Susan Bowers. Photo by J.P. Crumrine
Idyllwild Arts has a multi-million dollar budget that pays for the talented faculty and numerous renowned guest artists and speakers. However, neither the students’ tuition nor the Summer Program’s fees cover all of the school’s operating expenses.

Each year, the school must also raise additional money (several million), not only for its endowment, but for these annual costs. This daunting task is now the responsibility of Susan Bowers.

“The main reason I so happily accepted this job is because that, while the responsibility is large, the opportunity is larger,” Bowers said, who only started full-time the first week of April. But she did not accept the position blindly. Bowers has been consulting for IAA since fall.

“I firmly believe that all of us — IAF staff, students, associates, alumni — can find ways to tell this story so that others will find value in supporting it,” she said.

Bowers has had her own firm for 13 years and has always associated with the development business since she left college. Her first position was with United Way right out of school. She and her husband live in Whittier and will find a part-time residence in Idyllwild.

Bowers grew up in Connecticut, but went to Lynchburg College in Virginia. Her decision criteria reflect her streak of independence, such as managing her own company for more than a decade.

She drew a circle around her home and estimated the distance her parents could drive in one day. The college she would attend had to be outside that circle. Nearly ten years after graduation, she moved to Southern California and has been here nearly 30 years.

As a private consultant, she has worked extensively with small nonprofit organizations — those who needed help raising funds but didn’t need a full-time development officer.

That is how she began her affiliation with IAA. In a few months, she has been very successful. “I’m particularly pleased with the increase in the number of Academy alumni donors,” she said. Her goal is to double the current donors from 300 to 600.

“Growing the donor base helps reduce the school’s dependence on a few sources of revenues,” she explained.

And Bowers accomplishes this by reaching out and talking and listening to potential donors. Then she has to be motivating and encouraging, which she hopes will build IAA’s Annual Fund.

Explaining why she was willing to forego her independence to work for an organization, Bowers said, “More than just providing scholarships, contributions enable the entire IAF experience (Summer and Academy) which is the unique result of our matchless facility, its astonishing location, and our extraordinary faculty. I am personally so convinced of the value of this mission that I couldn’t say no to the opportunity.”

Yet, a development expert must get “good about hearing ‘No’ and can’t be offended,” she said. But the thrill of the “yes” is her motivation.

“It feels so good, probably like having a baby,” Bowers said. “It’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and doesn’t happen all with one person. It takes a team pulling things together.”

During the journey pursuing those contributions, she meets many people whom she would not normally expect to meet. “It’s astonishing,” she said. “We have a compelling story to tell.

“It’s great to get people involved [with the institution]. The gift is the beginning of a commitment with the organization,” Bowers said. For her, getting involved includes the life of the town as well as the campus.