creative:impact - Eric Becher…Take The Field!

Sep 14, 2021

Dr. Eric Becher
Credit Vavarde Strategic Funding / vavarde.com

Since his student days as member of the Ann Arbor Pioneer High School and at the University of Michigan bands, Dr. Eric Becher has excelled at taking the field, literally and figuratively, whether as the youngest ever director of the U-M Marching Bands or in his second career in fundraising and advancement. He Shared his journey with WEMU's David Fair and Deb Polich of Creative Washtenaw on 'creative:impact.'


Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

ABOUT VAVARDE STRATEGIC FUNDING

Mission

Vavarde Strategic Funding is an accomplished team of fundraising and support services professionals from across the country helping nonprofit organizations reach their potential.

Vision

Our vision for you is to integrate a team of professionals with your organization in a variety of fundraising and support services areas to maximize your revenue streams and provide a sustainable approach for your future.

Our Guiding Principles:

  • We help organizations with all areas of fundraising and support services.
  • We provide an integrated approach to planning and fundraising which connects all facets of a sustainable organization.
  • We prepare a solution which is tailored to your needs and current skill sets.
  • We find the right blend of professional team members to assist your organization.
  • We work with you as long as you need us.
  • We adhere to the highest ethical standards and work in the best interests of nonprofits now and into the future.

ABOUT DR. ERIC BECHER

Dr. Eric A. Becher, President of Vavarde Strategic Funding, received his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Louisville and his MM and BM in Music Education from the University of Michigan. He has over 35 years of experience in higher education, strategic planning and advancement work (fundraising). As the youngest person ever to be appointed to be Director of the University of Michigan Marching Band, Becher served in similar roles as a music professor and conductor at several institutions including the University of Minnesota, University of Arizona and the University of Louisville. In 2000, he moved to the advancement field, first as Assistant vice president at the University of Connecticut Foundation, then as vice president of Institutional Advancement at several private Christian institutions. Becher has participated in numerous leadership programs including: Leadership Kentucky, Leadership Southeastern Kentucky; Thrivent Associates Lutheran College and University Leadership Program; and the SCUP certification program.

Dr. Becher has led the strategic planning and implementation process at educational institutions and nonprofit organizations, utilizing a discovery process that respects institutional traditions, reveals emerging priorities, identifies sustainable ways to implement the strategic plan, and defines effective outcome metrics. His work has included bringing many new facilities online; working with nonprofit organizations to maximize their fundraising potential; supporting higher education faculty, staff and student initiatives; initiating environmental efficiency upgrades; assisting spiritual life programs; coordinating new presenting arts series; and assisting athletic teams with new facilities and programmatic support. Becher has provided leadership and involvement in numerous faculty and staff search processes; mentored faculty and staff development efforts; solved faculty, staff and student issues using value-based principles and legal perspectives; and provided performance assessments to encourage exceptional teaching, service and stewardship. He has senior leadership experience with annual budgets including analyzing financial trends, projecting revenue figures, setting tuition rates and monitoring expenses. Becher’s role, in positions as vice president for institutional advancement and as a member of senior leadership teams, has been to connect the vision and goals of the university’s many departments in a focused and purposeful manner in support of the mission and the strategic plan.

His fundraising and advancement experience is extensive, first as a faculty member and now as a seasoned advancement professional. In his first formal position in an advancement role, as Assistant vice president at the University of Connecticut Foundation, he worked in all phases of a successful $470 million capital campaign. Becher’s responsibilities connected him to numerous aspects of the campaign including the coordination of the program planning (strategic implementation) functions within the Foundation. Throughout his career, Becher has been successful in cultivating relationships and securing major gifts, including numerous multimillion dollar gifts at each institution.

Board member recruitment and engagement has been a critical area of responsibility in his work since 2000. He has worked with Presidents, board members, and community leaders to recruit prospective board members; regularly proposed and organized meeting topics; led discussions and focus groups; connected board members to relevant issues and opportunities; and engaged individual board members by cultivating personal financial commitments and working with them to identify prospective donors.

In all aspects of his work, Becher combines a personal passion for tradition and history, with energy for change and growth. His personal faith and values; strength of leadership; academic background; experience with liberal arts colleges and universities; nonprofit organizations; and advancement/fundraising acumen all contribute to his breadth of experience. Dr. Becher has been a regular speaker on behalf of each institution throughout his career in a variety of venues and occasions. Speaking passionately about higher education and nonprofit causes is a natural extension of his work. He enjoys rallying people together for a common purpose while representing the mission of organizations with external entities, churches and professional groups.  He has actively served on community boards and state organizations providing leadership, strategic planning, marketing, and resource development guidance for those organizations.

