Deans often ask, “What is the best way to ask donors to endow faculty positions?” Although endowed chairs and professorships may seem to matter only to the university, with an informed perspective, donors can be shown the incredible difference that these positions truly make.

  1. First, and most importantly, learn why this contribution may be personally meaningful to the donor.

If a donor has had a meaningful life experience that relates to the philanthropic opportunity, then the contribution becomes likewise meaningful. Meaning is contingent on two things: the connection to the personal experience, and the knowledge that, by doing this, the donor will make a real difference. This academic leader explains:

We had a faculty member who was threatening to go somewhere else, so I spent the spring flying up and down the coast trying to develop an endowed position for him. And when I met with the donor, at some point the donor started talking about a relationship that he had with a professor that made a difference in his life, and I realized at that moment, this is what it’s all about.

By understanding where the donor is coming from and merging that with what your needs are, through that relationship and through those discussions, you can find something that’s impactful for the donor. And it’s not impactful for the donor if it’s not also impactful for the university.

2. Next, explain how endowed positions will contribute to the success of the program.

This donor, who together with his wife has endowed faculty positions at two major U.S. universities, shares his perspective:

I think, first, you have to sell the idea to donors of the value of that particular way of contributing to the university. We see how beneficial it is to hire people in [endowed chair and endowed professorship] positions, particularly if you’re trying to draw somebody from another part of the country. And if you have an endowed position, that’s a big drawing card and it’s recognition for the person that holds it, and it will allow the university to attract top talent for academic endeavors.

Then, the longevity of the gift is something that I think would appeal to most donors. They’re making a gift that’s going to stand in that place for many, many years to come, and it’s going to do good for the program over that entire length of time.

3. Finally, share with donors the overall goals of the program and the impact it will have.

This dean of engineering explains how he shares this information with donors:

We’re trying to produce some of the best engineers to help drive the economy. To enable that, we need resources to reduce class size, to recruit and retain the top faculty, and to build facilities that those faculty and students need to do the research that is going to lead to startup companies and create more jobs for the economy. We have a global economy now. If we don’t address the lack of engineers in this country, then we’ll lose industry to other countries and we’ll lose that permanently. Through an endowed position, we could retain or recruit top faculty. By increasing the number of faculty, we could cut class sizes in half, so we are able to improve the quality of education.

Instead of considering an endowed position from the perspective of the university, look at it the from the perspective of a donor:

  • What personal experiences make this contribution meaningful?
  • What good will the program accomplish?
  • What difference will this endowment make to the program?


To learn more about your role in fundraising, click below to learn about our public workshop for academic leaders.

Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders