John E. Odegaard is executive director of the Naval War College Foundation. He joined in September of 2011.
The son of a WWII naval officer, Odegaard graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in1974. Following graduation, he pursued a career as a surface warfare officer and served on seven ships based around the world. From 1992 to 1994, he served as commanding officer of the Newport, R.I.-based USS Clark (FFG11).
In 1998, John left active duty and joined The Boeing Company as a program manager. During his career at Boeing, he worked on various defense, space and intelligence related programs. In 2006, he joined two of his former Boeing colleagues in starting a small, information-technology startup company based in Colorado – RadiantBlue Technologies Inc.
PBN: The foundation's mission is to enrich and enhance Naval War College programs. According to Charity Navigator, your revenues exceed your expenses and your net assets are sizable at more than $21 million. What are the primary ways your organization is accomplishing this?
ODEGAARD: Government funds are critically important to the operation of the Naval War College, but it requires broader support to make the college an even greater source of information and knowledge – for both students and faculty – in our ever-changing world. The Foundation supports programs and projects such as: funding for academic chairmanships; regional studies and electives; faculty travel and research in order to continuously update the curriculum; and evening lectures by prominent national and international leaders. As you noted, the Naval War College Foundation was awarded Charity Navigator’s Four Star Rating for the past two years. This places us in the top 17 percent of charities across the nation.
PBN: How has your leadership experience in the Navy, at Boeing and in the information technology startup RadiantBlue informed your work as the Naval War College Foundation's fifth executive director?
ODEGAARD: The basic leadership and management principles I learned in the Navy and in industry are readily transferable to the nonprofit sector: sound management of funds and personnel; accountability for personal and staff actions; acting with integrity; being a good steward of the Foundation members’ generous donations.
PBN: Of the many college needs listed in your newsletter, which of the five focus areas do you spend most of your time tending to – China Maritime Studies, Irregular Warfare, Ethics, Cyber Conflict or Women Peace & Security? Conversely, which area could use more attention?
ODEGAARD: All of the focus areas are important … not only to the Naval War College, but to our nation. Each area is unique and extremely relevant in today’s fast-moving world. We don’t necessarily focus on one over another since their needs are different. For example, the Ethics program is part of the required curriculum throughout the year for each class, so the support we provide is more constant. The other focus areas all have unique contributions to make, so they have evolving requirements that the Foundation tries to support as needed.
PBN: What is the biggest challenge to fundraising for the college and what strategies do you use to surmount it?
ODEGAARD: One of the greatest challenges we face is awareness: the Naval War College is a national treasure that belongs to all Americans. But most Americans are not aware of the significant impact the students and faculty have on our national leadership. There is also a robust international program at the college, with a high percentage of these students assuming positions of senior leadership once they return to their home country.
One of the misconceptions about the Naval War College is that we receive all necessary funding from the federal government. Although the federal government pays for most of the basic needs, the Foundation provides a level of support – call it the X-factor – that enhances the faculty and student body. For example, during the recent budget limitations placed on all government employees, NWC faculty were able to travel in support of their curriculum development activities. This essential travel would not have been possible if not for the foundation.
PBN: Name one new initiative the foundation is embarking on and what you hope it will achieve.
ODEGAARD: The foundation is in the process of embarking on a campaign to raise funds in support of the Center for Cyber Conflict Studies. Our nation is becoming more and more dependent on the Internet for all of our activities. The Center for Cyber Conflict Studies will study, research and collaborate with other government agencies on the strategic and operational challenges presented by cyber-space operations and cyber-conflict now and in the future.