Veterinary medicine students at one institution now have the opportunity for valuable hands-on clinical and surgical experience because their dean and the university’s development professionals knew their roles in the philanthropic process and worked together to prepare for just such an opportunity. A donor couple provided a transformational contribution to purchase a mobile veterinary medicine clinic and fund a faculty member to oversee it. Students rotate through the mobile unit, daily hitting the road to provide much-needed medical services to shelter animals.

We recently had the opportunity to interview this dean about her experience in working with development professionals and the donor couple to make this transformational contribution happen.

While many donors to academic institutions are alums, not all are. Donors can be people who have benefitted from the services or programs provided by the institution—such as veterinary medical care—or they can just be people who like what the institution is doing. This particular donor couple was from a different part of the country than the academic institution, yet several programs on campus matched with their philanthropic passions.

Donors can also come through referrals from other development professionals, as was the case with this donor couple. They had been engaged in other areas of the university—athletics, music, the library—when the development professional working with them uncovered their passion for veterinary medicine and brought them to meet the dean. After making several smaller contributions, it was apparent the couple wanted to invest more.

That was a really generous thing for that development professional to do—all because she was listening to the passion of the donor.

While a dean’s first role is to tell the college’s story in an inspiring way, this dean also understands the power of actively listening and collaborating with donors to bring their philanthropic passions to life in a way that delivers meaningful outcomes for both the donor and the university. In this case, the donor’s desire to provide veterinary care for shelter animals and underserved pet populations meshed with the dean’s vision of providing hands-on experience for her students through a mobile unit that would serve these shelters. They met at a breakfast prior to a football game to discuss the possibilities; by kickoff, they had a preliminary plan in place.

I don’t think you can do it without a story. You have to have a vision. You have to be able to talk about the impact. You also need to do more intense, focused listening to what the donor is saying—to take those clues away about what they’d be interested in.

Once plans were in place for the project to move forward, the dean leveraged the donor couple’s contribution by writing supplemental grants and securing additional contributions from like-minded individuals.

Students who rotate through the mobile veterinary clinic perform an average of 55 surgical procedures during their two-week rotation, as well as providing other types of care. The donor couple’s desire to contribute has created a win-win-win situation. The veterinary students develop skills, the shelter pets have a greater likelihood of being adopted, and everyone gains a greater understanding of the power of philanthropy.

We do it all for the price of lunch. The shelter has to feed the students, and that’s the only cost they have. Grants and gifts help us to be able to provide this service all over the state.

This dean strives to provide a meaningful Return on Philanthropic Investment by both communicating regularly about the impact of a contribution and looking for ways in which a project can be personalized to demonstrate respect. Unfortunately, the donor’s husband passed away before the project was completed, so the dean and her development colleague arranged for the husband’s name to be on the mobile unit as a way to memorialize his contribution to the project.

The unveiling of the unit was an exciting moment. I said to her (the donor), “This is the most fun thing I’ve ever done.” And she replied, “This is the most fun thing I’ve ever done, too!”


Are your deans and faculty leaders prepared to play a robust role in fundraising at your institution? Consider attending a public offering of Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders with your dean or contact us to learn more about customized, in-house training.


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