“There are not enough state and federal dollars to make any university successful.”
—Academic Leader

Federal and state funding has been steadily eroding while competition for limited grants and other sources of funding for academic institutions is on the rise. Whether it be for new microscopes, students in need of financial aid, a recreation center, or a fresh face on faculty or staff, support from federal and state funding often falls short. When it does, university leaders have the opportunity to leverage links inside and outside of their academic institution to secure financial commitment from donors whose philanthropy helps cover what federal and state funding does not.

According to recent research conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts, in the United States, “Revenue from federal and state sources made up 34 percent of total revenue at public colleges and universities in 2017, with other funding coming from tuition and fees, private gifts, self-supporting operations, and other sources.” With only a third of funding covered by federal and state sources, many academic institutions rely on the power of private philanthropy to achieve their vision. Philanthropy mitigates the effects of reduced government funding and is often the difference in maintaining a high margin of excellence.

“We constantly write research grants, research proposals, and hope for the government to provide some of the funding or industry to provide some funding, but it’s just not enough. The possibility of philanthropy provides that margin of excellence to support the students, support and keep that faculty, and attract faculty members when we are constantly in competition with top programs across the country and the world. We want to make a difference; we want to train the best students, so we need that kind of support.”

 —Academic Leader

Development professionals play an integral role in securing financial commitment from inspired donors whose passions align with the vision of their academic institution, but they can’t do it alone.

When campus leaders—deans, faculty, athletics staff, directors, and others—partner with development professionals, they create a fundraising powerhouse that, when leveraged successfully, results in securing the philanthropic funding needed to cover what the government does not. As one faculty member put it, “Everybody wants to be associated with excellence.” Working together provides the edge to achieve just that.

Together, university and development partners should work to fulfill these five important roles when meeting with donors and potential donors:

  1. Share the vision of their institution, department, etc.
  2. Articulate philanthropic opportunities in a way that is compelling
  3. Create engagement opportunities with alumni, colleagues, etc.
  4. Identify potential donors
  5. Partner to create Meaningful Return on Philanthropic Investment(s) for donors

As federal and state funding are likely to continue decreasing, prompting further competition for limited grants and other sources of funding for academic institutions, philanthropy will play an increasingly critical role in achieving the margin of academic excellence that supports the success of many academic institutions and their students and faculty.

Ask & Act:

  • Are you and your staff aware of the role the development office plays? Do you know the names and contact information for the development professionals who work with your college, department, or area?
  • Do all members of your staff know and share the philanthropic vision for your college, department, or area? If not, how might you help them do so?
  • Are you fully leveraging your staff in engaging potential donors with your college, department, or area? Faculty and staff are oftentimes an organization’s best spokespeople. How can you help them create meaningful connections with alumni and other constituents?
  • Can your staff articulate their work in an inspiring way? If not, how can you help them craft specific funding priorities as “philanthropic opportunities” that are compelling to donors?



Learn more about effective ways of tapping into philanthropy to achieve that margin of excellence at your institution by attending a public offering of Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders.

Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders