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Transcript - Episode 69: How Developing Successful Fundraising Partnerships Can Provide Competitive Advantages For Students, With Bobbi Abram, Executive Director Of Foundation At Pasadena City College Episode 69

May 10, 2022

00:00:00 Bobbi

Foundations have got to be out there looking for strategic partnerships because the donors, these days, aren't giving to just one institution. Most donors give to up to eight institutions.


00:00:12 Bobbi

And I think leveraging the ability to combine resources, serve a population that might engage people from one organization, people to another, you're going to find it that there's crossover there. You just can't go it alone anymore. You're going to waste resources and you're going to be exhausted.


00:00:33 Christina

The workforce landscape is rapidly changing and educators and their institutions need to keep up. Preparing students before they enter the workforce to make our communities and businesses stronger is at the core of getting an education.


00:00:46 Christina

But we need to understand how to change and adjust so that we can begin to project where things are headed before we even get there. So, how do we begin to predict the future?


00:00:58 Salvatrice

Hi, I'm Salvatrice Cummo, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at Pasadena City College and host of this podcast.


00:01:07 Christina

And I'm Christina Barsi, producer and co-host of this podcast.


00:01:11 Salvatrice

And we are starting the conversation about the future of work. We'll explore topics like how education can partner with industry, how to be more equitable, and how to attain one of our highest goals: more internships, and PCC students in the workforce.


00:01:24 Salvatrice

We at Pasadena City College want to lead the charge in closing the gap between what our students are learning and what the demands of the workforce will be once they enter. This is a conversation that impacts all of us. You, the employers, the policymakers, the educational institutions, and the community as a whole.


00:01:44 Christina

We believe change happens when we work together, and it all starts with having a conversation. I'm Christina Barsi.


00:01:52 Salvatrice

And I'm Salvatrice Cummo, and this is the Future of Work.


00:01:55 Salvatrice

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Future of Work Podcast. I am your host, Salvatrice Cummo. And today, we'll be talking about PCC's foundation and how they are helping prepare the workforce. We will also hear about current trends in fundraising and really what the future holds for our nonprofit organizations.


00:02:18 Salvatrice

With that, we want to welcome the executive director of PCC's foundation, Bobbi Abram. Bobbi has her education and experience in nonprofit management, specifically in executive and development areas. And something really fun to know about Bobbi is that she joined PCC in 2012. And since then, our foundation has done phenomenal work and she's a lead in this space.


00:02:49 Salvatrice

She sets the tone and the momentum for how foundations really should work with community colleges and workforce development entities. And we're incredibly lucky, beyond lucky to have her with us. Bobbi, how are you?


00:03:02 Bobbi

Very nice to be here, and I'm excited to be a guest on your podcast. This is great.


00:03:08 Salvatrice

Well, thank you. We're equally as excited to be with you as well. Let's dive in, how about that?


00:03:13 Bobbi

Let's do it.


00:03:14 Salvatrice

Okay. I have the advantage that I know a lot about you.


00:03:19 Bobbi

That could be good or bad.


00:03:20 Salvatrice

Yeah, I'll tell you what, it's all been good thus far. And there might be listeners who know a lot about you as it relates to the foundation, and you're an incredible leader in this space. I'm not saying that just because I know you and we're friends and you're my colleague, but I've never in my capacity in higher ed, I haven't seen a foundation do the work that you do.


00:03:40 Salvatrice

And so, I'm really thrilled about sharing that good work here on this episode. But for those who don't know Bobbi Abram, tell us a little bit more about you and what kind of led you to the path of this work. What led you to foundation work, and why is it something that you continue to do? I


00:03:59 Bobbi

I think it started with selling girl scout cookies when I was about 10-years-old, and I'm not kidding about that. Because you never go to a career fair and say, "I'd like to be a fundraiser." But the fact that I had a lot of volunteer opportunities and community service kinds of opportunities that included fundraising growing up, I felt very comfortable with it. I had an extroverted personality as a kid and so, I actually had fun with fundraising.


00:04:28 Bobbi

And so, again, there was no, no major in college for it, but I ended up majoring in business, sort of took after my dad in that way. And when it came time to get a master's, by then, I had already worked in community colleges, actually two different ones at that point in the Midwest. And I had decided that development work in higher education and alumni work at that time, because a lot of those offices are combined - that was really what I wanted to do.