RESOURCES:

Vavarde Strategic Funding

Dr. Eric Becher

Pathways Nonprofit Workshop (Brighton, MI)

TRANSCRIPTION:

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'd like to welcome you to this week's edition of creative:impact. Each week, we take a look at our local arts and creative industries. I'm David Fair and, with my content partner and co-host Deb Polich, we always have fascinating guests and fascinating conversations. Deb is president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and looking forward to today for sure.

Deb Polich: You know, the Ann Arbor public schools are widely recognized for their outstanding instrumental and vocal music. The arts and creative education for students manifests itself in lots of different ways. Most end up applying their lessons learned to nonperformance-based careers. But I've often wondered whether Ann Arbor Public Schools ever published a list of those who have gone on to pursue creative careers. It'd probably be pretty impressive.

David Fair: Well, we're about to find out about one right now. His name is Dr. Eric Becher and Dr. Becher, welcome to creative:impact.

Dr. Eric Becher: Thanks for having me.

Deb Polich: Eric, you graduated from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School and were a band member there under the baton of director Vic Bordo and then went on to study music at the University of Michigan and marched in the band under the direction of George Cavender. And shortly after you graduated, you were named as the director of the marching band. In fact, the youngest director ever. You took the band to the Super Bowl. You performed at the 1984 World Series. All of this is what before you were 30? That's pretty amazing.

Dr. Eric Becher: Yeah, it was an exciting time to grow up in Ann Arbor. And, by the way, I'm a graduate of Lawton Elementary School and Slauson, what was then, Junior High School. The tutelage from those directors there. Mr. Hart, Mr. Long along the way, in addition to Vic Bordo.

Deb Polich: You know, your interest in music. Was it sparked by being handed an instrument or participating in a music course, or did it come earlier?

Dr. Eric Becher: I knew growing up that I wanted to be a trumpet player. So, when it got to be fifth grade, and Mr. Hart was asking us what instruments we wanted to play, I chose the trumpet right away.

David Fair: And there's a similarity between being an elite athlete and an elite musician. And, in both cases, less than one percent actually make it to the big leagues or a professional music career. Did you know when you were going to elementary and middle and high school that you would have the talent or skills?

Dr. Eric Becher: Well, interestingly, when I was growing up, I used to listen to Bob Ufer in the first half on the radio at home, and then as soon as the first half ended, I'd start running from the house, which was just west of Pioneer a little ways. And I would get there at the end at halftime, because, back in those days, they used to open the gates at halftime, and you could just come in. So, growing up, I came to every Michigan football game and sat in the end zone and watched the game and the second half of each game and listen to the band and imagine someday being in that band.

David Fair: I don't know if you had an opportunity. Obviously, this past weekend was dedicated to honoring those lost in 9/11. And, certainly across the country, marching bands took time to pay homage to those lost. And, perhaps, no one did it better than your alma mater, the University of Michigan. Did you get a chance to bear witness to how they performed and how they connected with the emotion of the moment?

Dr. Eric Becher: I thought they did a terrific job. I got to watch a video of it, in fact, yesterday. And I was jealous, because, back when I was the director, we didn't have night games. I think it happened after I left was the first one. So, we couldn't turn off the lights and do those kinds of effects. So, it was very exciting. And a big Michigan win as well.

David Fair: Indeed. You are listening to creative:impact on Eighty-Nine one WEMU. And we continue our conversation with Ann Arbor native Dr. Eric Becher, a former University of Michigan marching band director and music educator, about the impact of arts and creative education.

Deb Polich: Yeah, I'd like to dip back into that for a second. Eric, can you point to a few ways that music education benefited those high school and college bandmates and maybe some of your students who did not go into music careers?

Dr. Eric Becher: Well, interestingly, we had over 300 students each year in the marching band, and I think my last year, only nine of them were music majors. So, the majority of the students were just talented students at the University of Michigan pursuing a variety of degrees. And the advantage I had was I had them often for four years, and we worked really hard at making that student experience really positive for them. In fact, our three goals were, first of all, to support the team. Second goal was to entertain the audience. And the third goal was to create a positive experience with each other in the organization. So, we spent a lot of time working on how we interacted, how we worked together, and how we treated each other. And I'm just so pleased in talking to many former students of how those lessons really carried on throughout their lives. It's probably the best compliment many of the students have given me.

David Fair: Music has been part of the curriculum in K through 12 schools for as long as we can remember. However, the battles over academics versus arts has persisted. And, in fact, it's getting more and more difficult to find funding for arts and music programs. How do you kind of work with that to create those enriching experiences?

Dr. Eric Becher: Well, in fact, it's funny you mention that because, my first year there, our budget for the entire year, including travel, was 15,000 dollars. Now, granted, that was 1980 numbers, but 15,000 dollars didn't go very far.

