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2020 Wonderful Workplaces Winner: WMU Foundation

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A Workplace Where the First Three Letters of the Profession Are FUN!

FIRST & 42 is celebrating another 2020 Wonderful Workplace winner: the WMU Foundation. The team at WMU Foundation joins 14 other regional companies receiving the honor for their outstanding workplace culture and care for employees. As a 40-member team, the WMU Foundation strives to deepen the connection between the university and Western Michigan University (WMU) alumni, friends, and donors. The team does this by highlighting its successes and the successes of WMU students and alumni, creating opportunities for its alumni and friends to interact with the university and fellow Broncos, and raising funds that support student scholarships, programs, research, and state-of-the-art learning facilities.

“Working at the WMU Foundation, you are more than an employee. You are a member of the extended Bronco family of more than 250,000 alumni,” said Kristen R. DeVries, executive director of the WMU Foundation. “Broncos are known for their grit, their hard work, and their very big hearts! It is humbling to be surrounded by these people every day, whether in person or virtually around the world. I am proud to represent the team who shows daily what’s best about being a Bronco!” Read on to learn more from Renee Pearl, assistant vice president for engagement at WMU Foundation, about what makes the WMU Foundation stand out as a Wonderful Workplace.

What was the WMU Foundation’s biggest achievement during 2020?

The biggest accomplishment we witnessed in 2020 was not ours but was that of the Bronco community. Despite the uncertainty out in the world, more alumni engaged with each other—supporting one another on social media, in the Alumni Book Club, and through “Campus Chats.” And more alumni made gifts to support students, ensuring that students facing their own uncertainty were able to continue pursuing their dreams at WMU.

What is unique about workplace culture at the WMU Foundation?

Our team bleeds brown and gold. We love WMU! Our donors and alumni are not treated as customers, but as partners and friends. We build meaningful internal and external relationships, cemented in integrity and trust. We have developed a camaraderie within the office where members of various teams are willing to jump in and help each other. We are all committed to the success of the other members of our team. For example, IT pitches in to make sure marketing is successful, marketing elevates the efforts of alumni and donor relations, who, in turn, make the connections that make fundraising efforts successful.

Why do you love going to work each day?

We get to work at Heritage Hall with the best view of downtown Kalamazoo. We get to hear stories and share memories with alumni and create opportunities for Broncos to connect with each other and the campus community. We get to work with donors who want to make a difference for students, WMU, and the region. We change lives. The icing on the cake? We get to do this work with people we really like.

How do leaders at the WMU Foundation build engagement within their teams?

Our leaders host regular weekly meetings where we not only discuss current projects but take time for each team member to talk about their lives and passions. As an office, we celebrate work anniversaries and birthdays of teammates and welcome new members of the “family.” Our leaders are positive, helpful mentors who are eager to help others advance by sharing their expertise and encouraging personal growth. Additionally, our leaders are open to communication with members at all levels of the team. They take the time to get to know individuals on a personal level, ensuring that there is a sense of community even while working remotely.

How did WMU Foundation handle workplace status during COVID-19 and care for employees?

As COVID-19 hit, we quickly stood up the capability for the team to work from anywhere—laptops deployed, documents signed electronically, and Zoom meetings launched. The entire office participated in an online training program to strengthen our skills and collaboration as a team. In addition, we had regular town hall meetings to disseminate information and social hours to maintain and enrich our “family” relationships.

What is one thing that makes your team unique?

WMU football and the Bronco Marching Band are not just water cooler talk; they are an integral part of our mission to bring alumni and donors together. We get to talk about jazz singers, autonomous vehicles, and first-generation college students, too. Everyone’s passion matters and makes our work better. Plus, the first three letters of our profession are FUN!

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