WASHINGTON SPIRIT — Winter 2004
   

 
David Blasingame, A.B. '69, M.B.A. '71, Executive Vice Chancellor for Alumni and Development Programs

Following His Heart and Building a Winning Team

by Steve Givens

Executive Vice Chancellor David T. Blasingame, A.B. '69, M.B.A. '71, who recently led the hugely successful $1.5 billion Campaign for Washington University, got his start in fundraising at an early age. When he was just 7, he received his first "matching gift challenge."

"My mother worked for an insurance company, and it was there that I met a man who was the 'Dale Carnegie of Arkansas,'" says Blasingame, 57, an Arkansas native. "He pulled me aside at a company picnic and told me that if I could earn a hundred dollars he would give me a hundred silver dollars. So I talked the town newspaper into giving me a paper route and earned enough to meet his challenge."

For those who know David Blasingame and his drive, this story is an excellent preface to a career spent advancing Washington University through his efforts to raise resources from alumni, foundations, corporations, and other donors.

Blasingame, who was only 2 when his father died, was the first in his family to attend college. It was his mother, who worked as a secretary, who always made sure he was motivated to continue his education. Though he aspired as a young man to a career in baseball—and though he earned an all-state honorable mention from the Babe Ruth League—his sports career was cut short at age 14 when his mother encouraged him to work summers to earn money for college.

"She always set that out as a dream," Blasingame says. "Financial resources were not something that we had, and that's where the scholarship from Washington University was so important."

He arrived on campus in 1965 on a full scholarship. Although he hadn't played organized baseball for several years, he was talented enough to play several seasons for the Bears. He majored in psychology and went on to earn an M.B.A. from the business school. He participated in a two-year advanced ROTC program as a graduate student and after graduation moved to Washington, D.C., to become part of the U.S. Postal Service's "management team of the future." Shortly after, he got called into the U.S. Army and served two years as a financial counseling officer. He returned briefly to the Post Office after his Army stint but quickly knew it was time for a change.

"I sat down to decide what I wanted to do with my life, and, since Washington University had been so important to me, I just decided that I wanted to work here," says Blasingame, who recently received the Dean's Medal from Arts & Sciences for his three decades of support and dedication to Arts & Sciences.

Although he had never heard of "development," in 1974 he took a position as assistant director for alumni relations. "I actually turned down the job at first because I didn't think that I would be any good at it, but then I decided to give it a try for a couple of years," he says. "Now it's going on 31."

Blasingame moved to the business school in 1976 to become its first full-time director of development. He was named associate vice chancellor for alumni and development programs in 1985, vice chancellor in 1990, and executive vice chancellor this past summer. Today, about 160 alumni and development professionals work under the umbrella of his management. His leadership style, he says, is all about understanding institutional needs, setting goals, and building a great team to get the job done.

"I have prided myself on understanding what Bill Danforth and Mark Wrighton were trying to achieve," he says, "and I developed our plans and our team to achieve those goals. I'm a firm believer that you have to surround yourself with great people."

"David Blasingame has been the most effective Campaign leader imaginable! He has worked with great dedication and creativity for the University," says Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.

"David has helped build a grand coalition of alumni, parents, friends, staff, and faculty," says Jim Thompson, associate vice chancellor of development. "We benefit from this tremendous team every day, and I can't imagine a better role model for our staff in terms of commitment, hard work, intelligent analysis, creativity, and institutional loyalty."

If there was ever a challenge and a goal for Blasingame and his team, it was the recently completed $1.5 billion Campaign for Washington University. Just in case $1.5 billion is too big a number to comprehend, consider this: To meet the goal, they needed to raise $14.7 million per month. That's nearly $4 million each week.

Despite confidence in his planning and team, Blasingame admits he had periodic moments of doubt.

"You want to stretch yourself, but you also want to set a goal you can achieve," says Blasingame, who enjoyed coordinating the establishment of the Danforth Scholars Program and co-chairing Mark Wrighton's inauguration. "We knew from the beginning that we really needed $1.5 billion to meet the needs of the long-range strategic plan, but there was no way to realistically project that it could be done."

Doubts about the goal may have existed, but there were never any doubts that the right man was at the helm of the Campaign, say two University leaders.

"David has been the 'Energizer Bunny' behind the Campaign," says John F. McDonnell, chair of the silent phase of the Campaign, past chairman of the Board of Trustees, and current Board vice chair. "Not only has he played a major role in working with potential donors to shape an appropriate project worthy of their contribution, he has played a huge behind-the-scenes role in keeping everyone—the Campaign leadership, the volunteers, and the staff—coordinated and informed. I do not see how the Campaign could have been so successful without David's prodigious energy and talent."

"David Blasingame has been the most effective Campaign leader imaginable! He has worked with great dedication and creativity for the University," says Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. "The many successes that have been realized in the Campaign are a consequence of both excellent planning and outstanding execution. Perhaps most remarkable is David's insight into the most important programs needing support and being able to guide both donors and the staff to achieve the University's potential. He has been able to inspire everyone, and it has been a personal pleasure to have had the opportunity to learn from him and to receive the benefits of his extraordinary contribution to the advance of the University."

At the end of the day, Blasingame says he is just happy to have a job that he loves and where he can contribute to something important.

"This is where my heart is," says Blasingame, who enjoys spending his free time with his godchildren, Anna and David Goss, and their mother, Connie, as well as visiting Tennessee to see his son, Josh, A.B. '92, Josh's wife, Mitchell, and Blasingame's only grandchild, Jackson. "I can't imagine loving another place as much as I have loved Washington University."

Steve Givens is the assistant to the chancellor.