Development professionals recognize the critical roles that academic leaders and faculty play in fundraising—articulating the vision, making connections with potential donors, serving as a vital link between donor and university, and so forth.

But sometimes, faculty can be reluctant to embrace development, for any number of reasons. Some say it’s a waste of time. Some fear it because they think it’s about arm-twisting. Some say it’s a distraction from more important things. Others may not say it, but certainly believe that fundraising is beneath them.

“The hardest part of what we do often is not working with the donor; it’s working within our own institution,” says one vice president for development and alumni engagement. “You just have to understand where they’re coming from and what their motivations are.”

As students return to campus and academic institutions prepare for another fall, it’s a great time to think about strategies for getting critical academic partners engaged in the important work of development.

The following strategies are based on the research Advancement Resources has conducted with deans, university presidents, faculty, and “superstar” development professionals in preparation for a new workshop we are designing to help development professionals build strong working relationships with academic leaders and faculty.

Get to Know Faculty and Their Work

One faculty member summarized the sentiments of so many faculty we have interviewed: “The biggest gap that I’ve seen in dealing with a lot of different development professionals over the years is a lack of intellectual curiosity. If somebody from development comes into my office and they haven’t even bothered to look at my web page to see what I’m interested in, that communicates a lack of interest and sophistication that … is really poisonous to starting a relationship.”

It’s a perspective shared across the academy: Good development partners take an active interest in faculty and their work.

“Engage with them,” says one development professional. “My biggest advice to anyone in development is to connect with them and make them feel that they matter.”

Listening skills are paramount, to be able to just sit and listen. Ask questions. Understand that they are in their own orbit of academia and brilliance; they don’t expect me to be as brilliant, but we also need to have a really good conversation. So a lot of that is just asking the right questions. Getting to know them as people. Getting them to know that I am there for them. My job is to help them with their work and my job is to bring in money. Once they understand that, and then once you’re able to make it happen, then it all just flows from there.

Application item:

What approaches can you take to understand your assigned faculty members’ work, demonstrate interest, and get to know them personally?

Build Trust With Faculty

Our research shows that oftentimes faculty members don’t have a particularly positive perception of development professionals. This may be due to previous negative experiences with other development officers. Acknowledging past challenges and creating a plan to overcome barriers and establish rapport is critical to building trust. As one faculty member points out, “Treat your faculty as you would treat a major donor.”

“Trust is key,” says one vice president of advancement. Science and process are important to faculty. “Have a plan for helping them realize where they’re headed, what the goals are, what the expectations are, the time commitment that it takes,” she says. Doing so can help them overcome a “fear” of development.

One senior associate vice president for development says it’s important to recognize that 100% participation is not required. “Not every faculty members is an ideal development partner,” he says. Instead, identify key faculty members—those who display enthusiasm and willingness to participate.

Application item:

What can you do to earn your dean’s trust and build his/her confidence in you as a professional partner? Additionally, how are you going to select which faculty to work with?

Help Faculty Understand Development

“Development is really just a big unknown for most deans,” one university president told us. His take echoes what we have learned from hundreds of deans, directors, and faculty members. One of their top concerns about engaging in fundraising is total bewilderment about the development process and how to work with development professionals.

“I think the faculty and professors need to realize that their time is not going to be misused, but that they are a critical part of important relationships from a donor’s perspective,” says one vice president of advancement.

She and other highly successful development professionals we’ve interviewed take a proactive approach, utilizing concepts such as Return on Philanthropic Investment, and tools such as the Donor Development Chart, to help faculty understand philanthropy that is both meaningful for the donor and transformative for the organization.

She goes on to say, “I think many academic leaders love development when it’s done right and they feel like they’re engaged and it’s set up for success.

Oftentimes, they don’t expect that. So many of them clearly say up front, ‘You know, I’m not a fundraiser. I’m not interested in doing that. I know I have to do it, but that’s not what I’m about.’ Then they come back and they say, ‘Hey, that was a really positive experience for me personally. Can I help you with other relationships?’

Application item:

What can you do to help your faculty get their arms around development?


Interested in building a philanthropic relationship with your faculty? Join them at the Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders workshop.


Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders