Engaging Your Academic Leaders

Not only are there many times when a dean or a department chair will need to be involved in the conversation between a potential donor and the institution, there are also many times when that academic leader may need to be the only official involved in the conversation. This is because the donor may want to hear from the academic leader in his or her field of interest, rather than from a professional fundraiser. And as more institutions, both private and public, look to ramp up fundraising efforts in a sluggish economy, the role of academic leaders will become increasingly vital.

For advice on engaging your academic leaders in the work of development, we turned to Leonard Jessup, currently the dean of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, and previously responsible for Washington State University's foundation. Jessup has served on both sides of the table: the academic side and the foundation, so he brings both perspectives to bear on the issue of how best to bridge the gap between the advancement shop and the academic side of the house. Here's his advice.

The First Hurdle: They Have to Believe in the Value

Academic leaders can be passionate about advancement work -- if you make the case for it effectively. Jessup recommends moving down the rank from the president and provost to the department heads, "walking them through the calculus." In other words, help them see the value proposition -- that this is time well-spent -- and then help them see why the answer is not just to hire more fundraisers, and why the more important a gift is, the more they will need to be involved in soliciting it.

"Once the provost is on board," Jessup advises, "have a meeting of the deans with the head of advancement and the provost in one room. The priority of fundraising work has to be clear. Then follow up with individual conversations about the value proposition."

Second: Engage Deans in Setting the Fundraising Agenda

Often development officers, noting the disinterest of their deans, ask the wrong question. They want to know how they can get deans more engaged in cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship activities. Jessup suggests that the right question is: How can I get my deans more engaged in setting the fundraising agenda?

Jessup notes that academic deans will be committed to solicitation and stewardship activities if the advancement work they are involved in is aligned with their strategic priorities -- and when that alignment is clear, the positive impact of that fundraising work on the institution will be far greater. "What you want to do is invite your deans, your department heads, and your faculty to think about a long-term vision for where they want their academic unit to go, and what support is needed to achieve that vision," Jessup advises. "The vision needs to drive the fundraising agenda. When you have major gifts coming in that support the mission and the aspirations of that unit, then it is easy to engage deans in the work."

For example, if a dean has indicated that a certain department is unlikely to thrive without more endowed chairs, then you can focus on raising gifts to endow chairs. The dean is then working with the development officer on a project that is of vital importance to the unit. "When the fundraising becomes mission-critical," Jessup notes, "the dean is more likely to be working very closely with donors. They'll be embedded in each other's lives. Thanking them then happens naturally and organically."

Remove Impediments: Intelligent Matching

"Matching a particular dean to the right development officer, the right prospect, and the right process is critical," Jessup adds. If the academic leader is "green," pair them with a development officer who will be a good mentor to them; to the dean who has done fundraising work before, offer more leeway in choosing they would like to work with."

When pairing deans with major gift prospects, take personality types into consideration. "If you have a dean with an open, spontaneous style," Jessup suggests, "someone who is energetic and shoots from the hip, pair that person with the alum from Silicon Valley who interacts with people in the same way. If your dean is cut from a more traditional academic cloth and likes to hear himself or herself talk, be careful who you match them with. You don't want to put oil and water together when you know it won't work."

The same intentionality is needed when preparing deans for the cultivation process. For example, suppose one of your deans likes to hunt, fish, and participate in outdoor activities, and typically avoids cocktail parties and martini bars. This dean might be out of his element at a social function. "Orient this dean's meetings around the activities he likes to do," Jessup advises, "where he will be comfortable and confident."

Similarly, one dean may be at their best commanding a room filled with people, and may be in their element holding court over dinner, while another dean may be excellent one-on-one but would not be good at running a conversation around a dinner setting. Take individual personalities and styles into account.

Offer Coaching and Training

"Training has to be done in a way that doesn't embarrass the dean. Keep it private, in a one-on-one setting, and ensure that you have the right development officer doing the training."
Leonard Jessup, University of Arizona

Academic leaders who are newer to fundraising work will need guidance. Jessup recommends covering:

  • Carrying a major gift portfolio -- and the value of focusing on a few prospects
  • Moves management, and how to build regular meetings into their weekly schedule
  • Expectations around the time commitment involved and how long it can take to move from cultivation to gift
  • How to understand and interpret rejections

Once the deans are well into the process, Jessup recommends coaching them on more specific items -- such as how to do a lunch if it's the first lunch, and how to do a lunch if it's time to make the ask.

Share our article, Five Things Department Chairs Need to Know About Fundraising, with leaders on the academic side of the house, to offer a quick primer (and dispelling of myths).

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