By Jordan Heath-Rawlings
Ryerson’s chief fundraiser announced his resignation last week, and experts in the field are already saying that the university will have a hard time finding a replacement with the same credibility and imagination as Gordon Cressy.
“He is not a fundraiser,” said Charles Pascal, head of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation. “He is in the business of imagination. People like that don’t grow on trees.”
Cressy, who solicits donors for Ryerson’s SuperBuild campaign among other duties, was offered a position as head of a philanthropy program for a private sector company. He said it was an opportunity he could not turn down.
“For twenty years I’ve been asking for money,” he said. “Now I get to give it away within a framework of community building and that is a wonderful opportunity.”
Although Cressy cannot name the company until it officially announces his hiring later this week, he did say that he was introduced to them through his fundraising work at Ryerson.
“They are friends of Ryerson,” he said of the company, “and they are supporters of Ryerson.”
If Ryerson can’t find a suitable replacement, Cressy’s Dec. 31 departure will leave a gaping hole in Ryerson’s university advancement office. The announcement comes at a time when the university can’t afford more delays in raising the $24 million the SuperBuild fund still requires in order to build the Centre for Computing and Engineering.
“On that level it would be nice if this opportunity came two years from now,” Cressy said. “But it won’t be here two years from now.”
Stephen Liss, an associate dean of engineering who is on the building committee agreed that it would have been nice if Cressy could see his campaign through to completion.
“I’d have liked to see Gordon stay through the public phase of the campaign and see the fruition of his labours,” he said. “Now there’s a loss. There’s definitely a gap there.
“But I believe the fundraising campaign will move forward without missing a beat.”
Imaginative fundraising has been Cressy’s trademark throughout his career, from his work as President of the United Way in the early 1980’s to leading the University of Toronto’s Breakthrough Campaign to more than $125 million in donations in the 1990’s.
Pascal, who has known Cressy for 25 years, said that Ryerson will have problems finding a replacement with his experience and ideas.
“Gordon [Cressy] is a wonderfully imaginative individual … He understands that ideas attract capital.”
Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse said that although Cressy’s ideas and reputation will be missed, the university won’t hesitate in filling his post.
“It’ll be a difficult job to find someone to take on such an important responsibility,” he said. “But Ryerson has a lot to offer and I’m fully confident that we will act rapidly and appoint someone.”
Pascal said that although Ryerson will have replacements lining up for such a high-profile post, they can’t afford to act as rapidly as Lajeunesse may desire.
“They can’t let the passage of time push them into making a mistake,” he said, adding that Ryerson’s fundraising timeline may have to change because of Cressy’s departure.
“They will need somebody who is not a pure money person. Someone who is willing to be an anthropologist for six months and learn who the idea people are at Ryerson and what the community is like and how to sell that.”
Cressy, however, believes that the fundraising campaign will not suffer because of his absence.
“I’ve always felt that leadership means that a place runs better after you’ve left,” he said. “I hope that will occur here. Ryerson has a wonderful soul to it.”
But Jon Dellandrea, vice-[resident and chief of advancement at the University of Toronto, said that it will be hard for Ryerson to make a smooth transition from Cressy to his successor.
“One of Gordon Cressy’s real abilities is to connect an institution with its community,” he said. “That’s a real asset to Ryerson that will be difficult to replace.”
Dellandrea pointed out that there are several universities in Canada seeking to fill positions similar to Cressy’s, so finding a competent successor right away will be difficult.
“There’s a real shortage of top-level advancement staff in this country,” he said. “People in these jobs become, along with the president, the face and voice of the university … It’s a major issue [to replace one of them].”
This year, Cressy is the second highest-paid official at Ryerson. His salary clears $200,000, and he is ranked behind only president Claude Lajeunesse.
Lajeunesse said that possible replacements for Cressy will flock to Ryerson, driven by the unique opportunity the growing university offers.
“I always have confidence that Ryerson can do anything it wants,” he said.