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An Indelible Mark
This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
When Bill Torrey first stepped on Bentley’s campus, the last thing on his mind was becoming a vice president for University Advancement — again. He had just completed more than 20 years in the same role at Bowdoin College in Maine. Plus, he wasn’t sure if he could do in Waltham what he had done in Brunswick.
“The culture of philanthropy at Bowdoin was decades-old and needed awakening,” he says. “At Bentley, the story still needed to be told.”
Six years later, the story of philanthropy at Bentley is one of a community united in spirit and giving, turning out in record numbers and led by a deeply committed vice president who is (semi) retiring.
THE STORY SO FAR
The first chapter in Bentley’s history of giving involved a small number of dedicated donors who quietly helped the school become the college become the university. The group grew considerably once Torrey and the development team began reminding more alumni of how much the school has shaped their lives and careers.
The experienced advancement professionals whom Torrey recruited have done more than raise money. They created a robust reunion program and a thriving student giving program, supported the new Global Alumni Board and, most recently, completed a yearlong centennial celebration in which more than 6,000 community members participated.
“We host more events in more places than ever before and are engaging more people with each one. We have greatly expanded our one-on-one visits with alumni and friends. Giving has increased at all levels,” he says. “We continually remind alumni of Bentley’s successes — its rise in national rankings, student achievement, service-learning, innovative teaching and research. It all increases the value of their degree and encourages them to remain active in the Bentley family.”
This has been a big year for instilling — and quite literally installing — pride on campus. The new falcon statue and Great Benefactors tribute, located behind the library, represent an expanding culture of alumni engagement and support. The statue was an instant hit on campus; alumni posed with it all Reunion Weekend long. As for the Great Benefactors tribute, Torrey counts it as a particularly important project that was a long time coming.
"I was taught early on that people don’t give until they hurt; they give until they feel good."Bill Torrey
The Great Benefactors are a group of donors whose lifetime giving to Bentley totals more than $1 million. Torrey spearheaded the tribute to celebrate the collective generosity of the community and inspire others to join their ranks.
“Students and faculty will walk by this tribute every day and be reminded that there are people who have done something long-term for this place,” he says. “The best part is that the tribute looks like it’s always been there, just as these donors have always been there for Bentley. Not everyone can give a million dollars to Bentley, of course, but the wall is a visible and permanent reminder to everyone that philanthropy matters here.”
FROM B TO SHINING B
Like many advancement professionals, Torrey fell into fundraising. While earning his master’s degree at Bucknell University, he spent two years as a resident director in a freshman men’s dorm (“I quickly reconsidered!”) before finding his way to an internship in the development office in 1977.
Fundraising, he says, came naturally because he believed in the mission of the institution.
“If you don’t have that passion, people see through it,” says Torrey, whose passion for education springs from the connection between students, faculty and staff; the devotion of alumni to the school; and the high level of achievement among the students that Bucknell, Bowdoin and Bentley prepare to go out into the world.
Still, after graduating from Bucknell, Torrey took a break from fundraising — a five-year ice cream break. He started a gelato business in Philadelphia and built a small ice cream plant in New Jersey. His favorite flavor? Brandy Alexander (inspired by the classic cocktail of the same name).
“Owning my business,” he says, “I learned a lot about life” — and his life’s calling. At 37, Torrey dove back into fundraising as the vice president for University Advancement at Bowdoin.
“I was young,” he says, crediting then-president Bob Edwards for mentoring him as a leader and advocate for higher education. Torrey has gone on to do the same for many colleagues.
His tireless work with President Gloria Cordes Larson and the Board of Trustees lays a foundation for enduring success. Maureen Flores, whom Torrey hired in 2014, will succeed him as vice president.
“She’s a leader, a team builder and an excellent fundraiser who will guide a smooth transition,” he says. “Bentley is fortunate to have her in this role.”
Listening. Building the best team. Working in concert with the board and president. Understanding the institution and talking about it in a straight-forward, passionate way. Looking back, Torrey says there is no great secret to his success beyond common best practices. What’s special is what people can do together.
When Torrey took over Bowdoin’s fundraising program, the college was raising $9 million a year; when he left, the total stood at more than $60 million.
“You don’t do that by yourself,” he says. “You recruit good development people, build morale and establish that culture of philanthropy.
“Coming to Bentley, I felt a great sense of responsibility to the president and the board, and had a lot of determination. Our team has accomplished a lot in six years, and I’m happy to be stepping down knowing Bentley is poised to seek, and receive, the support it deserves.”
And while the ways that donors give constantly shift — crowd funding and mobile giving are the latest trends — their reasons stay the same.
“It’s about relationships and establishing trust in people and an organization,” says Torrey. “I was taught early on that people don’t give until they hurt; they give until they feel good. And I’m proud to say that I’ve spent my professional life helping them realize their potential.”
U.S. News & World Report ranked Bentley No. 2 among regional universities in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, up from No. 3 last year, highlighting Bentley’s high-quality faculty and academic programs along with the strong value that students receive from a Bentley education.