Successful educational fundraisers know that faculty and academic leaders can be invaluable allies in building productive relationships with donors and securing funding for institutional priorities. Deans, department heads, professors and researchers possess a deep understanding of the programs they direct, as well as a credible and persuasive passion for those initiatives that few professional fundraisers can match.
Unfortunately these potential partners are often reluctant to engage in the cultivation and solicitation of prospective benefactors. Their hesitation can be rooted in a lack of understanding about how major gift fundraising is conducted, anxieties about asking for money, fear of rejection, or even concerns that a donor may attempt to exert control over their work. On the other hand, their perceived reluctance might also be a simple case of not being invited to participate.
In his recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay, “Don’t Fear Fund Raising: Matching Donor Passion to Your Department’s Needs,” Texas Tech professor and dean David D. Perlmutter does an excellent job of demystifying the fundraising process for his fellow academicians. Perlmutter’s piece provides insights into the process of setting fundraising priorities, clarifying and articulating those needs, and underscoring the uncomfortable notion that what most excites faculty members may not be what resonates with donors.
Perlmutter’s most important lesson, however, is, that effective educational fundraising is usually an iterative process and that our greatest successes often follow the rejection of an initial approach. Accordingly, faculty and administrators must be prepared to listen actively, “be willing to shift gears,” seek to “recast and redirect” their appeal, and “leave the door open” for future discussions, even when the first appeal proves unsuccessful.
So if you are a department chair, director of a center, or dean of a college, what should you do if you find that what the donor wants is not what you need? …. Be willing to shift gears. Don’t be hypnotized by your agenda. Keeping your priority list handy does not mean you should ignore out-of-the-box opportunities.
Dean Perlmutter’s terrific insights, however, are not enough to prepare academic leaders for fundraising success. Institutions committed to actively and effectively engaging faculty and academic leaders in the fundraising process must also be committed to providing education and training for these key allies.
In addition to demystifying the fundraising process, a training program for faculty, department heads and deans will also supply them with the perspectives, tools and techniques they need to hone and articulate their priorities and to successfully engage and build relationships with donors. After helping lead workshops this summer for academic leaders at several TalentED clients, I found it both remarkable and satisfying to observe the resulting relief, excitement and resolve among our participants once they were been equipped with the tools for success.
So make the most of this readily accessible talent pool at your institution by ensuring your faculty and academic leaders receive the perspective, preparation, encouragement and support they need to maximize their chances for fundraising triumphs. Don’t leave it to chance.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation (website) has long held a distinguished reputation as a leader in philanthropy. They have recently released a report “leading for results: developing talent to drive change” that not only highlights some of the great programs they fund and lead, but also offers guidance for developing leadership in the non-profit sector. Of particular interest is one of the first sections, which lays out several competencies for a non-profit leader (keep in mind the Casey Foundation’s philanthropic focus on children).
Bring attention to and act on disparities, recognizing that race, class and culture impact outcomes and opportunities for vulnerable children.
Master the skills of “adaptive leadership,” which makes leaders aware of the impact of values, habits, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors associated with taking action to improve results.
Use the self as an instrument of change to move a result, based on the belief that individual leaders are capable of leading from whatever position they hold.
Collaborate with others, understanding that the capacity to build consensus and make group decisions enables leaders to align their actions and move work forward to achieve results
On the fundraising end of the spectrum we are familiar with the concept of competencies, but CFRE categories mostly cover knowledge and basic skill sets and experience. What I like about the competencies that the Annie E. Casey Foundation lays out in this report is that they are driven by behavior and approach, which can greatly contribute to leadership effectiveness and push individuals from being producers to being leaders.
A problem that one might have with competencies listed above is the challenge of actually measuring and assessing competency itself. Softer activities are more difficult to track and quantify. If one were to try to apply similar competencies to fundraising and development then it would be imperative to have each competency area correlate with actual metrics and performance expectations. I’m not sure that it would be something easily translated.
Still though, these competencies got me thinking, especially in the area of senior leadership of development shops. How many CDOs, Directors, Vice Presidents, etc. have you worked with that wholly or partially embody these competencies? Has it made a difference?