00:05:00 Bobbi

And so, I always thought that I would probably go on to work at a four-year institution because fundraising at those institutions are really exciting. They've usually got a Greek system, where they've got an athletic program that makes it so much fun. And there's so many more resources that you can use to help build a fundraising program.


00:05:20 Bobbi

But I ended up starting in the community college system and surprisingly, fell in love with it. And the reason I fell in love with fundraising in a community college system is that the population that I'm serving is so perfectly matched with the needs that we are trying to serve. And it's such an easy conversation with a donor to explain that community college students either are preparing for their four-year institution transfer or they're going to go right into the workforce. And donors understand that and they get it.


00:06:01 Bobbi

So, while community colleges still only raise about 2% of all of the money raised for higher education, it is a growing trend and we've seen some really exciting things happen over just the past couple of years in California that show that that trend is changing. And I think community colleges are going to have more and more of that percentage in fundraising in the higher education space.


00:06:29 Salvatrice

That's really important. I mean I heard partnership between the foundation and the community college. And I also heard partnership between the foundation and the employers/donors potentially. Let's unpack that a little bit. I mean, what does that look like? Are there any specific examples that you feel that you've experienced yourself or that you're championing or that you see as trends in this space?


00:06:53 Bobbi

Well, let me give you an example just right here at PCC. And that is several years ago, we were approached by the Boone Foundation and they wanted to do something that would help students who were going directly into the workforce. And we did some interviews with faculty. We even visited some of the classrooms of a lot of the career education programs.


00:07:17 Bobbi

And one of the things that they identified was that one of the barriers between finishing your certificate program and starting your job in the workforce are the things you have to do, specifically tools of the trade or certification exams. So, if you're a nurse and you've just finished your RN, you still have that NCLEX exam ahead of you and it's not cheap. You might need a stethoscope, you might need scrubs. You might need a really good pair of shoes.


00:07:46 Bobbi

Those are all things that even though you've got the certification now, it still hinders you. One of the programs that the Boone Achievement Awards started with, was talking with the Welding Program and with Auto Technology Program.


00:08:03 Bobbi

So, the Boone family decided that they would support ... now, this started out with nine different programs that applied for funding that year. It's been, I think, we're in our sixth year now. We had 27 programs this year that got funding. So, that's 27 students from programs ranging from, like I said, auto technology to ... that is sort of A to W, isn't it? To welding; but it also includes all of our health programs.


00:08:36 Bobbi

So, nursing, rad tech, it includes computer, operations, office machines, machine shop - it's everything you can possibly imagine. And the Boone Foundation decided that they wanted to honor the deserving student in each one of those programs with tools of trade.


00:08:55 Bobbi

So, it goes anywhere from computers and specialized computer software that you might need to do geo-mapping, to a cosmetology kit because you can't afford the special types of scissors, or ... I didn't know this, but cosmetologists have to have their own coloring. So, they have to buy all of those products. Where if you've just completed your program, you don't have the funding to go out and buy $1,500 worth of color products.


00:09:26 Bobbi

So, it has been an amazing program that's grown here on our campus and the responses we get from the students are unbelievable. They said "Well, we thought we were just going to get an award and like a certificate. We didn't know that a gift came along with it." And when they find out that they've got a snap-on toolkit, that they can go to their first day on the job or a special pair of welding boots or a generator, it really changes their outlook.


00:09:55 Bobbi

And so, that's just one example of how foundations can support the work of the training of the workforce to get those community college students directly into a job, the minute they graduate or they get that certificate.


00:10:11 Salvatrice

How do we amplify that? How do we do more of the generosity of the Boone family?


00:10:19 Bobbi

You know, it's interesting, we put an article about this program in our newsletter and another donor read it, and decided he wanted to have lunch with Nick Boone. So, we arranged it and made a donation right there. Another way that we can grow that program is we do a lot of partnerships with the Pasadena Community Foundation. And we have one program that we're working on together.


00:10:45 Bobbi

And part of that program is when the students finish in this particular program, they are a career education student, they will get tools of the trade when they're done. So, we're starting to build it in to some of the boutique programs that we have here at the foundation.


