As we all know, academic leaders play a critical role in development. And, as we all also know, deans sometimes can be reluctant to fully engage with development. So what’s a development professional to do? We can’t force deans to make fundraising a priority.

What we can do, however, is manage up.

By helping deans recognize the opportunity that philanthropy can provide—and that development will be their strategic partner throughout the process—they are more likely to be open to learning their critical role, which will result in countless opportunities for your institution.

Let’s start by looking at the situation from the dean’s perspective. During Advancement Resources’ training to help development professionals build robust working relationships with academic leaders, we explore the top five questions/concerns deans have about development. At the top of the list is: bewilderment about the development process and how to work with development professionals.

One dean we interviewed summarized it nicely: “Development is a big unknown for most deans. They don’t know anything about development professionals; they don’t understand them. I don’t think deans know what they should be doing or how they should be doing it.”

Here are four approaches for turning the unknown into something deans understand and are eager to embrace.

1. Help the dean recognize the potential

With all of the responsibilities a dean has, fundraising is a matter of priorities. One dean, who is a successful fundraiser, told us, “It’s a matter of where you spend your time. Where do you think you’re going to get the greatest rewards?”

      • How can you help your dean recognize the impact philanthropy can have on their area and the institution?
      • What examples will you share of other deans whose areas have benefited from philanthropy?
      • How might you help your dean become eager to fulfill their appropriate roles in development?

2. Learn the mindset of the dean

Many factors can impact the mindset of deans: an academician’s way of seeing the world; the pressures of administrative responsibilities; the stress of interacting with presidents, provosts, faculty, students, parents, and alumni—to name a few. Understanding your dean’s mindset can help you build a strong professional relationship that encourages engagement.

      • In conversations with your dean, how can you apply active listening skills and focus on understanding her or his perspective?
      • How might you apply your understanding to communicate in ways that resonate with your dean?
      • What have you already done, and what can you do, to demonstrate intellectual curiosity in the dean’s work?

3. Demonstrate Your Own Credibility

Consider the long path that most deans have taken to get where they are: years of disciplined education, research, teaching, assistant and associate positions. What might such a dean’s perception be of development professionals, who tend to be younger and less educated?

      • What steps should you take to demonstrate professionalism and competence?
      • How should you describe your roles in ways that resonate with your dean?
      • How can you establish yourself as a subject-matter expert and resource on advancement in the eyes of your dean?

4. Demystify the Development Process

Because development is a mystery to many deans, oftentimes there are myths they tend to believe about fundraising: It puts them in the awkward position of begging for money… It’s all about special events… It taints the purer objectives of teaching and research … And on and on.

      • How will you find out what myths your dean believes to be true about fundraising?
      • How will you dispel those myths?
      • Recognizing the academic mindset, how might you help your dean understand development in a scientific, process-based way?

Managing up requires a strategic approach and an investment in time. The rewards, though, can be tremendously gratifying for the academic unit, the dean, and the development professional—not to mention the donors who will have the opportunity to contribute to the exciting things you will accomplish together.

To further develop your important partnership with your dean, attend the Professional Fundraising for Academic Leaders workshop. At this session, academic leaders and their development partners will explore the essential roles academic leaders play in the development process, transform funding priorities into philanthropic opportunities, and discover tools and strategies for effectively communicating with donors.


Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders