Vice President Marcia Craner steps downTweet
Thirty years is a long time to stay at one place, especially when one’s original intent was to work for a few years before moving on to another institution. But careers don’t always play out the way they’re expected to, as Marcia Craner discovered.
When Craner came to Binghamton University in 1983, she was director of alumni and parent relations. At the end of this month, she will step down from the position she has held for the past 7 years – vice president for external affairs and executive director of the Binghamton University Foundation. After a six-month sabbatical, she will return to the College of Community and Public Affairs to begin teaching about what she knows best – philanthropy.
Craner is the face of the University for many, in particular alumni. “We’ve grown up together and I’ve become for them a friend, a confidant and a go-to person at the University,” said Craner. “That’s a theme I keep hearing as I say goodbye – ‘What am I going to do without you? You’re the one I call.’
“They share with me their hopes, dreams and occasionally their disappointments,” she said. “I’m a problem solver and able to fix or at least articulate for them the challenges the University has had.”
Helping alumni understand the changing nature of funding public higher education has been one of those challenges. “That the support we get from the state of New York has declined from a high of about 57 percent to less than half of that surprises them,” Craner said. “Even educating people about philanthropy is a constant need: What does it mean? Why should I give? What should I give to? What is the impact?”
Some institutions – mostly private – already have a culture of philanthropy where money can seem to roll in over the transom, but as a product of public education herself, Craner said she values the public higher education realm where it’s often harder to move private giving forward. “I’m most proud of getting people to understand our needs and it’s a joy to me to watch them feel comfortable and enjoy their giving,” she said. “Once they understand, it becomes almost a gift to them and the University and it becomes a symbiotic relationship.”
For Craner, the relationships have defined her time at Binghamton, not the numbers. Though the University surpassed the $102 million mark during its second comprehensive gifts campaign under her leadership, she has valued most the quality of the institution and the people she has worked with on its behalf. Craner and the University’s community of professionals and volunteers have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, engaged thousands of alumni in the life of the University and created award-winning communications and marketing programs.
“It’s a community and I’ve been fortunate to be able to lead and be a part of it,” she said. “I’ve tried to elevate it, as well. All boats rise together when the tide comes in, so we all have to be in balance. Development is a big part of the whole, but the divisional partners of communications and marketing and alumni relations complete the picture. ”
A lot has changed over the course of Craner’s time at Binghamton, including what she terms a generational shift in the perception graduates have about the University. When she arrived at Binghamton to work in the alumni office, people “almost used to apologize for going to Binghamton,” she said. “I don’t hear that anymore, and I even hear older alumni saying they were deeply touched by the quality of the education they received here and that they were far more prepared for graduate school than lot of classmates from schools they had once envied.
“People are coming of age and taking stock and seeing how Binghamton fits into that. If we go back to the Harpur generation, I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of them from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and they care about the faculty and education they received. That pride is very much a part of who they are,” she said.
When reviewing the evolution of development initiatives at Binghamton, Craner’s appreciation of the process is clear. “The people, the quality, the innovation, the ability to be able to create and work with colleagues to make new programs happen − you can make an impact here,” she said. “Development opportunities at other schools can often pigeonhole a person. Here, I got to do everything, which could be overwhelming, but also allowed a sense of creativity, expression and synergy. That’s why I stayed here.”
Not all gifts to Binghamton University can be termed transformational, but they all resonate with Craner, no matter the size. “It’s wonderful to have these large transformational gifts and we need to do more in that area, but I’m just as honored at donors who give at their fullest capacity,” she said. “I recently met with a single mother who never went to college but had two daughters attend here and she’s thinking about endowing a scholarship. That brings as much joy, satisfaction and excitement as a $1 million gift and I honor that and respect that and steward it.”
Volunteer activities are equally as important as monetary gifts in Craner’s eyes. From the alumni chapters developed across the country and around the world to admissions volunteers and graduates who help students with internships and career development, people still want to connect with people and they all help tell Binghamton’s story, she said.
With the many masters she has had over the years – including many external constituencies that must be considered when decisions are being made, she considers herself their external voice.“A big part of my role has been explaining the depth and complexity of the University and the division and how we all have to remain interconnected.”
Looking to the future, Craner will create a curriculum for teaching about philanthropy and non-profits from a practitioner’s point of view. “The fundraising business has changed so much in last 30 years. There is an art and a science to it and I want to bring that knowledge to our students,” she said. “Fundraising can be a lifelong profession or it can be an avocation. The science of it can be taught, the art of it has to be learned by the individual.
“I’ve had mentors and learned on the job and would like to help another generation learn in a professionalized manner,” she added. “I think CCPA attracts a diverse group of students and I’m looking forward to developing a whole new set of relationships and nurturing them.
“It’s been an honor and humbling that so many people have shared their personal stories with me. That’s what I’ll think about when I leave this position,” she said. “I’ve been deeply touched and honored that they would share their lives and love of Binghamton University with me.”