Our work with thousands of academic leaders over a decade and a half has led us to identify many of the top questions and concerns deans have related to development work.

Deans frequently ask about sharing the vision with donors. One theme that repeats is the question of “fundability.” Academic leaders often wonder whether the priorities of their college or unit are conducive to philanthropic aspirations. Will anyone be interested in funding a new data system, for example?

When your dean wonders whether their funding priorities will inspire a donor, it is a legitimate concern. The truth is, not every funding priority will resonate equally with every donor. But donors have different interests and passions, as well as different life experiences that make their philanthropy meaningful. When you help your dean craft a compelling Vision Story, you help maximize the opportunity so that those who are inclined to care about their priorities will be inspired and eager to join the cause.

One important way to help your dean craft a compelling Vision Story is to focus on showing donors how the Vision will impact real people.

Consider this dean who needed outside funding for a new data system in their college:

People might not get real excited about funding a data system. But if a data system can help us to make sure that students are learning at high levels, can give us some insight as to their being advised well, and can help us to make sure that they graduate in four years, that’s something that somebody can connect with. Because that’s how this impacts our students.

Rather than to say, “Hey, how about a data system?” it’s, “Hey, how about helping us to ensure that our students are learning at a high level, they’re meeting professional standards, and when they go out into the work force, they are the best and the brightest? They’re the ones that school districts are fighting over, because they know they’re a graduate of this institution.” If the data system can help us to do that, I think that connects with the passion of a donor much more than, “We just need some software and hardware.”

As this dean describes the opportunity, he makes students the focus. This real-life connection is what resonates with donors and makes philanthropy meaningful. Remind your dean that the primary motivators to meaningful philanthropy are a desire to be engaged with respected people doing important work and a deeply held desire to make a difference.

Sharing the human impact is all about how the vision will make a difference—and how the donor can make a difference by joining in the cause.

Help your dean articulate the big picture by asking, “Why is this important? Who will benefit from this? How will they benefit?” These questions will help get to the core of the Vision Story’s impact, so that your dean will be ready to show donors how high their return will be when they invest in your important work.


Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders