Alumni Review

The Institute Society: “Above the Ordinary, Constant and Generous”

Annual recognition event

The growing number of alumni and friends in The Institute Society has meant more unrestricted support for VMI – and more attendees at its annual recognition event. VMI photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.

Benjamin Franklin, American statesman and polymath, once observed that “ready money” is one of life’s most “faithful friends.” Indeed, this applies to VMI – especially that which is received in the form of unrestricted funds.

Each year a segment of VMI alumni, family and friends step forward in a significant way to support VMI through unrestricted gifts. Their level of contribution distinguishes them as Institute Society members. This is no small deed.

“Unrestricted money is critically important for VMI,” explained Steve Maconi, VMI Alumni Agencies chief executive officer, “for a very simple reason: It can be used where it is needed most.” In the complex world of higher education, opportunities present themselves on a regular basis and with funds at the ready, VMI can optimize their return. “Truly, members of the Institute Society demonstrate their trust and confidence in the leadership of VMI every year. They want VMI to be positioned to take advantage of opportunities or be prepared for unforeseen issues.”

When individuals give to unrestricted funds, they have literally changed lives and bolstered the experience for cadets directly and indirectly. In the past, VMI used the unrestricted money given by members of the Institute Society to provide scholarship support to cadets, helping them move from simply wanting to take on the challenges of the rigorous VMI system to being able to make that happen financially. Over time, however, increased giving to endowed scholarships allowed the Institute to redirect unrestricted money to other pressing needs such as faculty support. “That is the beauty of unrestricted giving.’ said Maconi. “When one need is met, it can quickly translate to support in another area. It bridges gaps.”

Often, the Institute Society’s members get involved through their reunions and keep up their support annually. John J. Wranek III ’85, former VMI Alumni Association director of reunions – who served for many years as the VMI Foundation director of annual and reunion giving – was responsible for reunion campaigns and the Foundation Fund, which is the VMI Foundation’s annual effort to raise unrestricted money. “During reunion campaigns, we continually stress the importance of unrestricted funds to VMI. It is the same with major gifts, according to Warren J. Bryan ’71, VMI Foundation chief operating officer. “Our major gift officers make it a point to ask those alumni and friends who are planning to make a substantial gift to VMI to consider an additional gift of unrestricted funds. While the focus is on unrestricted operational support through the Foundation Fund, donors of restricted gifts – those designated for a specific purpose, such as scholarships – have been recognized as members of the Institute Society, as well.”

Each year members are recognized for their “above the ordinary, constant and generous” giving, and the Agencies encourage others to do the same. They also have been recognized in a special way – for 44 years – at the Institute Society Dinner. The first of what has been a popular annual event was held in November 1974. Bryan, who began working at the VMI Foundation in 1976, remembers the event when it was a small affair. “When it began, the attendees could fit into the activities room in Moody Hall. Now, we have hundreds of members and their guests who enjoy an amazing black-tie event that fills the Hall of Valor in Marshall Hall to capacity.”

Chad Correll ’94, part owner and executive vice president of the Chicago-area construction firm Executive Construction, is one of the hundreds of alumni and friends who are members of the Institute Society. Chad was inspired to become a cadet by his uncle, Mark Hall ’75. “I greatly admired his accomplishments and his commitment to VMI. So, when choosing a college, I knew VMI was the place for me.”

After graduation, Correll entered the construction business. There, as he expected, he found plenty of challenges and opportunities. He also found that his VMI education had prepared him to face them with confidence.

“VMI instilled in me the core values that drove me to succeed in my career. Now that I am a part owner of a construction company in Chicago, 24 years after graduating, I feel indebted to VMI.”

Chad Correll ’94

Besides the gratitude he feels toward the Institute, Correll also sees VMI as an important resource for the country. “I have been struck – and somewhat humbled – by the respect that VMI has across the country, and I feel it is crucial that VMI continues its mission of grooming future leaders.”

“Giving unrestricted contributions allows the Institute to allocate funds the best way it deems necessary to develop cadets and ensure that the VMI experience is not only maintained but advanced in the future,” Correll replied when asked why he supports the Institute through the Foundation Fund as a member of the Institute Society. “Being a member of the Institute Society and providing unrestricted contributions is, for me, a small way of acknowledging the debt I feel toward the Institute. VMI played a decisive role in my life, and I will continue to support it as best I can to ensure its continued success of the Institute. I am proud to be in the ranks of the Institute Society because it is where I feel I have the most impact.”

In late 2016, the trustees of the VMI Foundation asked the staff to review all aspects of the Institute Society, something which had not been done since the early 2000s. “We approached this process,” remembered Bryan, “by reminding ourselves that the Institute Society’s mission was, as expressed by John S. Letcher ’924 at the first Institute Society Dinner in 1974, to ensure that the ‘excellence of the training and education given can be continued and improved to the end that present and future cadets will continue to make the Institute heard from in future years.’”

With these thoughts in mind, the VMI Foundation staff thoroughly rethought the society and came to the trustees with some suggested changes. One of the changes the trustees adopted was an increase in the amount of unrestricted giving needed to earn a place in the society. “It is important to note that, even though the giving levels related to the Institute Society had not been changed in quite some time, that fact did not drive our decision,” said Thomas H. Zarges ’70, VMI Foundation vice president-development who helped guide the reevaluation and adjustment process. “What drove this decision were a recognition of the critical importance of unrestricted giving to VMI and a desire to foster an increase in it.”

Another change was related to the recognition of restricted giving within the Institute Society. “We wanted to do more to recognize those who made restricted gifts to Foundation-managed funds and endowments, but creating an entirely new group to recognize restricted giving seemed needlessly complicated,” said Zarges. “So, we increased basic amount of restricted needed to be recognized as a member of the Institute Society to $5,000 and allowed for recognition of restricted giving within its upper levels.”

“The Institute Society was established for two reasons. The first was to recognize leaders in support of VMI, and there is no doubt that its members are just that. Routinely, they give roughly two-thirds of the money that is donated to the Foundation Fund, and they give millions of dollars more to every facet of VMI’s co-curricular, academic and athletic programs,” said Maconi. “The second was to encourage other alumni and friends to join these leaders. The Institute Society will continue to do that well into the future based on these changes.”

  • Scott Belliveau

    Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects

    The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.

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