Traditionally, fundraisers are taught to start “inside” the institution, learning the organization’s mission and vision statements and the funding priorities of their subject matter partners. Then the fundraiser’s job is to carry that information out into the community to potential donors. A senior vice president of development that our team had the opportunity to interview referred to this type of fundraising as “searching for a needle in a haystack.” Because gift officers can make only so many donor visits, matching the organization’s funding priorities to the philanthropic passions of potential donors is as difficult as finding that proverbial needle.

Instead, consider practicing “outside in” fundraising. In this approach, fundraisers start outside the organization, spending most of their time with donors and potential donors, learning about how those individuals would like to make an impact with their philanthropy. With the potential donors’ philanthropic passions firmly in hand, the fundraiser then works within the organization to match funding priorities and donors.

“If I’m chasing down needles in a haystack, and I represent 15 haystacks, I may never find that needle,” the senior vice president of development says. “We start by finding people who are willing, interested, and able to make a difference with their money, then bring them back to campus to help them find the best investment point.”

Well-prepared faculty are the lynchpin of the “outside in” approach. Donors who are capable of making transformational contributions want to ensure their contribution makes an impact. How can we best equip faculty to be part of this philanthropic process?

1. The extra horse vs. the sports car

So often in higher education, we say, “I’ve got my horse and buggy. Give me your gift, and I’ll add another horse.” It’s not changing what we’re doing. It’s just making it a little bit better around the edge. Today’s philanthropists don’t want a little bit better around the edge. They want transformational change. In the donor’s mind, if a horse and buggy is where you start, they want the outcome to be a sports car.

Too often, academic partners are entrenched in the needs of their organization. For example, they might need an endowed chair to remain competitive in hiring among similar institutions. While this is certainly an appropriate fundraising priority that many donors will and do support, consider the philanthropic excitement that could be generated by looking beyond the needs of one department. Encourage your faculty to dream big dreams by working across academic disciplines and within your institution’s larger community. How could the hiring of an endowed chair be leveraged? Could the chair combine efforts across disciplines with the goal of a breakthrough in research? Could that chair work with community leaders to establish a hands-on curriculum that inspires students to greater achievement? In addition to satisfying the needs of the organization, encourage faculty to dream and brainstorm for creative solutions that go beyond “adding another horse.”

2. Be passionate about your work

Donors want to work with faculty who love what they do. Provide training and practice for your faculty in effectively sharing the mission of their work with enthusiasm. Prepare them to respond positively to the question, “What’s new on campus?” by providing an answer that highlights the exciting work that they are doing.

3. Invite the donor to be part of the process

Donors are keenly interested in the impact their contributions will make. What experiences can you provide donors that will allow them to see up-close how their contribution will make a difference—on campus, in the community, and in the world?

Find out what is important to the donor and invite them along in the process. The donor wants to know, “How am I going to be a part of this? Beyond just my gift, beyond the financial investment, how are you going to bring me along? How are we going to engage?

“Outside in” philanthropy allows all partners involved to focus on what they do best. Those in development can spend time uncovering the philanthropic passions of potential donors while the academic partners can focus on sharing their work in a way that demonstrates the link to the donor’s passion. Finally, the donor can provide input on how they would like to see the impact of their philanthropy.

Elevate fundraising at your institution by attending a public session of Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders with your academic partner. Contact us to explore the range of training and support our team can provide for your institution’s specific needs.


Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders