John W. Bourdeaux '91, P'22 is the Vice President of Advancement at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, Connecticut, a position he has held since 2015. He had dedicated his professional career to the support and advancement of nonprofit organizations and their work, including educational institutions, organizations fighting societal problems, and the arts.
Bourdeaux entered Hotchkiss in 1987 as a prep. "My Dad was a businessman, and we moved around a lot for his career advancement. I was born in DC, but moved two weeks later. We lived in many places, including Atlanta, Georgia, which was the last stop before Hotchkiss. I had never spent more than three years at one school, and that was tough. So when my father was considering a move to London for business, I suggested that we look at boarding schools for me. My father talked to a friend who was familiar with the concept, and they came up with Hotchkiss, Choate, Exeter, and St. Paul's. I was accepted at all four; I liked Exeter, but my father felt that wasn't the right spot for me. A small kid from the Southeast in a big school didn't seem like a good fit, and my father told me that Hotchkiss was the one. He was absolutely right, and my time in Lakeville has had - and continues to have - a great impact on my path."
"The first two months were really tough for me. I quickly realized I needed to lose my Southern accent and that I needed to get a big blue winter coat. My prep year was a milestone for me academically - I had never done so horribly. I had always found school to be easy, and there were some really low grades on that first report card. My first year at Hotchkiss was all about learning how to fail - and learning not to like it. With a lot of faculty help, I learned to work and acclimated to the Hotchkiss community in subsequent years. In hindsight, I wish I could revisit the 18-year-old kid I was as a senior and tell him to relax a little bit and enjoy it."
Bourdeaux next found himself at the University of Chicago. "The academic preparation at Hotchkiss is incredible, and it turns out my last two years in Lakeville were tougher than my first two years of college - a notable fact given that Chicago is a legendary grind." He majored in history. "Hotchkiss ignited this interest. I took several history classes at Hotchkiss, including Julia Trethaway's ancient history course, as well as Robert Barker's American History and Tudor England courses. They enthralled me. My senior year, I had an opportunity to do an elective with Peter Philip - America and the Cold War. This was the spring of 1991, and we had had a front-row seat to history in the making - the Berlin Wall's coming down and the end of the Soviet Union. We were reading about it in the New York Times, sprawled in the Gucci chairs in the library. It was like we had a personal connection now to this history. Peter made the subject matter come alive, and I loved this course. For a capstone research paper, I looked at Stalin's death in 1953 and how that affected the Cold War. I did extensive research, including sifting through two years of New York Times micro- fiche, and reading cover to cover a book my dad sent me - The Churchill-Eisenhower Correspondence 1953-1955. Peter's comment on my paper said that I must continue to study history. I took it as a directive, and Hotchkiss once again set a foundation stone in place. I was now doing very well in my classes, and most important, I gained a passion for academics. I was honored to win the Preston History Prize at graduation."
Bourdeaux flourished at the University of Chicago, graduating with a B.A. in history, with Academic and Department of History Honors. The plan was to become a history teacher, and he wrote his thesis as a summary of his future dissertation topic. However, at Chicago, he also discovered theater and, in particular, improv. "Theatrical improvisation as an art form was basically invented at the University of Chicago. That and nuclear fission. Improv seemed to be a better fit for me." After graduation, he took a position as an intern at The Goodman Theatre, thereby derailing his academic aspirations and confirming his passion for theater. In 1996, along with his Hotchkiss classmate David Nathanielsz and some others, he started his own theater production company, Step Right Up Productions. "We gathered local talent to introduce a variety of original theater, ranging from straight plays to improv. We had a good time and had occasional flashes of artistic brilliance."
"In order to do all this theater, we had to raise money. I asked everyone I knew to support us. I didn't even know that fundraising was a profession, but I learned to develop and execute fundraising strategy critical to company success, identify donors, create solicitation material, make solicitations, and direct ongoing donor relations. I didn't realize it, but I had become a development officer."
Over the next few years, figuring he could always go back and teach, Bourdeaux worked in software marketing and then became an official fundraiser for the University of Chicago in the New York Regional Office, where he directed the annual giving program. Then, from 2004-2007, Bourdeaux headed Hotchkiss's annual fund, "And that's probably where I met you - the person reading this article right now!" His tenure leading The Hotchkiss Fund was enjoyable, but "the most important part was solidifying this belief: I had received the absolute best education from the best group of men and women that has ever been available." He then did some consulting work before joining Yale's development office for a bit, sharpening his skills.
