He took a position at the UPMC as a major gifts officer in urology and only held that job for six months before being promoted to executive director of clinical development. In this role he led the fundraising team responsible for grateful patient for all medical departments for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Under his leadership, clinical development exceeded annual multi-million dollar goals by as much as 125 percent. McCrimmon expanded the grateful patient program and developed new programs to assist major gifts officers succeed in their job such as metrics to monitor performance. He also worked closely with UPMC’s marketing, media relations, and patient experience groups.
Courtney and Sam had their daughter, Evangeline, now four years old, toward the beginning of McCrimmon’s career at UPMC. Their son Duncan, now 18 months old, followed. The couple was happy in their careers and lives in Pittsburgh when McCrimmon was contacted by the recruiter for the position of Vice President for Advancement at The University of Toledo. McCrimmon agreed to talk to the recruiter, preparing to give 15 minutes before politely declining. He listened to the description of UT and the position. The recruiter followed up by sending the prospectus which he read one afternoon at home while waiting to go pick up his children.
“I was expecting all of the standard rhetoric language,” said McCrimmon. “What really struck me was how honest this perspective was. This was not flowery language. It simply stated that The University of Toledo was an institution that was poised for success and has a lot of strengths, but really needs to capitalize on a couple of things.”
Once his wife came home, he told her that he thought this could be his next job. The couple had discussed moving back to the Midwest to be closer to his family and Sam was very interested in the University’s story. Courtney read the prospectus and felt it was the perfect fit for him.
“I went from thinking that this could be my job to knowing I really wanted it once I saw the campus,” McCrimmon said. “I came in a day before my interview on purpose so I could take some time to look around. I looked around and said I really want this job. Everything during the interview process really confirmed that.”
He accepted the position after a series of interviews including question and answer sessions with all of the staff who would eventually report to him.
“One of the things that really stood out during the interview process is how much pride people have in this institution and in this region,” said McCrimmon. “People really identify with UT and they want it to be successful.”
McCrimmon replaces Vern Snyder, vice president for Institutional Advancement. Snyder was a leader at UT since 2002. During his tenure, more than $200 million was raised in support of UT. Snyder retired, but came back to lead the division of advancement for the University during the transition of Presidents.
“Dr. Gaber has spoken often of her goal to increase private support to UT through engagement of our alumni and friends locally, regionally and nationally,” Snyder said. “Sam McCrimmon brings experience, drive and high energy in support of Dr Gaber’s goal. I believe Sam will meet that challenge and the challenges going forward with the addition of marketing and communications to Institutional Advancement. Sam’s leadership will serve UT very well.”
McCrimmon is proud to now call Toledo home and happy to be in his role at the University. His family is settling in and the kids are loving their time here so far.
“The kids are having an absolute ball,” he said. “One of the things we have really fallen in love with quickly here in Toledo is how family-friendly it is. There is a lot of stuff to do. It’s easily accessible and it’s inexpensive. The warmth of the welcome that we have received here has been incredible.”
McCrimmon has now been a leader at the University for a little over two months. There have been several major events on campus since he started. There has been the inauguration of President Gaber, 2015 Homecoming and traveling the country to meet alumni. He has also worked to bring together two separate divisions into one cohesive unit. His longer term goals include helping support enrollment, increase funding at the University and raise the profile of the institution nationally.
“Part of what struck me when I was interviewing was this was really a comprehensive university for its size,” he said. “We have real areas of strength. Where I really think we can improve is letting the nation know about those areas of strength and why this is a world-class university. It is increasing that voice nationally. It is increasing funding which allows us to do good things, like increasing the number of scholarships, the number of research funds, and the number of funds for campus infrastructure.”
McCrimmon is also pleased to be working under President Gaber. As the person responsible for creating the face of the University and heading its fundraising efforts, he knew that its leader is the most important variable for success. He felt an instant connection with President Gaber during the interview process and it has continued since his first day on the job.
“One of the things I really like about her is she is open, she is accessible and she is a real person,” said McCrimmon. “I think that alumni and other people in our community are starting to notice that. She is engaging. She’s got a great sense of humor. She’s warm. She really wants to succeed here at The University of Toledo and I am honored to be working with her to make that happen.”
McCrimmon shared three ways that alumni can get involved in helping the University’s future success.
- Increase the percentage of alumni supporting the institution which allows our profile to rise in the national rankings. The percentage of alumni supporting is a key metric. If we can move that up from where it is right now that is going to help us in publications like US News and World Report. That ranking matters to high school students and matters to their parents.
- Continue to spread the word about how great of an institution we have in The University of Toledo. This is where social media comes in and is so powerful. We want to increase the number of people who are following us or liking us on Facebook. Every time one of our tweets is retweeted, a whole new audience of alumni and others sees it. That really helps increase our national profile.
- If you know of any prospective student out there, tell them about us. Get them here on campus. Because when you come to this campus, you want to attend here.
McCrimmon is excited utilize his experiences and background to propel the University forward. He is eager to meet alumni of the University at sporting events, campus and community activities and alumni events across the country. To learn about upcoming events, join us on Facebook, Twitter or visit toledoalumni.org.
“I am thrilled to be here in Toledo and at UT,” he shared.