00:11:02 Bobbi

We have another program called the Anne Pepper Scholars Program, which is brand new. We'll be rolling it out this fall. We built that piece into that program as well, because we don't want this news to get all the way to the finish line, and then they have no place to go after that. That's not the time to stall. That's the time to push foot on the gas.


00:11:22 Salvatrice

That's right. The foundation helped PCC connect to the Freeman family. Your leadership and your donors, and just the commitment of this community values the work that we are doing with our CT programming and our career services, and really just the wraparound services.


00:11:42 Salvatrice

I mean, that's kind of how I view, I think the work that I do and the work that you do. It's this complementary services that propels our student to have a competitive advantage in the workplace. It's complimentary obviously to the work that is happening within the classroom, but it's also just, again, like giving that ... almost envision like a cape, like a cape of services that we provide our students to fairly compete in this space.


00:12:13 Salvatrice

And I think that that's kind of the challenge that we see a lot, is our students are competing with four-year university students, they're competing with the trade organizations and private schools and things like that. And so, I feel really strongly that the work that both your office does and my office does, we prepare them in such a way that gets them to fairly compete in this competitive market of the workforce.


00:12:39 Salvatrice

And so, I think that there's room just based on what we've had to go through the last two years, and where we need to be in the next year. I'm not even suggesting two to three years from now. I'm suggesting like in the next year, we turn up the volume on this employer engagement piece with our community colleges. And I feel strongly that the foundation opens those doors for our community colleges.


00:13:09 Bobbi

Well, I think we're privileged too because our foundation board, we're a 33-member board, and then we have additional advisors to the board. And that is a cross-section of representation of the business and academic communities in the Pasadena area community college district.


00:13:28 Bobbi

And so, we have a very unique position to be able to say - let me give you an example: we worked with a faculty member at the Nursing Program and said "If we could help you do something, what would it be?" And they said, "We need senior level relationships in the healthcare organizations to increase the number of clinical sites, because if we could do that, that's the one thing that is stopping us from growing our nursing program. And as you know, especially with COVID over the last couple of years, the need for nurses is skyrocketing."


00:14:07 Bobbi

And so, we turned around and lo and behold, there are people on our board that know people at local organizations that can help put together those conversations. And we actually have one of those conversations coming up where we're introducing our college president to the president of a local health organization to talk about the pipeline that we would like to create for nurses. And that's just one piece of that whole challenge.


00:14:37 Bobbi

Another piece was hospitals want to hire nurses that have BSNs, and as you know, PCC's program gives you an ADN and an RN. So, when we started the conversations with our business council here at the foundation to find out, okay, how can we make our nurses more attractive to those positions? It became very clear - we've got to work strategically and help those students get their BSN.


00:15:10 Bobbi

So, we started a strategic partnership with Azusa Pacific University and their nursing program there. So, now, our nursing students can get their ADN and their BSN concurrently. And not only that, we have a donor that has stepped up to partner with the foundation to make it available to those students in that dual program, be able to get a loan for that money because private institutions are more expensive than public institutions. And so, that's an additional cost that those students didn't plan on.


00:15:48 Bobbi

So, we have a donor that makes it possible for them to get a loan. It's a microlending program, we started it right here at the foundation. And we're already in a recycling phase where some of the students are already paying back their loans.


00:16:02 Bobbi

And one of the reasons they can go out and get a job right away and pay back that loan right away, is that they got that BSN. So, we are now the only institution in Los Angeles County, where you can start by getting your CNA, your certified nursing assistant certification all the way through to the BSN. So, you can have an entire academic career in nursing here at PCC.


00:16:30 Salvatrice

That's amazing. Why aren't we talking about it a lot? Like why isn't this on the news? Like what is, you know-


00:16:39 Bobbi

Well, one of the things that we're working on, is that very thing - getting that word out there. And one of the things that's helping us with that is that just last week, we had the groundbreaking for the new Serapian building here on the PCC campus. And that building, 10 years ago, was deemed seismically concerning. And so, we basically turned it into a storage area and all of those programs in that building had to go into what we call science village, which are modular units or move over to the Foothill campus.


00:17:10 Bobbi

Now, that we've done a groundbreaking, we expect in two years, that we will have those programs back under that one roof. And one of the things that the foundation is doing, is holding a targeted campaign between now and then to raise about $4 million for the fixture, furniture, and equipment that needs to go into that building that adds additional support as those programs move back in.