In 2010, Bourdeaux joined Partnership for Strong Communities in Hartford, CT, where he was tasked with founding and defining a new development program addressing homelessness and affordable housing. "This was really interesting work, and I learned a great deal about homelessness and the surrounding issues. We were very fortunate that we worked in conjunction with the Melville Charitable Trust, which is exclusively devoted to ending homelessness and was a great convener of problem-solvers. I am grateful to Hotchkiss for making me a lifelong learner, since that came in handy once again. From a social justice standpoint, I learned that our society constructs barriers for people, and folks - like me - who have never faced barriers cannot grasp this concept. When you are speaking to a homeless person and wondering how that came to be, you hear these incredible stories. For example, let's say their car battery died, and they can't come up with $200 for a battery. They are late to work. They try taking public transportation, but they have to get their kids on the school bus first, so they are late again. After being written up three times, they lose their job. Now, they sell their car (minus a battery) for rent money, are having trouble finding a job (because employers do not like hiring the unemployed), and eventually end up evicted. Many people cannot comprehend the fairly simple concept that some people just can't put $200 together, and the ramifications of that fact can wreak havoc in a person's life like you can't believe. I still work in the community, working with those struggling with substance abuse and the formerly incarcerated as well, trying to help them find their path."
In 2011, Bourdeaux landed a job at Hartford Stage as director of development. "This was a great job that I really loved! In my time there, we commissioned a play that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama - Quiara Alegría Hudes's Water by the Spoonful. We world-premiered A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, moved it to Broadway - and won four Tony Awards. The last play that my team and I raised money to commission was Matthew Lopez's The Inheritance, which is opening on Broadway this season after a great run in the West End. I was very happy at Hartford Stage, but I got a call from a friend at the Connecticut Science Center presenting me with a challenge and a job offer, asking me to run the development and marketing programs, and I was intrigued."
"Most everything I have ever become involved with professionally has had an interesting problem at the center. My friend presented me with this challenge. 'Running a science center is part of it, but we are also in charge of professional development for public-school science teachers throughout the entire State of Connecticut. We need help getting that work funded.' That was the closure for me. I love trying to solve problems, something I learned at Hotchkiss. And we keep coming up with interesting problems to solve at the Science Center, whether it is teacher training, sifting science fact from science fiction, or the importance of workforce development at every age." Bourdeaux's responsibilities there include leading a team of 14 responsible for general admission, membership, and group sales as well as complete development portfolio, including individual, corporate, foundation, and government support, meeting the annual revenue goals and developing a multi-year stewardship plan for funded projects, and serving as staff lead on strategic planning development.
Developing relationships with funders, political leaders, business leaders, the nonprofit community, and other stakeholders to lift up Hartford as a destination for innovative and creative individuals and organizations is another of Bourdeaux's goals. Recently profiled in the October edition of a publication featuring Hartford residents, he explains why he and his wife, Suzanne, like living and raising their family in Hartford: "We realized if we wanted a beautiful home, access to great jobs and nearby cultural institutions, and a place that would support us in how we wanted to raise our family, Hartford had everything we wanted... I've become a part of Hartford by working in the nonprofit community in particular. I try to bring more people into relationships with all the phenomenal cultural institutions and nonprofits and people helping each other in Hartford. I'm a connector, and I love bringing people with similar interests together."
Bourdeaux, who describes himself as an introverted extrovert ("I love people, but I need quiet time every day!"), explains development work in this way: "People have confusion about development work. It is not about raising money - it is about changing people's minds. If you can change someone's mind, you'll get all of the resources you need. It is easy to measure money - you just have to be able to count - but it is not easy to measure a changed mind. As a result, people inside and outside the development field get confused and just focus on the money. If I ask you for a gift, then I might get it once, twice, maybe three times. If I change your mind about a mission, then you will give your philanthropy, your time, and your mindshare to a mission - whether I am involved at the institution or not. That is long-term relationship development. There is a good reason why development language is all farming metaphors - planting the seed, cultivation, and stewardship. Development is like farming, and the crop we harvest is people who have grown to care about something greater than themselves and are willing to put their resources behind it."
For someone whose professional career has been defined by challenges, beginning at Hotchkiss, Bourdeaux credits the School for almost all that he has achieved. But he now sees Hotchkiss through a different lens. "Our son, Jack, is a new lower mid this year. Going to Hotchkiss was his choice, and I am happy he made it. I'm not sure I could live with a Choatie."
"While dropping him off in September, I became a bit emotional, experiencing many of the same feelings I felt so many years ago when I first arrived at Hotchkiss - a skinny teenager with a Southern accent and the wrong clothes. I still have a physical reaction to the blinking lights at the four corners, but my stomach doesn't drop quite as far as it used to!"
In addition to his work, Bourdeaux enjoys spending time with his wife Suzanne, an executive at Adobe Software, and 11-year-old daughter Rose. "She's got her eye on Hotchkiss, now that she's seen her brother there. It took her no time to realize that Hotchkiss is a place that provides incredible opportunities for students in a beautiful place surrounded by extraordinary people. I may be passing that blinking red light for many years to come!"