As a dean or academic leader, you might grapple with fundraising. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, and you may have a hard time getting your arms around your actual role in the process. Rather than viewing fundraising through that lens of discomfort, consider looking at the fundraising process as a catalyst for advancing your important work.
1. Change your mindset
Consider all the negative language we use to describe raising money—you “hit” someone up or you attempt to “pry” money out of someone’s hands. These euphemisms reflect our underlying feelings toward fundraising and subconsciously drive our behavior.
We don’t want to be seen as begging for money. Donors don’t make significant philanthropic investments in “needy” organizations. Changing your mindset can help to change your behavior. Consider that donors want to be engaged with respected people doing important work. Think about fundraising as an opportunity to share the passion you have for your subject area with like-minded people. Instead of feeling like you must “pitch” your idea, consider donor conversations as invitations to be part of achieving something important.
2. Go for the big, hairy, audacious idea!
Potential donors are looking for ways their contributions can make the biggest impact and will scale their contributions accordingly. So dream big. Focusing on immediate needs or building unrestricted funds—while important to you—lacks the world-changing impact for which donors are searching.
If you have needs that are pressing, consider how to emphasize the impact of fulfilling those needs. For example, your department is sorely in need of a data system to track student progress and achievement. Rather than focusing on the need—the data system—focus on the impact the data system will have on students in helping them learn at the highest possible level to ensure their success after graduation.
3. Climb out of your silo
Potential donors often come from business or other backgrounds that require collaboration among people to solve problems or to find ways of achieving opportunities. As you think about the impact your initiatives would bring about, consider other areas at your organization that could help achieve that impact—or even increase it. Look for opportunities to cross pollinate. For example, a medical researcher who studies the effects of aging might create synergy by looking for partners in sociology and biomedical engineering. Business-minded donors love breaking down silos to achieve something greater.
4. Listen to the potential donor
Avoid monopolizing precious time in donor visits talking solely about you and your idea. Because credentials are important in academia, academics often feel the need to over-explain their credentials with donors. Resist this urge; a few details to build credibility will often satisfy donors at the outset. As your relationship deepens, the donors will have the opportunity to learn more about the body of your work.
Similarly, donors may require only a “taste” of your idea at the outset. They are obviously interested in your idea because they have agreed to a conversation with you. It’s important to remember that a conversation is a two-way dialogue. Make time to listen to donors. Learn what drives their interest in your idea, which components of your initiative they would find meaningful, and how they might see themselves being involved.
A good rule of thumb: You should talk about 30-40% of the time during a visit. Turn the focus on the potential donor by saying, “You’ve heard about my story, but before I go any further, I’d like to learn more about you.”
5. Lean on your development partner
When it comes to developing that big, hairy, audacious idea, tap into the “people” expertise of your development colleague. They can help you create and refine the storytelling around your fundraising priorities that will appeal to donors.
Keep in mind, however, that not all great ideas are fundable. Your development colleague can help you explore reasons why your idea might not be inspiring to potential donors and provide advice around whether or how to move forward. Set your development partner—and yourself—up for success by talking with them about the ideas you feel warrant development.
You spend countless hours devoted to your area. Think of fundraising as an opportunity to share that devotion with like-minded donors. Changing your mindset around fundraising—from task to opportunity—will strengthen and broaden the impact of your work.
Begin the journey of changing your mindset about fundraising by attending Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders with your development partner.