00:17:38 Bobbi

And the lead gift on that targeted campaign was the Keck Foundation who gave us $1 million. We were the very first community college to be supported by the Keck Foundation. And that was specifically for the biotech program.


00:17:54 Bobbi

So, of course, we get to call it the Keck Biotech Program now. We're very excited about that. So, over the next couple of years, we are going to be talking more and more about it because we're going to be putting our foundation board members to work, to talk about the needs of that new building and look for some community support for it.


00:18:14 Salvatrice

You and your team and your board, and everyone there truly sets the tone and the trends, because I think what sets foundations apart are foundations who are willing to do business outside of the normal, thinking creatively. I use the term, "We can't do business as usual anymore." And I see you doing that. I see you leading that in the foundation, and it brings a lot of joy and not only to me, but everyone around here on the campus.


00:18:43 Salvatrice

I was going to ask you a question actually about what trends you're seeing in this space, but Bobbi, you're the one setting the trends.


00:18:53 Bobbi

I read a quote once that said "The trouble with being on the cutting edge is that sometimes you fall in front of it." Sometimes, things are so innovative that ... the beginning of organization is chaos. And so, when you start a conversation and you try to pull in this partner or that partner, or this partner, they've never done anything like this before, they don't even know what they're supposed to be doing.


00:19:18 Bobbi

And it's very messy at the beginning, it's confusing. And until everyone can understand the vision of what you're trying to create and get so connected to the vision, that they understand how they, as a resource, can be used to build that impact - you can feel like you're circling for a while.


00:19:41 Bobbi

And so, for people who are trying those kind of innovative programs, I would just say, give yourself a while to circle because that's all going to be part of it.


00:19:50 Bobbi

But what I'm finding, as far as trends are concerned, is that foundations have got to be out there looking for strategic partnerships. Not only do we go to take our mission and our vision for our organization to individual donors, but we have to be leveraging because the donors, these days, aren't giving to just one institution. Most donors give to up to eight institutions.


00:20:18 Bobbi

And finding out where your donors are already connected, gives you a really good indication of who your strategic partners could be. And so, I would say to anyone out there saying, "How do we get started on that?" Find out what other organizations or donors are supporting.


00:20:37 Bobbi

This one particular donor that started this microlending program is the one who's also wanting to increase the size of the nursing program. And so, what did he do? He started supporting other organizations that he wants us to partner with. And he called us up and he said, "Okay, I've started giving to this organization." Well, that was the call for us that said, that's where we need to start our conversations for partnership.


00:21:04 Bobbi

And I think leveraging the ability to combine resources, serve a population that might engage people from one organization, people to another, you're going to find that there's crossover there. You just can't go it alone anymore. You're going to waste resources and you're going to be exhausted.


00:21:24 Salvatrice

And we're not even creating the impact that we have intentions to when we're exhausting, the same resources, be it funding, be it services, be it anything. Speaking of which, MacKenzie Scott.


00:21:39 Bobbi

Yes, there's a name that changed my life over the last year.


00:21:42 Salvatrice

Yeah, tell us about it. That was a beautiful surprise.


00:21:46 Bobbi

Yeah, I was actually on vacation. I'd gone back to Kansas City, which is where my stomping grounds are. And I was having brunch with a friend and saw that my boss, Dr. Endrijonas from PCC was calling me and I thought, "Hmm, she knows I'm on vacation, what could this be about?" And she said, "Bobbi, are you sitting down?" I said, "Yes." And then there was complete silence.


00:22:13 Bobbi

And finally, I said, " Are you okay?" I thought, what is she going to tell me? I've left town for vacation. What is happening back in Pasadena that is turning into an emergency?


00:22:24 Bobbi

And she said, "I just got off the phone with someone who wants to make an anonymous gift of 30 million." And I will tell you, we will have to bleep out the words that I said after that.


00:22:40 Bobbi

And so, I said to her, I said, "Well, can you tell me a little bit about this person?" I said, " Are they from Pasadena? Are they an alum of the college?" And she says, "Okay, I'm going to tell you, but you are under a cone of silence because there's a restriction that the donor only wanted people to know that were involved in the transaction itself." So, even our board of trustees at the college or the foundation board were to be only on a need-to-know basis.


