For Dr. Bo Thomas, leaving Belmont is both the start of a new era and a bittersweet goodbye.
Earlier this semester, Thomas announced his upcoming departure from Belmont, effective October of this year, and discovered it was much harder than he expected to say the “r-word”: retirement.
Thomas’s journey began 11 years ago when he was hired as the Vice President of University Advancement, though he didn’t come to Belmont because he liked the school itself, but instead due to the long professional history he had with the man who hired him.
“I wouldn’t be at Belmont without Bob Fisher,” said Thomas of his longtime friend. “We had a 20 year plus working relationship before my coming here.”
During their working relationship, Fisher coauthored a book with Thomas before he became Belmont’s president entitled “Real Dream Teams” that discussed the need for cooperation in order to achieve goals, something Thomas is passionate about.
“If you accomplish great things, you really have to work together. It had to be a collaborative effort. No one can accomplish a great vision by themselves,” said Thomas.
Thomas noted the team aspect is ingrained in Belmont’s core values, with the school holding relationships at a premium.
“For years we’ve heard great examples of the Disney Experience where everyone has a part…everyone’s on stage. It’s not just one thing that makes the whiffle dust magic of Disney. The same thing is true with Belmont,” said Thomas.
Thomas credits the magic of Belmont as a collaborative effort between both students and faculty.
“It couldn’t happen without us attracting students that have a bias towards service and making a difference,” said Thomas. “It couldn’t happen without amazingly dedicated faculty who don’t want to be researchers, they want to be teachers. They want to build relationships.”
In his position, Thomas’s job is threefold: fundraising and development, alumni relations and advancement services.
In terms of fundraising, Thomas helped create a donor base that, this year, reached nearly 4,000 donors of both the major donors whose names are on campus buildings and the parents who just want to give money to the university their children attend.
“We are engaging parents more than ever. The parent contributions are up, the faculty and staff gifts are going up every year,” said Thomas. “The trustees, every year for several years, are making a point of giving each year.”
Engaging parents beyond monetary donations is a point of pride with Thomas, as he notes that there was a “fledgling” parent program at best when he arrived, comparing it to homecoming and the impressive growth the event has seen.
Thomas is also proud of his role in the alumni program, as well as the new alumni house, which was actually a clubhouse from the Ward-Belmont College era.
“Because Belmont is a relatively young school in many ways…our alumni program and our development were not nearly as mature as they are now,” said Thomas.
One of the aspects about Belmont that Thomas holds in high regard is that the core values remain solid even throughout the growth process, saying that “the core values of trying to be more and more student focused and separate ourselves from others with our relationships are still the core of who we are.”
Between the constant presence of Belmont’s values and the Vision 2020 plan, Thomas realized it was a good time for him to step away from the position, though he enjoys his job immensely.
“I feel like we are in a really good place as an institution for me to step down,” said Thomas. “I think it’s a great time for a new leader to come in and help create that new fundraising strategy for the future.”
In the announcement that Fisher emailed to faculty, he mentions that Thomas should be congratulated “on a job well done.”
“Dr. Thomas’ contributions to Belmont over the past 10 years are reflected in our fundraising achievements and our alumni engagement, but more importantly, his success is evident in the relationships he has cultivated with donors, alumni, faculty, staff, and students,” wrote Fisher.
On a more personal level, Fisher commented on Thomas’s departure in an e-mail statement to the Vision.
“Dr. Thomas and I have been friends for 40 years,” wrote Fisher. “When I asked him to come to Belmont to help raise money for the benefit of our students he agreed to come and work with me for four or five years. What he didn’t anticipate is that he would fall in love with Belmont. He has now been here for 11 years and has made a huge difference.”
Even though Thomas knows he is leaving for the right reasons and is looking forward to spending more time with his family, especially his grandson, it is still going to be difficult for him to leave in October.
“My best real dream team experience has been Belmont,” said Thomas.