Chuck Wendt gets right to the point when it comes to what he plans to do when he takes over on March 4 as president and CEO of the MSU Billings Foundation.
"I like to raise big money in a short period of time," he said.
The independent, nonprofit foundation — designed to support and raise money for Montana State University Billings, including through endowments, scholarships and financial campaigns — announced on Thursday that Wendt will replace Marilynn Miller, who retired in December after holding the job for 14 years.
He comes to the foundation from the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., where he served as special counsel and deputy director for advancement. While there, he was responsible for all fundraising activities and, in about four years, helped raise $2.1 million for the instrumentation of the Discovery Channel Telescope and ran a successful $3,000,000 capital campaign.
The MSUB Foundation has about $22 million in net assets and $19 million in endowed assets. Last school year, it handed out $1.3 million in scholarships.
Wendt expressed a passion for education, especially in regard to students who work hard to get to and stay in school. He said that's a characteristic that defines MSUB and that the overall culture and success at the university appealed to him.
"I looked at it and thought, 'This is the job to get,' " he said.
The foundation hired Wendt after a four-month search that vetted dozens of candidates, narrowing them to a handful of finalists before the seven-person search committee made the final decision.
Tim Schruth, chairman of the foundation's board, said Wendt stood out, and was eventually hired, for a number of reasons.
"He's a high-energy people person with experience in the fundraising field," he said. "He has a real passion for whatever he might take on in life and his priority, where he wants to be, is in the education field. He believes in education, he believes in young people and he believes in scholarship to change people's lives."
With more than 30 years of marketing, management and fundraising experience, including in the private sector as well as with several universities, Wendt will have to hit the ground running at the foundation, which is rolling out a $5 million fundraising effort to renovate MSUB's old sciences building.
The state Legistature will provide a $10 million match for the renovation when MSUB is able to provide $5 million for the building, to be christened Yellowstone Hall when the work is done. It will house the biology and physical science department and the College of Allied Health Professionals.
"These kinds of things are fun, and I'm looking forward to getting in with both feet," Wendt said.
He said the new science building has the chance to give MSUB students a better shot at jobs in the future.
"With this $5 million that we need to raise, it means that these kids are on a level playing field with anybody," Wendt said.
To raise that money, and funds in the future, he would like to expand MSUB's fundraising reach and use his contacts across the country cultivated through previous jobs.
That could involve approaching new sources along with following the traditional local fundraising paths.
"Everybody goes after the big names," he said. "But there is that kind of wealth out there that floats under the philanthropic radar."
MSUB Chancellor Rolf Groseth said Wendt's energy, past experience, willingness to find outside sources and ability to look at the big picture make him an ideal foundation leader, especially with the science building fundraising looming.
"It's a real critical time, in terms of the new building," he said. "He's a real experienced guy and I think everybody who talked to him on the phone, looked at his credentials and finally met him when he was here agreed he was right for the job."