00:23:11 Bobbi

So, they were very serious about not wanting the word out because the donor wanted the opportunity to make the announcement. And they said that would be within four months or sooner, they would let us know. So, we kept it very quiet.


00:23:25 Bobbi

And then one of the questions was, "Do you want this in pieces or do you want to be able to just to take $30 million?" And to take $30 million quietly is not the easiest trick. And so, we had to get the need-to-know board members aligned to open up the right accounts and all that kind of stuff.


00:23:45 Bobbi

And it just so happened that she did decide to make the announcement public a half hour before we were going into our foundation annual board meeting. I remember calling Erika on the phone saying "She just posted, so we can announce it to our board." And I will tell you, we were on Zoom at that point and all the faces just dropped. We have a recording.


00:24:09 Bobbi

The beauty of what Mackenzie Scott has done is that she's not only found organizations that need support, she has found organizations that she has researched that give other donors the confidence that that is an organization that they should support.


00:24:31 Bobbi

And so, she supported us, not only monetarily, but in her confidence in giving us those gifts, she has increased our value in our own community. And the gifts are coming in unrestricted to those organizations that she chose. And that is unheard of. Unrestricted money is the hardest money to raise. And we are just at the point where we have just given away some of our first grants.


00:25:00 Bobbi

Again, it was unrestricted, but we took our planning from Dr. Endrijonas, who decided that she wanted to treat the funding as if it were an endowment, meaning that we would invest the money and then only spend a payout rate that the foundation would come up with each year, which is what we do with all of our funds.


00:25:20 Bobbi

And so, what that does is puts off about a million dollars every year. And we just recently finished our grant process and we awarded about $950,000 to faculty staff around the college campus. And they have come up with all kinds of innovative programs.


00:25:43 Bobbi

And I just looked through the list before we started the podcast and they range anywhere from, to start a beekeeping club or incentives for a program where they're wanting to create a student equity plan to, I think the largest gift was $150 , 000. And that was for distance education initiatives, creating peer online course review. And it's just things that, that PCC could never have thought to be able to do without this funding.


00:26:15 Bobbi

So, the trend that she is setting, it's like an earthquake in the philanthropic world in the sense that the shift hopefully, is permanent and hopefully, other donors will start to give the same way. It makes for happy nonprofits, I will tell you that. This feels like we don't have to go out and raise money for each one of these individual projects. We can fund them all now. That makes a happy development officer.


00:26:45 Salvatrice

That's right, it does. It really kind of sets the model for future nonprofit work, perhaps, which kind of leads me to ask the question about how do you envision the future of nonprofits? Like what does that look like for you in this space, knowing what you've known, and what we've seen as shifts.


00:27:03 Salvatrice

That donation of MacKenzie Scott was a shift to operations, a shift to how we are valued and looked at in the community, how we support our programming, et cetera. What do you think the future of nonprofits look like


00:27:19 Bobbi

Over my career, which started in about 1987, donors were becoming a little more savvy. Back then, we were looking to things like Charity Navigator or GuideStar to tell us if this was a good nonprofit to support. So, as donors, you sort of didn't know. And then you heard these awful reports would come out periodically that this executive director had done some malfeasance with some funding or this nonprofit went bankrupt or whatever.


00:27:51 Bobbi

And so, it was a little risky to fund something that you didn't have a complete solid relationship with. And I've seen the pendulum swing from having to figure out who the good nonprofits are. And donors got very savvy and started doing that.


00:28:09 Bobbi

And then when they became savvy, they became very restrictive. "Okay, I'm only going to give to you and I'm only going to give for this purpose, and I'm only going to give this much. And you write as a grant. And if you have to spend a little bit more money in this area or that area, then you need to come back to me and ask for permission to make that shift."


00:28:28 Bobbi

And so, the relationship between the nonprofit and the donor was very tight, but it was also restrictive. It was sort of rule-following. It was transactional. What MacKenzie Scott is doing is she's trusting, she's putting the trust out there first. And even in the reporting that she's asking back for, it's a three-page report for the first three years of the grant. And then after that, there's no reporting even required.


00:29:00 Salvatrice



00:29:00 Bobbi

That's unheard of. She is truly setting a trend. So, it'll be very interesting to see if other philanthropic organizations pick up that trend and go with it. She's obviously set the stage. And right now, she's the lone player. It's a solo act. I don't know a lot of other philanthropists who are giving away funds at that level and doing it with such hands-off.


