Q&A with sgLEADERS: Tim Snyder, Wake Forest University

The “Q&A with sgLEADERS” series on sgENGAGE aims to provide readers, including the next generation of social good leaders, with valuable insights from executives across the social good community.

Today’s Q&A is with Tim Snyder, associate vice president, Alumni and Donor Services at Wake Forest University. In his role, Tim is responsible for the overall management of Alumni Services, the Wake Forest Fund, and Donor Services and Advancement Services at the university.

Q: What led you to working in higher education?

A:  What “led” me to working in higher education and “why” I’ve remained in the field have two different answers.  My initial foray into higher education was driven by necessity.  I ran out of money in the spring semester of my senior year of college.  I elected to take a job with my alma mater for two years to complete my degree and recoup my finances before heading off to graduate school.  At this point, I’ve just begun my 17th two year commitment.  My how time flies!

I’ve stuck with higher education for reasons both intellectual and philosophical.  I am deeply blessed to come to work every day believing, at a deep level, that I am contributing to the lives of others.  While I may not possess the intellectual wherewithal to solve homelessness, food insecurity or a host of other chronic societal problems, I have great faith that someone out there will have that ability.  If, through my effort to secure funding for these young minds and the brilliant folks who challenge them to grow both intellectually and in their sense of civic responsibility, then my work has deeper meaning.  That is satisfying to me.  I’ve also been struck that periodically I’ve been blessed to have a new challenge in our industry and blessed that I’ve been given the freedom to both identify and address those challenges as they have been identified.  This helps satiate my intellectual drive.

Q: What do people think you do during a typical day… and what do you actually do in a typical day?

A:  People are generally confused by my title and responsibilities.  Some think of me as a technologist, some a fundraiser, some an accountant and still others as an Alumni relations professional or stewardship professional.  The truth is that my job requires a little bit of all of that and more.  I am surrounded by highly talented folks who lead each of the areas for which I have general responsibility.  Much of my day is spent helping set the direction for each of their teams and inspiring them to both dream big and to realize those dreams.  When impediments, or “walls”, are identified, I help my team figure out how to scale the wall, go around it, go through it or, at least, how to decorate it.

I think of myself as a fundraiser who specializes in leadership, technology, process and procedure.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of as Associate VP and Director, Alumni and Donor Services at Wake Forest University?

A:  While there are many projects over the years in which I take pride, the most significant recent accomplishment is in achieving a remarkable goal.  Back in the fall, my teammates and I eclipsed our campaign goal securing in excess of a billion dollars in support of the students and faculty at Wake Forest.  With an alumni base of around 70,000, this is no small feat and to pass that historic milestone nine months early and without any denouement in sight is a real source of pride both for me personally, for my teammates and for our entire constituency.

Q: What role does technology play in your institution, and how do you see it continuing to have an impact in the future?

A:  Technology is a catalyst for us.  Often innovation in our Advancement efforts are either driven by technology or enabled by technology.  I regularly remind my staff that failure, in our organization, is not the cardinal sin.  The cardinal sin is failure to innovate.  If we are not pushing ourselves to reimagine “what we do” and “how we do it” constantly, even to the point of failure, then we are doing a disservice to Wake Forest.  In the last 30 years, technology has been an integral part of that innovation and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that has guided the way you lead?

A:  As you can tell, I’m not prone to “sound bites” but there are a few principles that I find important.  First, wherever you are, be there.  Being fully present whether at work, at home, in service to others, etc. is the first most important step.  Nothing has emphasized the vital importance of this rule during my time on this planet more than the ubiquitous cell phone.  It is arguably the most invasive technology we have imagined in centuries.  And, it poses the biggest risk to being present in the moment.  We simply must be intentional about how we use these devices and the danger they present to the living fully in the present.  As such I have established an agreement with my team members about how I will communicate with them and the expectation that I have relative to each medium.  That is to say that if I email them, I expect them to address that matter when they have reasonable time to do so.  If I text them, that should suggest to them a heightened level of urgency for their response.  Knowing my expectation frees them to be present wherever they happen to be when I reach out and to know when I need them to stop what they are doing for a moment and refocus on my request of them.

Secondly, I ask my staff to be extraordinary.  We are all uniquely gifted.  Part of our responsibility as employees is to figure out how to use our giftedness in service to our institutions.  If we can figure that out, then we are far more likely to do our very best work.  If you can figure out how to be paid for work that you would otherwise do for free, then work won’t feel like work at all and there is a chance that you will be extraordinary at what you are doing.

Lastly, I try to create an environment that I would want to work in.  In my opinion “How” we do what we do is every bit as important to overall success as “What” we do.  My team has adopted core values that include, among others, taking personal responsibility for shortcomings and sharing our successes with others, a commitment to both excellence and to humility, and the importance of honor and kindness in the workplace.  I want to work in an environment that emphasizes these things and I assume that others will as well.

Q: What are you reading right now and/or what podcast are you listening to?

A:  Blisters and Blessings. One of my sisters and my father, who will turn 90 years old in the spring, got together to record his life story.  While this is probably not the kind of response that is helpful in a work context, and not what you were likely looking to hear, the compilation of Dad’s life experiences and philosophies was a remarkable gift to me, my siblings and our children.  I would strongly encourage all of us to consider what we would record about our lives and why we lived as we did.  I can think of no greater gift we can offer to those who will follow behind us.

More about Tim:

Tim Snyder, Associate Vice-President, Alumni and Donor Services, is a 1988 graduate of Wake Forest University with degrees in Anthropology and Physics.

During his thirty years with Wake Forest, Tim has held a wide variety of positions associated with the Advancement office, including programmer analyst, fundraiser, alumni programs officer and advancement services professional. In his current role, Tim has management responsibility for the technologies group, the alumni records group, advancement systems and reporting, prospect management, prospect research, analytics, annual giving, the reunions program and the donor experience team. Tim’s wide-ranging variety of experience gives him a unique perspective on providing reliable and innovative services for Wake Forest Alumni and the campus community.

Tim is a nationally recognized thought leader in the use of technology in advancement. He is a regular presenter for CASE, APRA, CAPRA, Sungard and various unaffiliated consortia. Tim has formerly served on the Sungard Corporation’s Performance Management consortia and their product advisory committee.He currently serves on Blackbaud CRM’s Product Advisory Group as well as Blackbaud’s Higher Education Executive Advisory Board.

Tim’s volunteer service includes the Boy Scouts of America, Samaritan Ministries, and Mt. Tabor UnitedMethodist Church. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors for Minds Renewed: Consortium for a Christlike Response to Mental Health.

Tim is a devoted husband and father of one, a mediocre guitarist and an avid fly fisherman.