As an academic leader who partners with development professionals to secure support to accomplish your organization’s important work, it is critical that you are able to articulate funding priorities as compelling philanthropic opportunities to donors. Nobody knows the details of your projects and programs better than you do; however, is it possible for those important details to get lost in translation as you share them with donors?

Research into donor motivation shows that donors are not always interested in the same details as academic leaders. While leaders think of their work as a linear process toward a solution or conclusion, donors want to see the headlines first. While leaders tend to focus on the need for funding, donors want to hear about the impact that their contributions will make. By reorienting your thinking to meet donors’ likely questions, you can better present your vision in a way that inspires lasting support.

Here are several questions that donors may be asking themselves as they hear you describe a philanthropic opportunity:

1. Is this a credible organization or project?

This is the question that gets you “through the door” and prompts a conversation about philanthropic support. Share what the organization has done in the past that proves its abilities. Share similar projects that have achieved results to help a donor see what is possible.

2. Can leadership demonstrate efficacy?

Philanthropic dollars alone cannot accomplish the vision. Donors want to know what components the organization or project team has in place to facilitate success. Who is working on the team? What is their track record? How is the project or program positioned for success?

3. What’s the problem?

While donors aren’t eager to hear about a program’s financial need, they are very interested in the greater problem that it will solve. Capture a donor’s interest by sharing a problem that is societal and about people, and by sharing the real-world consequences if this vision is NOT achieved.

4. What’s the promise?

After donors understand the problem, they probably want to know what can be done to fix it. Share a forward-looking promise that directly addresses the problem, and then invite donors to imagine what the world will look like after the vision is realized.

5. How are you going to do that?

While most donors don’t want to know every detail of how the vision will be accomplished, they do want to know what major components must come together. Share three to five of these elements, and be prepared to offer more information, if asked.

6. Am I inspired?

A well-reasoned plan alone is not enough to entice a donor to give meaningfully. To inspire donors, let your own enthusiasm show. Connect to why you do this and why it’s meaningful to you. If you don’t know the donor’s personal story, invite the donor to share what makes this opportunity meaningful to him or her, as well.

As you practice sharing your important work with donors, your development partner is a valuable resource. Utilize his or her professional expertise in donor motivation and the fundraising process to identify what information is crucial to share in donor meetings. Together, you can share your vision in a way that is unforgettable, creating an opportunity for truly meaningful giving.

Sharpen your skills in philanthropy and telling a compelling Opportunity Story by attending a public offering of Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders with your development partner.


Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders