Empower co-chairs reflect on successful campaign, bright future

Richard D’Amore, BA’76, and Alan McKim, MBA’88, are the co-chairs of the Empower campaign. Photo by Len Rubenstein

In 2013 Northeastern announced the launch of Empower, a historic fundraising campaign to shape the future of teaching, learning, and discovery at the university by supporting students, faculty, and innovation in education and research. At the helm were co-chairs Richard D’Amore, BA’76, and Alan McKim, MBA’88, both of whom were inspired by President Joseph E. Aoun’s vision and the university’s momentum. A year earlier, the pair made the largest philanthropic investment in Northeastern’s history: a combined $60 million gift, through which the business school was renamed. That gift helped to set the stage for Empower’s success and, they hoped, to inspire others to contribute to the university’s bright future.

Empower’s original goal was to raise $1 billion—$500 million in philanthropic support and $500 million through industry and government partnerships by 2017. In 2015, the university raised its fundraising goal by 25 percent, to $1.25 billion.

Empower concludes this week, culminating in what has become Northeastern’s most successful campaign ever. We asked D’Amore and McKim to reflect on the experience and the campaign’s impact. “I truly believe the university’s best years are ahead of it,” says McKim.

You traveled across the U.S. and abroad as part of the campaign. What struck you most at these global events?

D’Amore: The response from alumni was remarkable in every place we went, and I went to nearly all of them. What was most exciting and surprising was the level of enthusiasm for engagement with the university. People really wanted to be engaged, and these Empower events and this campaign strengthened their connection to the university. I loved talking with our young alumni. It was so exciting to hear about their experiences, and to see the great things they’re doing. I saw the same qualities in them that I saw in my own classmates.

Were there moments that have resonated with you personally?

McKim: When I got back involved with the university 10 or 15 years ago, it was driven by my personal connection with [professor] Dan McCarthy. Early on, Rich and I had gotten together to endow a chair named after Dan. Dan was my mentor, and very much a father figure for me. I was moved by all he has done not only for me personally but also his many efforts at the university around entrepreneurship.

Then I saw how our gift helped seed some of the programs like [the student-run venture accelerator] IDEA. I attended presentations by students on their new business plans coming out of IDEA, and how they collaborated not only with the business school but also across the university to create new ideas, businesses, and inventions. The faculty who’ve helped grow these entrepreneurship programs has also expanded. It’s been personally rewarding to see how these programs have taken off.

What was the most surprising part of co-chairing the campaign?

D’Amore: How personally gratifying this experience has been. I had no idea how much fun I was going to have leading the campaign. We keep saying to one another that this is the greatest thing we’ve ever done.

If you were a student here today, what opportunity that Empower has created would interest you most?

McKim: The Empower campaign has helped support the infrastructure being built, including the expansion in Burlington with the Kostas Research Institute. It has enabled Northeastern to execute on its strategic plan to move the university in a direction that’s so relevant to what’s going on in society today, particularly in areas like artificial intelligence, robotics, and homeland security.

I’m sort of an engineer at heart, so I think about the opportunities in IT and business. Northeastern excels in those areas, and is particularly strong in engineering. We have new PhD programs, and we’re doing a lot of great work at the Kostas Research Institute. That’s a place that would be really exciting to be.

How does it feel now that the campaign has concluded?

McKim: I never dreamed that when Rich and I first started talking about our gift that it would lead to the campaign taking off like it has, exceeding its goals substantially. It’s the most successful campaign that Northeastern has ever had, and I couldn’t be happier to have participated in it.

As you reflect on your own experiences as co-chair, what would you look for in the chair of the next campaign?

D’Amore: Someone who has a great passion for Northeastern, believes in the leadership of the organization, is committed to its success, and wants to have as much fun as Alan and I had.