“Donors are asking themselves, ‘How can I change the world?’ Imagine you’re starting out with a horse and buggy. Too often in the world of education, we want the donor’s contribution because we’d like to add a second horse. That doesn’t significantly change what you are doing. It’s just making things a little bit better around the edge. Today’s philanthropists don’t want ‘a little bit better around the edge.’ They want transformational change. If the horse and buggy is where you start, the donor wants the outcome of their transformational contribution to be a sports car.”

—University Senior Vice President of Development     

Wouldn’t you eventually get tired of being asked to help feed and house that second horse if you had the means—either outright or through the influence you yield—to purchase the sports car? Truly transformational contributions happen when donors are motivated by their passion for and commitment to a cause. As a faculty member, you can take these simple steps to deepen engagement with donors and potential donors to secure passion-based gifts that will amp up the horsepower of your important work.

1. Let your passion show

“My great skill is sharing my passion for my subject and why I love it. I’m trying to engage people on an adventure. Our job is to prove that we are driven by passion and excitement, that our disciplines matter centrally to people. In my experience, that’s when people come on board with support and turn from enthusiasts to donors—because they feel they can trust you to work with others and get things done.”

—Program Director and Endowed Chair Holder

Take the time to prepare a simple message that you can share with donors and potential donors that demonstrates how your initiatives will make a difference. No matter your area, be sure to choose language and examples that will resonate with the general public. Employ metaphors that will help laypeople better understand complex concepts. Share a story or two that demonstrates how your work has helped people. Most importantly, let your passion for your ideas shine. Donors may not have the educational background to fully understand your area of expertise, but they will understand your passion and enthusiasm when they see it. Why would anyone back a lame horse?

2. Show off your corner of the world

“A lot of people have a very profound memory of their own university years and their excitement for learning. And when they are put back in contact with people who are learning—who are excited to be learning and finding out new things—they gain enormously from it. It is rejuvenating for people to rediscover that passion. People who have shared passions might want to share their generosity with us.”

—Program Director and Endowed Chair Holder

In addition to being prepared to share your passion for your work, consider ways you can engage others with it. Can you provide a tour of your laboratory, a peek backstage, a glimpse into a study abroad program, or other area that shows the impact of your work? Would any of your students be willing to share how your area of study has impacted their lives—or how they hope their own studies will impact others? Can you create opportunities in your area for people to serve on a board or steering committee?  Make room in your corner of the world for interested people to get involved. A side benefit? The enthusiasm of others might be the injection of high-octane fuel that powers your sports car idea into reality.

3. Climb out of your silo

“The more we increase our own collaborative natures and are generous and thoughtful toward our colleagues in other disciplines, the more that is seen by the outside world.”

—Program Director and Endowed Chair Holder

Reach out to others who work both within and outside of your area. Often that “sports car” idea is born out of the synergy of sharing a variety of viewpoints. Donors scale their contributions to the size of the overall goal. Working with colleagues across academic areas can generate the big ideas that inspire transformational contributions.

4. Tap your development colleague for help

“My passion for my subject is the most important thing in my relationship with external constituents. No one’s going to support us if they don’t believe in us and believe that we are going to do great things with their help. My development colleagues make sure that I’m always in that position to be able to speak passionately about my subject.”

—Program Director and Endowed Chair Holder

Draw on the experience of your pit crew—those in the development office—to assist you in crafting and articulating an inspiring vision for your big ideas. Not all big ideas are compelling to donors. Your development colleague can help you tweak your message to make it genuinely appealing. Or, if they judge that your idea is really a “second horse,” and might not be appealing to donors, they might help you find a “sports car” priority that sparks a philanthropic passion in donors.

Over the long haul, donors will not be content with merely giving to an institution. They don’t want to just feed a second horse. They want to see big ideas—those innovative and daring sports cars—come to fruition through their contributions. Philanthropy can be the horsepower that drives your important work to greater heights.


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