00:29:29 Bobbi

And to be chosen to be a recipient of that kind of trust and those kind of funds is really humbling. And it does make you want to work harder and not want to disappoint her because she changed everything.


00:29:46 Salvatrice

She certainly has. I think this is kind of like a nice segue into one of my final questions with you, is we talked a lot today about the trends and really examples of what economic and workforce and a foundation partnership can look like. And there's so much more to explore Bobbi.


00:30:05 Salvatrice

I mean, you and I sit hours, and we can go for hours on this topic. And what I love about it, is that you and I get to ideate, and then we actually get to do it, which is fun. And that's what keeps us engaged in our work.


00:30:15 Bobbi

But if there's one thing that you'd like our listener to know about this particular conversation, how it impacts their future, whether they're thinking about a career in nonprofit or whether they're a practitioner in the space, a thought leader in this space, a legislator in this space, what would be that one thing you'd like our listener to know?


00:30:40 Bobbi

I'm going to start with students who are listeners. And I'm going to say, do not let the fact that you don't have money in your pocket and you don't know how to pay your tuition or your college fees be the thing that stops you. Because I find myself telling students, if you are not getting a scholarship or getting financial aid to pay for your college, it's because you haven't talked with me yet.


00:31:07 Bobbi

Because I can guarantee you that there is funding out there to support you, and you do not have to worry about coming up with that funding. Between the financial aid that's available, the private donors who make it available, the grants that we get and share with our students, it's there. When it comes to the philanthropists or the partners, I would say the time for partnering with a community college has never been better.


00:31:36 Bobbi

Community colleges are the answer. They are the way that you are going to get your workforce. And either we're going to train them and we're going to send them to you, or you can call us and say, "We need you to train a workforce we already have, because we're retooling our shop, or we're going to a hybrid model and now, all of our accounting department needs all of their own computers and they need to know how to do this software."


00:32:05 Bobbi

Community colleges are there on both ends of that spectrum. We can help in the beginning, in the end, during the process, and we are nimble. We're nimble organizations that when we need a just-in-time training, that's exactly what we're for.


00:32:22 Bobbi

And so, when a CEO decides that it's time for them to take on a new innovative project, they need a trainer, or they need a workforce that's already been trained, coming to our Freeman Center and saying, "I need 15 people who know how to do this particular skill." That's what we're all about these days.


00:32:45 Bobbi

And it's a growing trend to become better and better and better at it. And you've given me a lot of accolades today, so let me turn them back on, Salvatrice. The Freeman Center for Career and Completion is a location on our PCC campus that other community colleges don't have.


00:33:02 Bobbi

There is a place where you can now show up if you're a graduate, if you're an employer, if you're a student to make the connection between where you are and the workforce and the organizations who need the workforce. And the Freeman Center is just the trifecta of where all of those different partners can get support. So, what you're doing on the PCC campus is also quite innovative.


00:33:31 Salvatrice

Thank you, I appreciate that. This has been so nice and refreshing and appreciate it very, very much. If our listener does want to connect with you, if there's employers, donors, anyone out there who would like to connect with you, what's the best place to connect with you.


00:33:47 Bobbi

They can reach us at or our website. We're on the And you can see some of the things that we're currently doing. You can also see when our scholarships come open. If you're a student and you want to apply for scholarships, that's a place you want to find that information.


00:34:07 Bobbi

And then we are actually located one block off the main campus. We're at the corner of Holliston and Green. We're on the second floor of the Child Development Center there. And our foundation staff is here to help.


00:34:24 Salvatrice

Such a pleasure. Thank you again.


00:34:26 Bobbi

Thank you for the invitation to be here and I'm thrilled to share what the foundation is.


00:34:33 Salvatrice

Thank you for listening to the Future of Work Podcast. Make sure you're subscribed on your favorite listening platform so you can easily get new episodes every Tuesday.


00:34:42 Salvatrice

You can reach out to us by clicking on the website link below in the show notes to collaborate, partner, or just chat about all things future of work. We'd love to connect with you.


00:34:42 Salvatrice

All of us here at the Future of Work and Pasadena City College wish you safety and wellness.