David Fair: It certainly didn't take you to the Rose Bowl.

Dr. Eric Becher: No. In fact, one of the first things I had to do when I started that July before the first fall in 1980, we had to clean the uniforms, and that cost is maybe seven, eight thousand dollars. So, I was left with a little over 7000 dollars to get through the rest of the year. So, we started fundraising. I didn't really understand what fundraising was at that point. I just would talk passionately about the band and ask folks if they could support us, if they would. And then, it was very specific to thank them for those gifts. And we brought in a lot of money each year to buy instruments. One year, we brought in funds to get new uniforms. We brought in funds to travel to away games and to help bring more and more of the students to the bowl games each year. So, it became important. Part of my job was finding those funds to move things forward.

Deb Polich: And that's led to what you do now. You moved on from music and are now a successful fundraiser advancement leader and have your own firm, which helps nonprofits build a relationship. So, that's moved, and you've moved on pretty well directly from what you were doing here at the band.

Dr. Eric Becher: Well, and it kind of is. I'm so grateful that Bob Reynolds and Paul Boylan, the dean of the school music at the time, Bob Reynolds was the director of bands for many, many years. And Paul Boylan offered me the job back in 1980. And, one day, Dean Boylan called me into his office. And you're always a little bit apprehensive whenever the dean calls you into the office. But he sat me down. He said, "Someday, you're going to be an administrator." And I I smiled because at that time, I wasn't interested in administration. I was interested in teaching and working with the students. And I asked him why he thought that. He says, "Because you have the ability to get things from A to Z. And part of that ability involves finding resources and implementation strategy to get to those points." Sure enough, after teaching for 20 years, I did go to higher ed administration, and then each of those positions as a vice president at several universities, the local nonprofits would ask for advice. And that was the genesis then of starting this company, helping non-profits back in 2016.

David Fair: And it's called Vavarde Strategic Funding. And our conversation with Dr. Eric Becher on creative:impact continues here on WEMU. And with your company of which you were founder and president, you helped nonprofits build donor relationships that helped them meet their business objectives. What about your music background--your background here in Ann Arbor--sets your firm apart from all the other nonprofit fundraising consultants?

Dr. Eric Becher: Well, I hope it sets me apart in the sense that, over the years, going to a lot of terrific fundraising conferences and workshops and whatnot, I found that the information was extremely invaluable to doing a better job as a nonprofit. The thing that I always thought was lacking, though, is much like, as a conductor, how it all gets put together, how you pull all the different pieces in, and how each element of a successful organization is able to play off one another to make the whole even stronger. So, I made a decision, when I started the company, I was going to work for causes that I believed in and people that I respect, but also to make sure that I wasn't helping them just get a building or raise money for a program. It was to make them sustainable. So long after we're all minding the store, the nonprofit will live on in a sustainable fashion.

Deb Polich: While being compelled by things you believe in, bringing this program to the greater Ann Arbor area is an interest of yours, I understand. And you'll be bringing one of your workshops to the region in the fall.

Pathways Nonprofit Workshop flyer
Credit Vavarde Strategic Funding / varvarde.com

  

Dr. Eric Becher: Well, it mirrors what we did down here in St. Augustine. St. Augustine, as you know, is the oldest city in America. And I met with a group of 12 nonprofit organizations who were all struggling, especially during COVID times and whatnot, and did the workshop with them, taught them how to work successfully well together. And, as a result, we're just about to kick off a project for probably be around 100 million dollar facility that's going to have multiple performance spaces, but, more importantly, the right revenue streams to make everybody sustainable. So, and working with a colleague, Mark Burnham, up there in Michigan and Bob Sharto, they wanted me to bring this up there because this is home. My folks still live in the Ann Arbor area. And it's something I'd love to help the community with as well up there.

David Fair: Well, we will certainly look forward to having you back home. Thank you so much for the time today.

Dr. Eric Becher: Thank you. And happy birthday to Mom. She just celebrated her 91st birthday yesterday.

David Fair: Well, happy birthday, Mom.

Deb Polich: Marvelous. Well, Eric, it's been a pleasure to have you. A true Ann Arbor son on the show. And thanks for sharing your story and offering your insight and a lot of information about your workshop on the creative:impact web page.

Dr. Eric Becher: Thank you so much for having me. Go Blue!

David Fair: That is Dr. Eric Becher, and he is a former University of Michigan marching band director and music educator and now the founder and president of Vavarde Strategic Funding. Deb Polich is my co-host and president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw. And we'll talk again next week.

Deb Polich: Absolutely. With another creative Washtenaw guest.

David Fair: I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR Station, Eighty-Nine one WEMU FM and WEMU HD, one Ypsilanti.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu