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RCC advancement head exits on high note

After close to ten years as dean of college advancement at Rappahannock Community College and executive director of RCC’s Educational Foundation, Victor Clough feels that he has helped establish “a great reputation, high confidence, and good standards” for the Foundation. When his retirement takes effect as of March 2014, he can congratulate himself on many good things initiated and accomplished. “I feel good about turning the Foundation over to its next director,” he says.

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Clough first came to the college in June of 2000, having just earned his master’s degree from Georgetown University’s “Communication, Culture, and Technology” program. His thesis, titled “Adult Learning of Technology in the Workplace” was a perfect fit, he believed, for his job as manager of the RCC Workforce Development Office’s efforts on the Northern Neck. “I really enjoyed my successes there,” he says. “A highlight of that period was providing customized training for almost 100 employees of The Tides Inn, as it made the transition from a family-run business to corporate ownership.”

When Dr. Elizabeth Crowther became college president in 2004, one of her goals was to re-set priorities and to revitalize the Foundation. “When I met and talked with her,” says Clough, “I was very interested in the vision she had,” which included sharing the story of how valuable the college is to this community and how worthy it is of private investment. Leading the College Advancement team “was a way for me to expand my contribution from the Northern Neck to the whole 12-county service region.” His having already represented RCC in the local business community was excellent preparation for his work with the Foundation. Also helpful was his past professional experience in marketing, public relations, and advertising, which included owning his own advertising agency in Arizona.

Crowther asserts that Clough “professionalized the role of advancement at the college, collaborating with the Foundation leadership to set goals, work effectively towards their achievement, and start giving back to the college and students in a more significant way.” Under his tenure, the Foundation’s assets grew from $1.9 million to nearly $7.2 million.

When the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) was established in the late sixties, it was expected that it would be supported by state sales tax. But economic realities rendered that hope impracticable, and a decade later the 23 colleges began setting up foundations to provide financial options. “The pressure on the state budget will continue,” predicts Clough. “It’s an irreversible trend. No one expects state support to return to its previous level. It gives the community colleges’ educational foundations the opportunity—the obligation—to make more funds available for student support.”

Clough is among the longest-serving college advancement officers in the VCCS. He now gains satisfaction from “returning the favor”—previous assistance provided to him by more experienced colleagues, when he was new—to any of his peers who seek the benefit of his opinion. Clough calls this collegial relationship “close, comfortable, inspiring, and helpful.”

“Over the years, I have had a very good Foundation Board to work with, made up of volunteer members from across the college’s service region,” Clough says. He also heaps praise on his hard-working staff, led by administrative assistant Sharon Drotleff and fiscal specialist Anthony Washington, both of whom he calls “skilled and devoted.”

One of the Foundation’s most popular programs, which Clough helped grow, is the Rappahannock Institute for Lifelong Learning (RILL). Clough calls it “a community service, offering topics of intellectual interest, right here, that you can’t get anywhere else. Not a fundraiser, but a ‘friendraiser’; the program was intended to present stimulating subjects to persons who wish never to stop learning.” RILL is now setting attendance records and funding two yearly scholarships of $500 each for RCC students. Clough says RILL benefits greatly from the financial support of two contributors he sought out because their clientele closely matches the typical profile of RILL attendees: the Bank of Lancaster’s Golden Advantage program, and the Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury assisted-living facility.

At the time Clough joined the College Advancement Office, the Foundation’s major annual fund-raising event—the Preakness Party—was just getting underway. Even at that inaugural event, “the response was terrific,” says Clough. “Over the years, it has gained momentum and popularity, has been featured in statewide publications, and has been mentioned in a Baltimore Sun article about the Preakness Stakes. It has been instrumental in making friends for the college, and bringing in influential and supportive people,” in addition to raising money, which over the first nine years amounted to a net sum of almost half a million dollars. Clough is especially pleased that each year $10,000 of the proceeds earned at the annual Preakness Party go directly to fellow RCC faculty and staff members in the form of grants for program enhancements and professional development opportunities.

“That first year,” comments Clough, “we struggled to attract 200 people. But over the last three, we have had capacity crowds of more than double that.” As the event has grown, Clough and the volunteer planning committee have meticulously preserved the comfort, convenience, and high quality of the guest experience for partygoers when setting maximum attendance levels. “The Preakness Party has become the most anticipated spring event in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula,” he affirms.

