Tamara Michel Josserand, Vice President for Advancement at the University of Redlands, spoke to Laura Gallardo ’03 and Mika Elizabeth Ono of the Bulldog Blog about the role of philanthropy in her life, the special qualities of the Redlands community, and all she is grateful for this Thanksgiving season.
Bulldog Blog: When you first came to the University of Redlands in October 2018, you shared with guests at the Celebrating Endowment Luncheon how you had the chance to meet your own scholarship donor when you were a student. Tell us about that experience and how philanthropy has shaped your own life.
Tamara Michel Josserand: Philanthropy has impacted me in so many ways, both personally and professionally. I completed my undergraduate degree at Connecticut College, a liberal arts institution. There, I had the experience of meeting the donor who made my scholarship possible. While her generous resources afforded me the opportunity to have a great education, her empathy, compassion, and time were just as beneficial. I was just 18 years old, and she gently inspired confidence in me as the first “grown-up” aside from my parents who believed I could do things I never thought I could do. I am grateful to her to this day. I see this type of interaction between donor and scholarship recipient happen all the time at the U of R. It’s very rewarding to be part of. That connection means a great deal to both our donors and our students.
BB: You have served at several higher education institutions of different types and sizes. In your assessment, what makes Redlands distinct?
Josserand: The warmth of the University of Redlands community is really remarkable. As someone who grew up and worked in big cities, I was pleasantly surprised at how many people went out of their way to welcome me, say “hello,” and ask how they could help. When I traveled around the country to meet alumni and friends, they exhibited this same warmth. Many of our donors value their own Redlands experience so much they want to ensure other Bulldogs have it, too, or want to help in other ways, like connecting our students with internships and other professional development opportunities.
BB: As a result of the pandemic, the recession, and the collective social unrest we have experienced in our country this year, institutions of higher education are reporting fundraising is more difficult than ever, while the need for additional resources has never been greater. Describe how this feels at Redlands, and why donor support is so meaningful for a small, private institution like Redlands.
Josserand: Small private institutions always have a tougher time because of their stronger reliance on tuition revenues. We see this reality in today’s environment, where some smaller, less well-endowed schools have been devastated by the pandemic. Having worked at larger institutions, I can say that a gift to Redlands goes farther and is more transformational for students—a little bit goes a long way! We see these results and impact of philanthropy very clearly, very quickly. Donor gifts have a huge impact in what we do. We also see the impact of U of R alumni and friends volunteering their time, whether as trustees, Alumni Association or Town & Gown Board members, or hosts or speakers for an alumni event or initiative.
BB: What is the status of the Forever Yours campaign? How has the Advancement team responded to the current challenges?
Josserand: When I came to Redlands, the campaign had raised $151 million in gifts and pledges. Today, we are 93% to our goal of $200 million, having just surpassed $186.7 million. This is simply amazing given the circumstances, and I am extremely proud of our Advancement team members, who have had to pivot and transition in so many ways. Everyone has taken on additional responsibilities, and we continue to engage alumni and friends in new ways—such as Giving Week, which raised more than $280,000 for our University’s greatest needs. I have no doubt we will reach our campaign goal next year.
When the pandemic started, a former trustee reached out to me. We had a long and candid conversation, and, at the end, he expressed his belief the University would still be standing strong 100 years from now. He and his wife also made a lead matching gift for Giving Week, in addition to their previous leadership support. That conversation really struck me, and was emblematic of my experience with our alumni and friends—that is what I hold onto and what keeps me going.
BB: What has kept you working in the field of advancement, and what is the most important thing you have learned over the years?
Josserand: I have always been an eternal optimist, and in this field I am privy to seeing people at their very best, when their generosity transforms communities and shapes the world for the better. I love being a part of that. Most of the major gifts I have helped to secure have involved donors who want to share a piece of themselves and their story. Being able to help make that happen is part of what keeps me going.
A big lesson that I've learned over the years is that the time I spend with people getting to know them is always worthwhile. Everyone at Redlands helps bring in a gift—everyone who conveys a message of friendliness, professionalism, and passion for our University contributes to donor support. Also, our donors want to know what is happening on campus and how our students are doing, so positive stories of interesting programs or activities help bring Redlands to life for our alumni and friends, especially those far from campus. And that impacts our fundraising and the gifts that we bring in.
BB: How has your perspective as a Black woman influenced your approach to your job?
Josserand: On a personal level, I feel my background—I grew up in Haiti—and range of experiences helps me be emphatic to different voices. I feel it is a part of my role to help lift up those voices, hear their stories, and understand why something is important to someone else. Listening and paying attention are essential parts of a successful collaboration. That idea was just reinforced in the University’s School of Education, where I am pursuing a doctorate in education leadership.
At the U of R, our fundraising work and the University’s financial aid policies have long promoted diversity and inclusion through increasing access to those who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford it, often first-generation college-bound students and others from underrepresented groups. Summer Bridge, our highly successful first-generation student onboarding program, is funded through private philanthropy, for example. And, as we become more socially conscious as a nation, we will likely begin to see more funds specifically dedicated to diversity and inclusion like the one we created at Redlands.
BB: Given the upcoming Thanksgiving season, for what are you most thankful in your life and why?
Josserand: I am thankful for my husband, Randel; our boys, Zach and Brent, whom we miss terribly; and my sisters and my brother. I am thankful for a career and a job I love, because I feel I make a contribution every day. I am thankful for a committed team of people who are very hard-working and also want to make a difference. I am thankful to be part of this community, which is so friendly and engaged, and for how those in the broader community are involved in the University. Most of all, I am humbled and thankful I have so much to be thankful for, especially in light of all that is happening in the world!