It’s Magic!

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love a magic trick? Young or old, innocent or cynic, there’s something just plain fun about the ridiculous joy of being deluded into believing that rabbits really DO come out of the hat, or the coin really DOES come out of an ear, or the girl in the box wiggling her toes and waggling her fingers really IS sawed in half. How DO they do that?

Any magician worth his or her salt knows you never give away the trade secret.

Well, we’re going to reveal a couple of ours… joining the Compression Planning® team are Neil Herbkersman and Polly Binns.

PHOTO 1_Neil Herbkersman current photo_2013

Neil Herbkersman, Compression Planning Facilitator, Instructor and Grants Expert

Neil retired from Sinclair Community College (Dayton, OH) in 2012 where he spent 26 years developing grant proposals with internal and external partners.

At his retirement he had secured for Sinclair a remarkable cumulative total of $165 million in federal, state and local grants. When you learn that the largest grant received was the last he wrote – $12 million – you begin to realize the prodigious volume of work he produced – on his own until 2000, when Karla Hibbert-Jones joined him, followed by Nancy Jones.

HOW?? His secret weapon, he says, was Compression Planning®. The process allowed him to help faculty, staff, community and business partners quickly and efficiently plan, draft, write, win, and implement thousands of grant proposals.

He currently owns Benchmark Grants, LLC, a small business providing consulting and training in grants development and grants planning. Neil is familiar to any CRD member as a prolific speaker and author on topics of grant development, federal funding success, and grants regulatory requirements.

PHOTO 2_Polly Binns

Polly Binns, Community College Liaison and Director of CP Alumni & Communication

Polly concluded 10 years as executive director for the Council for Resource Development (CRD) in October, 2013, to start a consulting firm, Binns Drennon LLC, with Marsha Drennon, retired president from State Fair Community College, MO.

Prior to CRD, Polly served as the chief development officer at Cecil College in rural Maryland for almost 14 years.

Over the course of her tenure at Cecil College, she served as executive director of the Foundation, managed annual, employee and capital campaigns, and developed a major gift/planned giving programs.

Under her guidance, the college’s foundation board was re-invigorated. She helped them build an endowment from $36,000 to $5 million, and raised another $4 million for equipment, scholarships, faculty grants, and student emergency grants.

During her first six years at Cecil, Polly also served as the college’s public relations officer, writing press releases, feature stories and marketing materials, and as a government relations officer, working with legislators and staff in Annapolis, Maryland’s capital.

At CRD, she built membership from 1200 community college development officers to 1600, increased member programming, oversaw the Council’s governance restructuring, and grew the Council’s human resource pool: staff from one (her!) to four, and volunteers from 40 to over 160.

PHOTO 3_PigPickin

Polly’s family reunion feast!

Polly notes that she came regrettably late to Compression Planning® in her career. But since her training in 2012, she’s used Compression Planning® for institutional strategic plans, campaign plans, membership growth plans, communication plans, and a family reunion complete with pig-roast!

But all that is just demographics. This makes these two tick!

PHOTO 4_Niland Herbkersman magician 1951

Neil’s dad, Niland Herbkersman – professional magician

Here’s an interesting tidbit about Neil: His father, a World War II veteran, used his GI Bill to attend the Chavez College of Magic in Hollywood, CA. This young man left his rural Appalachian Ohio community and traversed by bus from Chicago to LA along Route 66 to become a professional magician.

For the rest of his life, by day Niland Herbkersman cut fabric for furniture companies, and by night with his wife, Sarah, performed magic shows at churches, family reunions, and parties. They even named their son after Niland’s instructor and mentor at the Chavez College—Neil Foster—an internationally known magician. Neil’s sister is a semi-professional self-trained ventriloquist. What influence did this have on Neil?

