Having had the chance to work with a very diverse group of faculty with clinical, research, and teaching responsibilities, I realize the value of time—both theirs and mine! I also know the value and insight these individuals have when it comes to donor relations and giving. They have the stories to tell that can inspire and ignite action to truly make a difference for the institution. It is critical for development professionals to have on-going meetings with academic partners. But how can you use that time most effectively?
As I look back, I am reminded of my first meeting with an academic partner. In my first week on the job, I reached out to one of my newly-assigned faculty members, a nationally-renowned researcher studying healthy aging. His lab was located on the basement level, in the far back corner of the Biomedical Science Building. Besides a few student researchers, this was not a heavily trafficked area. Excited to have a guest, he was more than enthusiastic to share his work. As a matter of fact, he shared copies of research findings, books he authored, videos of lectures, and enough technical jargon to leave my head spinning.
How was I ever going to relay that passion and wealth of information to potential donors? I realized what I really needed were the answers to three simple questions. These questions have been the core of every meeting with faculty ever since. Those three questions—and follow-up questions, if needed—that I learned to ask my faculty in helping them to inspire potential donors are below.
1. Who are you?
Specifically, what makes you uniquely qualified to do the work you do? What are the life experiences you have had that led you to where you are today? What drives your passion for the work you do?
2. What do you do to make the world a better place?
If your mother bragged to her friends about what you do, what would you hope she said? What do you do to make the world better (that can be done at the community/local level, but should have a big-picture scope)? Why will others care about what you do?
3. If you had additional funds, how could you make the world an even better place?
Consider the size of the contribution. If I were to tell you, “You have $5000,” how would you spend it right now? What about a larger amount of $25k-100k? How would you allocate those funds over the next couple of years? Now, think about a transformative amount of $10-50 million. Dream big! What potential would your work hold if you had unlimited resources (money, people, capital, equipment, etc.)?
Once you, as the development professional, have the answers, you should be better able to help your faculty member share a compelling “Opportunity Story” with donors and potential donors. I would suggest that you encourage faculty to put their answers down in writing and share what they’ve written with the communications team. Often, each faculty member has a dedicated webpage—the perfect place to share who they are, what they do, and the potential their work holds. With the answers to those three questions, you and your faculty members can spend less time in meetings and more time making the world a better place.
Carve out time with your dean, academic leader, or faculty member to work together on a compelling Opportunity Story by attending a public offering of Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders.