His job is funding RIT’s future

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As Phil Castleberry, Rochester Institute of Technology’s recently named vice president for development and alumni relations, prepares to lead a new team, his chief goal is to sustain momentum.

Phil Castleberry

Castleberry, who is currently finishing his duties at St. John Fisher College as vice president for institutional advancement, begins his RIT job on Feb. 3. He takes over from Lisa Cauda, who served in the role for 15 years, personally raising more than $80 million in philanthropic support for the university. Cauda is transitioning into a new role of vice president and secretary at RIT.

A 20-year veteran of higher education advancement and fundraising, Castleberry was named following a national search, RIT says. He joins RIT during the largest fundraising effort in its history.

Overseeing a team of 100, Castleberry’s duties at RIT will include providing strategic vision and operational leadership for all aspects of the university’s development and alumni initiatives, including fundraising and cultivating constituency relations. 

Castleberry will play a key role as RIT seeks support from a mix of investors in a $1 billion blended campaign that was launched in 2018. 

The Rochester Beacon posed some questions to Castleberry. Here are his answers:

ROCHESTER BEACON: As you take on this role, what are some of the main items on your to-do list?

PHIL CASTLEBERRY: My No. 1 to-do item is making certain we don’t lose any momentum. With five months remaining in the fiscal year, I don’t want this transition to slow down the important work the team is doing. That’s the first message I will deliver when I start on Feb. 3. I have a lot to learn about RIT and the people behind the university, so much of my time early on will be spent on a listening tour with the development and alumni relations staff, the academic leadership, many of our closest donors and friends, and more.

BEACON: Part of your role is overseeing RIT’s $1 billion blended campaign launched a couple of years ago. Why do you think a blended approach is the way to go?

CASTLEBERRY: RIT publicly launched the $1 billion campaign, the largest in the university’s history, in 2018 under the leadership of President David Munson. The campaign—“Transforming RIT: The Campaign for Greatness”—now stands at $677 million. A blended campaign seeks support from a variety of investors, including alumni and friends, government and corporate partners, and research foundations and agencies. Blending these contributions is a smart strategy because the private, government and corporate dollars can work together to achieve our shared goals.

One great example of this is RIT’s MAGIC Spell Studios, which opened in the fall of 2018. MAGIC Spell Studios was made possible through $13.5 in funding from New York State, $3 million from Dell, $12.4 million from Cisco Systems, $1.5 million from the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation, and $1 million from RIT alumnus and trustee Austin McChord. This is a 52,000-square-foot facility with world-class equipment where students can turn ideas for film and animation, games, and digital media into commercial products. And it serves as a regional economic catalyst attracting outside firms to use the facility. That’s the power of a blended campaign. When I arrive at RIT, I will work with partners within the university to identify what needs and opportunities we have going forward to build on this momentum.

BEACON: RIT has been successful in attracting significant gifts from alumni. How do you plan to keep that momentum going?

CASTLEBERRY: RIT has a lot to be proud of as you reflect on the support it has realized in the last several years. My expectation is that not only will we keep the momentum going, but we are going to need to increase our level of alumni support, both in terms of dollars raised and number of alumni donors. With less than three years remaining in the campaign, we have a responsibility to be engaged with as many of our alumni as we can before July 2022. We have an obligation, and an opportunity, to communicate to our alumni why we need their support and why we need it now. Campaigns are exciting, and I want to be certain we are capitalizing on that excitement as a team and with our alumni. 

BEACON: What are some of the challenges universities like RIT face in terms of fundraising? How do you plan to meet them?

CASTLEBERRY: All universities are facing a similar dilemma, which is we are raising more money than ever before, but from a smaller pool of donors. While we need transformational gifts like alumnus Austin McChord gave RIT in 2017, we need donors at all levels, especially alumni donors. A high percentage of alumni who give reflects satisfaction with their experience and that is why U.S. News and other rankings use that percentage as part of their formulas. We also need to educate our students on the impact of philanthropy on their RIT experience and begin cultivating their desire to give back when they become alumni. 

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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