Well, he claims to be the dullest member of his family, but he is by academic training an environmental scientist, having been the first in his family to attend college and earn a bachelor, then a master’s degree at Kent State University and Miami University of Ohio respectively. He taught chemistry, physical science, physics, and photography at secondary and post-secondary educational institutions.


Our new teammate Neil, featured at Sinclair

The combination of that background – the science of magic and the magic of science – led him to a career at Sinclair. “When I attended Kent State, I sure would have benefited from something like the current TRIO Student Support Services program at Sinclair that mentors and serves first generation students,” Neil noted.

“So, the most satisfying aspect of my work at Sinclair was helping faculty and staff solidify their projects, get the proposals right, and secure millions of dollars so they could do what they wanted to do for their students.”

PHOTO 8_Polly 1956 (1)What about Polly?

Nose in a book, or pencil in hand, or pacing around the 9 acre cornfield next to the family home dreaming up stories, Polly grew up revering not the magic and imagination of science, but of the written word.

PHOTO 9_Polly sibs neighbors doing play circle 1965_6

Polly leading and organizing at an early age!

She says she can’t remember a time she wasn’t reading or writing something down. When she was 9 years old, she read Little Women for the first time, and thought she must have been Jo March reincarnated. That led to mad scribbling, furious costume-making, intrepid stage building and relentless recruitment of siblings and neighbors to play the parts.

She eventually earned a  bachelor degree in theater. While she never earned her living in the field, she claims that the training directly impacted her professional success.

PHOTO 10_Polly Mary_ play reading

Polly (left) pursuing her love of theater in college

“I can’t think of another academic field that requires you to work as a team with individuals of very different leadership, learning, and action styles, and still complete the project on time without excuses.

Actors think directors are tyrannical. Directors think the business office is out of touch with the art. Accountants think the tech staff thinks money hangs from trees.

They all think actors are temperamental.  But no one ever says, ‘Oh, dear. Act V of Henry the Fifth isn’t nailed down yet. We’ll have to delay the opening a week.’ Ready or not, the curtain rises. If the actors miss lines, the lighting cues delay, the costumes rend apart mid-scene, well, the audiences don’t come back and the theater shuts down. End of story.”

The magic here is believing wholeheartedly in the goal of the project, and trusting completely the teammates engaged with completing the project, even if you don’t “understand” them. It’s training she’s applied to every task and every job she’s ever had.

In a very real way that is the magic that drove both Neil and Polly: the unflagging belief in the mission of community colleges. One the scientist, one the writer, both are dreamers who worked their magic to pull resources from seemingly thin air in order to fulfill the goals and dreams of so many people.

Neil and Polly can point to their successes and the growth of their institutions via the use of Compression Planning®:

  • Efficient use of limited staff and time saving precious financial resources
  • Extraordinary Return on Investment (Neil has calculated a 40:1 ROI for his work at Sinclair!)
  • Visual plans that outline clear, measurable, actionable goals that bring results
  • Cross institutional buy-in and if not the breaking down of silos, clear paths of communication among them

But we know that the real magic is not the trick we see in front of us – sleight of hand, powerful soliloquy, meticulous experiment, compelling case for support or grant proposal, certificate or degree. In themselves, each is just an action.

The real magic is the transformative nature of the experience. To one observing or interacting with the activity, something almost alchemic happens – joy of surprise, breathtaking empathy with character, breakthrough hypothesis, deep satisfaction in giving a scholarship, hopeful students in a new workforce training program, family and community enriched by an individual who has reached his or her fullest potential.

And so we are thrilled and proud to have Neil and Polly join the Compression Planning® Team, bringing their enthusiasm, experience, expertise, and yes, MAGIC to us all.

Please welcome them!

Jerry McNellis and Pat McNellis

PS: If you are attending the American Association of Community Colleges Convention April 5 – 8, in Washington, DC, please stop by Booth #1911 and say hey!

One Response to It’s Magic!

  1. Brian February 4, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    WOW! What a wonderful and exciting piece of news! Congratulations gang!

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