An attractive feature of the Party, Clough notes, is the fact that its venue is carefully chosen from different parts of the RCC service region from year to year. The event is always held at a site that is either historic or breathtakingly beautiful—usually both. This part of Virginia offers plenty of choice in selecting such sites, ranging from the Flemer home at Ingleside Plantation in the northwestern part of RCC’s service region to Warner Hall in the south. A high point of the event’s history occurred in 2012, when it was held at “Gascony,” the Northumberland County home of former United States senator and current Christopher Newport University president Paul Trible, and his wife Rosemary. This year’s event will be at “Providence,” the Deltaville home of Cean and Bill Cawthorn, on May 17.

Clough’s responsibilities have included coordinating the college’s major gifts campaign, titled “Soaring Together.” The campaign began in 2008, the same year as the national recession, but as Clough says, “We felt the community would support it regardless. Two years later we reached our goal of raising $3 million, in the form of outright gifts or pledges to be paid over a period of five years.” Donations came from area individuals, businesses, philanthropic foundations . . . and, gratifyingly, every member of the RCC College governing board and the RCC Foundation board, plus 96 percent of RCC’s own faculty and staff, Clough points out. The bulk of the Soaring Together campaign total is earmarked for student scholarship awards, with the Foundation distributing about $300,000 worth annually.

A final source of unrestricted income for the Foundation, its annual gift campaigns, kick off in late autumn, just before the end of the tax year. These campaigns have met or exceeded their goal in each of the last eight years, due in part to large gifts, many of them bequests from long-time friends of the college who refuse to let their generosity stop with their own deaths. A gift can derive from the donor’s estate, from an insurance policy, from a trust fund . . . “there are unlimited ways to give,” says Clough.

Though one-time gifts provide the majority of scholarship funds awarded, the Foundation has enjoyed a recent surge in gifts to establish endowed scholarship funds. The threshold amount for establishing one of these is $25,000, but some donors have started one with as much as $50,000. “What’s really satisfying,” says Clough, “is that these are not the result of just cold-calling someone and asking for money. More often new endowed funds come from individuals or families who have observed the college over a period of time and noticed how it helps local people to improve their lives.” An example is the six grown children of Warsaw’s Charles and Elizabeth Ryland, who chose to use part of their inheritance in this way. Their parents, they explain, were lifelong supporters of higher education; it would be hard to think of a better memorial than to make college classes more accessible to their neighbors in what the Rylands’ daughter, Catharine Moser, calls “an ideal place to grow up.”

“Why do people choose to give to RCC?” asks Clough. “It’s the only college in the immediate area—and it’s also the most cost-effective way to pursue higher education or career training. ‘RCC is the best bang for your buck,’ as one of our donors said.” He mentions that year after year a high percentage of RCC enrollees are “first generation” students; that is, the first members of their families ever to attend college. Having a community college within easy commuting distance has made these students realize that their dreams are by no means impossible, and that RCC can help to fulfill them.

“You don’t have to go very far to meet an RCC graduate,” declares Clough. “So many local people have been able to get jobs because of their RCC education or training.” Whether in health care, finance, retail, or many other fields, “these skilled workers are providing services right here.” For both students enrolling at RCC and donors contributing to the RCC Foundation, it is “the best money you can spend in the area.”

“People are investing in the college and its students because they know their money will be used effectively, ethically, and professionally, and that they will have a relationship with us confirming how they have affected students’ lives,” states Crowther. She believes Clough has established relationships and processes that assure ongoing benefit for the college and community.

Looking back fondly over his years at RCC, Clough says, “It’s a great place to retire from.” As for his future plans, he says only that nothing is concrete. He and his wife, well-known artist Elise Ritter-Clough, do plan to travel much more, since three of their four children, and three of four grandchildren, reside in the western United States.

 

Photo: RCC’s dean of college advancement, Victor Clough, is shown surrounded by various fundraising mementos while browsing through the latest of the biennial reports prepared by the college’s Educational Foundation under his direction.

One Response to “RCC advancement head exits on high note”

  1. Aryah Hudgins says:

    Congratulations on your retirement Mr. Clough! Thank you for all of the encouragement and support you have given me throughout my time here at RCC. You are truly an asset to the college and will be greatly missed! I hope you enjoy your retirement and spend it doing all of the things you love the most. Hope to see you around the stage soon!
    -Aryah.

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