Purdue Profiles: Laura Edwards

March 29, 2011

Laura Edwards, director of development for the School of Mechanical Engineering. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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Laura Edwards, director of development for the School of Mechanical Engineering, would rather spend her free time volunteering than doing any other activity. Her passion for nonprofit organizations combined with her spirit of philanthropy makes Edwards a dedicated volunteer for organizations such as Meals on Wheels and the Tippecanoe Arts Federation.

Edwards strives to make a difference, and by serving on the boards of nonprofit organizations and giving her time to help others, she is able to reach out to the community.
What nonprofit organizations are you involved with?

Through the years I've been involved with multiple nonprofits in the community. My first three jobs out of college I worked directly in nonprofit settings. Now, I serve on the board of directors for Almost Home Humane Society, Meals on Wheels of Tippecanoe County and Tippecanoe Arts Federation. Additionally, I facilitate workshops on fundraising and communication techniques for nonprofit organizations through the Indiana Nonprofit Resource Network and serve on a committee that plans the annual Feast of the Hunters' Moon fundraiser for the historical association.

How did you work up to the leadership positions that you hold in nonprofits?

Hard work and the desire to meet new people. One great residual benefit of volunteering is the opportunity to network. You meet people when you volunteer, and once you meet people there might be a chance to learn about more volunteer work. In my case, these connections also led to professional advancement.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

I enjoy that each organization has something really different about the mission and fills a critical need in the community. Part of me loves the idea of working with animals and finding homes for animals, another part of me really enjoys helping disabled or elderly citizens in our community.

The arts federation has a lot of great programs to advocate for now -- they're trying to fill the gaps with the funding cuts in education, and I'm a big believer that we shouldn't be cutting arts and education. TAF has created programs to supplement what the schools and the community have not been able to provide because of budget cuts. I'm very passionate about that.
Another thing I'm very active with is teaching workshops for the Indiana Nonprofit Resource Network. I’m able to help attendees from various nonprofit organizations learn about fundraising and communications techniques that will enable further support for their groups. That's something else I'm really passionate about.
How do you use social media in your work?

I've always been fascinated by all the different ways that you can communicate with people. As soon as social media really emerged as a solid means of technology that is going to help connect people, I thought, "This is exactly what we do in fundraising." So it's just another mechanism to be able to do that.
For the nonprofits I've worked with, one of the main topics I get requests to facilitate workshops on regularly is social media strategy for nonprofit communications. I've found some nonprofits in our community that have done an excellent job. I'm able to showcase what they're doing and say, "These are techniques you can use for your nonprofit." That being said, I've also worked to integrate those techniques into the organizations I'm active in.

What different types of social media do you use?

Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the big three. I use YouTube as well, and Tweetdeck to keep up with it all.

I notice you have quite a few awards hanging up. What are those for?

The certificates of achievements are from the fundraising school. It's a program through IUPUI Center of Philanthropy. They have programs that you can go through, especially if you are a certified fundraising executive, to get continuing education class credit to show that you're keeping your knowledge current in fundraising. I've completed several classes with the Center of Philanthropy and those have been great.  Also, there are some awards from previous community service groups and past projects.
What do you like to when you have free time?

I don't have a lot of free time!  Every time I start to have free time I think about what else I could be doing. But when I do have free time I am a huge Purdue sports fan. I have season tickets to Purdue football and basketball, and I also play recreational sports like softball. My husband and I like to travel whenever we can.
Tell me about your job here at Purdue.

I'm the director of development for the School of Mechanical Engineering. My primary role is to raise private and industrial philanthropy for the school. I'm also involved in communication and marketing initiatives.

What's your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part is working with donors. Every donor has such a unique story about why they want to make a gift to Purdue, or about the time they spent on campus. Having been a Purdue grad myself, I relate to donors no matter what walk of life they've taken.

Is philanthropy a big part of university culture?

Absolutely.  It's an ability to stay involved with campus after you graduate. I think philanthropy is a huge part of university culture from two angles: It allows alumni to remain engaged with their alma mater, and it provides a critical component of financial resources, particularly now. The University was tasked with cutting over 67 million dollars in recurring expenses each year, in addition to the state budget that continues to decline. But we don't want our educational programs or level of respect that Purdue carries worldwide to decline, so a large part of what makes up that shortfall is private philanthropy. To me personally, it's very important because I'm a loyal Purdue grad.

Would you encourage faculty, staff and students to volunteer?

I would. There are so many nonprofits in our community. It takes a little bit of soul-searching to figure out what it is that you care about, and what is meaningful to you. A lot of times it's something that happens to you in your life experiences, or it's something you personally value. You get so much more out of volunteering for a nonprofit that you feel a close tie to.

There are resources in the community to help people who want to volunteer. The United Way has a volunteer-matching program or you can contact the Boiler Volunteer Network. Those two resources can help you find a local organization in need of a variety of volunteer talents. If you're doing something you enjoy, it's truly a gift to give your time.