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J. Lance Cavanaugh joins the University of Wisconsin Foundation as senior development director for the College of Engineering

J. Lance Cavanaugh

J. Lance Cavanaugh (large image)

J. Lance Cavanaugh, a native of Madison with more than 20 years in higher education development, has been named as the College of Engineering's senior development director.

Cavanaugh comes to UW-Madison from Iowa State, where he served as the senior development director for the College of Engineering. Cavanaugh joined the University of Wisconsin Foundation as the senior development director for the college this summer.

"I'm excited to be here, and look forward to working with Dean Paul Peercy and others in the college," he said.

Cavanaugh's route to the UW Foundation has taken him to such disparate places as rural Minnesota, Dayton, Ohio, and Reno, Nevada. But more than anything else, it brings him back home. He spent much of his youth in Madison while his father, John Cavanaugh, earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from UW-Madison and served as assistant to the dean of the College of Education. The family moved to Duluth in 1969, but many relatives and friends still reside in Madison.

"This has always been home to me," he said. "I always had this dream of coming back home."

During his undergraduate years at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, Cavanaugh was asked by a friend to help out on a local community fund-raising drive.

Cavanaugh went along on some calls and was impressed when the development director asked a business executive to make a $10,000 gift to the college.

"That was my first taste of fundraising," he remembered. "I asked my friend, 'How can you do that?' How can you go out and ask people for that kind of money?"

His friend talked to Cavanaugh about philanthropy and explained that donors often want to help their local communities and alma maters. The job of a development officer is to help them accomplish that.

More than 23 years later, Cavanaugh finds himself in a similar position. He will work closely with Peercy and development directors Deb Holt and Carrie McGinley.

Cavanaugh majored in journalism in college, and after graduating from St. Scholastica in 1979, he took a position as director of public relations and alumni affairs at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. Two years later, he was promoted to be executive director of the SSU Foundation.

It was a formidable task. Founded in 1967, Southwest State had never done an organized fund-raising drive. It had trouble reaching out to its young graduates, Cavanaugh said, because the university hadn't kept records of its alumni.

"Our first job was to locate the alumni of the institution," he said, recalling days when staff and volunteers hunted through telephone books to get current addresses and telephone numbers. Eventually, more than 90 percent of the university's alumni were found.

Under Cavanaugh's leadership, Southwest State began publishing a quarterly newsletter for alumni, increased alumni attendance at homecoming and other events, and launched its first Annual Fund campaign to provide support for scholarships and academic programs.

It was a quick and occasionally trying introduction to higher education philanthropy.

"I learned a lot," he said. "It was a lot of fun being in on the beginnings of a program there."

During the next two decades, Cavanaugh raised major gifts and managed development offices at the University of Nevada-Reno, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Beloit College, Wright State University in Dayton, and Iowa State University's College of Engineering. When a friend told him earlier this year about the senior development director position at UW-Madison, Cavanaugh immediately contacted the UW Foundation to express his strong interest.

"The College of Engineering is critical to the state's economic development and prosperity, and for meeting the demand across the nation for more engineers," Cavanaugh said.

"The competition among engineering schools is fierce," he said. "We're all competing for the best students, the best scientists, and major research grants. We're striving to keep up with advances in technology and to provide state-of-the-art facilities. Wisconsin is obviously in that race.

His view: Public universities like Wisconsin will increasingly depend on private financial support for building and maintaining excellence.

"We will always depend on generous gifts from alumni, friends and corporation," he said. "We will always need to raise private funds.

"We're here to encourage and help our alumni support their college," he said.

It's a view formed, in part, by his very first experience in philanthropy.