Malcolm Gladwell kicks off philanthropy campaign next month

Dean Vaglia, Staff Reporter

What author, journalist and podcaster will be coming to Oakland University in November? One that has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times and authored five New York Times bestselling books, that’s who.

Malcolm Gladwell will be speaking at two Oakland events on Saturday, Nov. 17. The first event is “An Afternoon with Malcolm Gladwell” and the second event is the “Aspire. Advance. Achieve.” gala.

“An Afternoon With Malcolm Gladwell” will be about big ideas in support of his recent venture “The Next Big Idea Club.” “The Club” is a seasonal box of two books that have been selected by Gladwell and three other authors.

The “Aspire. Advance. Achieve.” gala is the kickoff event of the current philanthropy campaign of the same name.

“Malcolm has a unique take on a lot of things, but as it relates to philanthropy what peaked our interest was a podcast he did regarding Rowan University,” said Michael J. Westfall, vice president of university advancement. “Within that podcast it speaks to the impact philanthropy can have on institutions our size.”

In the podcast episode, “My Little Hundred Million,” Gladwell tells the story of industrialist Henry Rowan’s $100 million donation to what was called Glassboro State College. Rowan donated $1,500 to Glassboro and was later asked to donate to the business school. Having no interest in the school of business, Rowan offered to donate $100 million to the college — an unprecedented donation size in 1992.

Gladwell compares Rowan’s donation to similar ones given to large schools, stressing that donations to smaller schools are more beneficial than donations given to schools with larger endowments.

The idea to bring Gladwell to Oakland came from Alison Gaudreau, the campaign director for “Aspire. Advance. Achieve.” A fan of Gladwell’s work, the seeds were planted when she first heard the podcast.

“All of the things he talked about with Rowan University really resonate with Oakland University,” Gaudreau said. “When Ora [Hirsch Pescovitz] got here…we had a discussion about why she wanted to come to OU, and in passing she mentioned ‘My Little Hundred Million’ and she and I just got talking about that podcast.”

Gaudreau pitched the idea of promoting philanthropy with Gladwell to Pescovitz during the planning phase of the campaign, and with her support, the campaign team began working to get him to Oakland.

“They do this quite a bit, and I have a lot of experience in terms of booking speakers,” Westfall said. “I’ve booked Jehan Sadat, Maya Angelou, Steven Pinker — a lot of folks in my past positions.”

“An Afternoon With Malcolm Gladwell” will be in 201 Dodge Hall from 1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. and is expected to draw between 500 – 600 guests. All tickets to the event have been claimed. The “Aspire. Advance. Achieve.” gala will begin with a 5:30 p.m. reception in the Banquet Rooms of the Oakland Center, with dinner and the event at 6:30 p.m. in the Founders Ballroom in the OC.