On Growing the Future

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On Growing the Future

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An hour before school begins, Mr. Chris Ritten enters the building and makes the trek to the fourth floor of the priory. As Vice President of Institutional Advancement, he passes the offices of his team, made up of ten others, all working on the fourth floor.

After grabbing a cup of coffee, Ritten stands behind his desk; he opted for a standing desk, which is better for the back. He responds to some emails, and then checks his calendar which outlines all the meetings he has for the day.

It’s November 15th, National Philanthropy Day, but for Ritten it is no holiday. The development team decided upon that day for Fenwick’s annual Thankathon, a day showing gratitude towards those who have donated to keep the school running.

By 7:30, Ritten has climbed down to the atrium, where he gathers students as they walk in. “Have you signed a postcard yet?” he calls to a student trying to walk by without joining the group of students giving thanks to donors. It’s important to show gratitude to those who graciously donate towards the community, but for Ritten, it’s necessary. It’s a large part of his job.

Ritten describes that his team works in four areas: accumulating money for development, maintaining relationships with alumni, marketing to increase the number of students, and planning ceremonies. Therefore, the Thankathon is one of the busiest days for the fourth floor.

In the time between Thankathon commitments, Ritten continues his daily job of staying in touch with over 140 alumni. With the end of the year approaching, Ritten calls a half dozen updating them with the current statistics, and encouraging them to donate to the cause of Fenwick, as it is in great shape.

On less busy days, Ritten would spend more time focusing on the big picture of the future of the school. He identifies local prospects to expand Fenwick’s physical size.

When he was interviewed for the position three years ago, Ritten was told that the position had to “be more visible, more about fundraising, and more about leading the fourth floor.” He manages the fourth floor quite well; last year they collected $660,000 for the school.
As the fourth floor of the priory does not usually have a lot of foot traffic for students, Ritten makes his position more visible by greeting students as they enter on most Monday mornings. He holds the door open for all students, encouraging them to get through the week, and starting their day with a warm smile. As a father of five, Ritten knows the pressure students go through each day, and makes an effort to make their mornings less of a burden.

Though Ritten spends most of his time on the move, in between classes or even across the country to hold events or visit his children in college, he is constantly energized. He speaks to others with care and enthusiasm, even after a long day’s work.

Back in his office, as the Thankathon ends, Ritten reflects on the virtue of gratitude. “I can’t tell you how often I get ‘thank you’s,” he said, describing those who donate to the school, “when I should be the one thanking them!” He describes how a little gratitude can go a long way, and how over the past few years he’s noticed how much people love to hear “thank you.”

A few hours after school has ended, Ritten walks past the offices of his team, and heads back home to his family.

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