Engage Them (Or You May Have to Catch Them)

We’ve run across a couple of instances lately where a college development office or college leadership team has expressed frustration with either their foundation board, alumni organization, or college support group. On several occasions one or more of these organizations have undertaken projects on their own that were at odds with the direction of the college.

In one example, a college support group decided to hold a fundraiser. This happened during the development office’s early preparation for a major gifts campaign. Obviously, prospect cultivation made that much more difficult if the prospect has already donated a smaller amount of money to an organization that says it’s working on behalf of the college. In another example, the foundation board of a community college began raising funds for an initiative they deemed important, yet it was contrary to the college’s strategic direction. In a third example, an alumni organization, frustrated that they hadn’t been involved with discussions about fundraising priorities, decided to move ahead with projects on their own, without coordination by the development office. A fourth example happens frequently in our experience. A faculty member may reach out to a business or foundation for support of a project, again without coordinating with the development office, either before or during a campaign.

Needless to say, each of these real life examples is not only frustrating for the development office and college leadership, it can be counter-productive to the larger goals and direction of the institution. While it may not be possible to keep every group coordinated all of the time, it is possible to keep this type of “rogue” activity to a minimum. Communication and engagement are the keys. Here are a few ideas for colleges to consider:

Foundation Boards

The foundation chair should have regular meetings with both the development officer and the college president. The president should be invited at least twice per year to share operational and revenue priorities with the board. Each foundation board should have an annual goal-setting session that should be driven by these priorities. Also, we strongly advise that the governing board and foundation board have at least one joint meeting per year to discuss pathways for mutual support.

Alumni and College Support Organizations

Representatives from each of these organizations should be invited to participate in goal-setting meetings with the development staff. Additionally, the chair of each of these groups should have an ex-officio seat on the foundation board in order to take part in discussions about fundraising priorities. Finally, the development staff and college leadership need to listen and seriously consider ideas raised by these groups. These organizations are there to support the college, donate their time, and are invested in the organization. Their members will have great ideas. These ideas just need to be channeled in the right direction.

Faculty Members

Often faculty believe they are at the end of the chain of college communications. Whether that’s true or not is beside the point. Most faculty want the best for their program and students and believe it’s important to show initiative in helping to raise external support. Many also believe they are rarely consulted as the college builds its list of programmatic and financial priorities and strategies. Listening and dialogue are the keys. The development staff should have regular communications with faculty and staff about fundraising priorities both through regular written updates and by attending faculty departmental meetings on occasion. If possible, put the faculty senate chair on the foundation board as an ex-officio member. Have regular listening sessions where faculty can share their concerns and ideas about the future of their programs.

You may have many more ideas on ways to coordinate the fundraising efforts of these groups and individuals. We can’t assume that everyone is in the loop. When they feel they are valued and someone is listening to their ideas, they can be very important fundraising assets. Also, board members, alumni, faculty and other supporters are important prospects for investing in the college. Those who only have the capacity for a small donation today may lead to a major gift tomorrow.


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Each week, our team of experts will put share their experiences, tips and viewpoints in all areas of higher education consulting, leadership, and fundraising. We're a team that consists of tenured individuals who have made it their life’s work to help solve some of the issues surrounding community colleges today. Some of our topics include:

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