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Mind the Gap
Mind the Gap

Surveys expose differences in how chief development officers and institutional leaders view their fundraising roles

By Rae Goldsmith


Richard Weiss/Illustration Source

If good communication is the key to a successful relationship, it might be time for chief fundraisers and their institutional CEOs to consider couples counseling.

A recent survey of community college presidents and chief development officers shows, for example, that while 82 percent of presidents say they are comfortable asking for gifts, just 55 percent of fundraisers say the same of presidents.

A similar survey of heads and fundraisers at independent schools reveals that 88 percent of fundraisers believe they adequately prepare their school heads for meetings with donors, compared with 73 percent of heads who agree that they are adequately prepared by their chief fundraisers. This means, of course, that more than 25 percent of heads do not agree that they are being well-prepared.

The CASE-conducted surveys uncover other gaps and conflicts between the perceptions of CEOs and chief fundraisers at independent schools and community colleges. For example:

• Many CEOs want fundraisers to be more strategic, while fundraisers want CEOs to do a better job articulating the institutional vision that fundraising supports.

• Fundraisers want CEOs to dedicate more time to fundraising, while some CEOs want fundraisers to make better use of the time they have available.

• Fundraisers want CEOs to ask for gifts often, while CEOs want fundraisers to ask more.

• Just as CEOs want more information about potential donors from fundraisers, fundraisers want more communication about CEOs' interactions with donors.

• And everyone wants more communication, in general, from everyone else.

Can this marriage be saved?

The surveys also ask CEOs to share the ways their chief development officers help them be more effective as fundraisers and solicit examples from fundraisers about the ways their CEOs contribute to the success of their fundraising programs. The responses suggest that open communication, collaboration, and respect are keys to a successful relationship.

"[We] attempt to keep each other fully informed regarding all contacts with donors and prospective donors," says one CEO of the relationship with the chief fundraiser, noting that the close proximity of their offices facilitates good communication. "Another aspect of our relationship relates to our feelings of mutual respect for each other."

Other CEOs describe the chief fundraiser as a partner who listens and shares ideas and is willing to help the CEO hone fundraising skills.

The chief fundraiser "helps me understand how I am perceived and how day-to-day practices make a difference," says one.

CEOs also credit fundraisers for helping them focus on the right tasks, connecting them with the right donors, and complementing their fundraising strengths and weaknesses.

Meanwhile, fundraisers praise CEOs for their willingness to cultivate and steward donors, their advocacy for fundraising initiatives, and their ability to inspire passion for the institution.

Says one fundraiser of the CEO: "He is clear in his passion for the mission of the school and can communicate this to all constituents very effectively. He is supportive of all development activity and eager to learn how to do this work in the best way possible."

Another describes the CEO as "a strong leader [who] inspires others to a higher level.

"As president, he has set a very strong tone for the institution," the fundraiser continues. "Consequently, those in the community have a high appreciation for the college that in turn motivates people to give. He also writes personal and well-written letters to our major donors."

Another fundraiser says of a school head: "She understands that there is a need for cultivation, that big gifts don't happen overnight. She sets realistic goals and timelines. She believes we can do it!"

Starting the conversation

The general survey results described above and the findings specific to community colleges and independent schools that follow can serve as a starting point for a conversation between CEOs and chief fundraisers. What's working in their collaboration that contributes to fundraising success? What can they do to better support each other in their fundraising roles?

For an even deeper conversation, CEOs and fundraisers can download the original surveys from the CASE website (see "About the Surveys" for the URLs), take them separately, compare their results, and benchmark them with the overall findings.

Community Colleges: Resource Gap

Although 89 percent of presidents responding to the community college survey say they understand the fundraising process, just 63 percent of fundraisers say their presidents understand the process (Fig. 1; view all the figures at once here). This large, 26 percent gap in perception is similar in magnitude to their views about the president's comfort level when asking for gifts (Fig. 2).

Forty-four percent of presidents and just 30 percent of fundraisers say the president spends an appropriate amount of time fundraising (Fig. 3). When asked, nearly 80 percent of presidents say they spend less than 25 percent of their time—with 34 percent of respondents spending less than 10 percent—on fundraising activities.

Presidents and fundraisers are in closer alignment when reflecting on the effectiveness of their working relationship (Fig. 4). However, only about half of presidents agree that the chief development officer helps the president improve his or her fundraising effectiveness, compared with 62 percent of fundraisers (Fig. 5). The low levels of agreement overall suggest that there may be opportunities for chief fundraisers to more actively help presidents be successful in their fundraising roles.

Community college presidents and fundraisers differ in their views about fundraising goals and the adequacy of resources available to achieve them (Figs. 6 and 7). About 70 percent of presidents believe the college or district's fundraising goals are realistic compared with 53 percent of fundraisers. The gap is even larger—31 percent—when the two groups address whether adequate resources are dedicated to growing private giving. More than 75 percent of fundraisers do not agree that their resources are adequate.

Responses to several questions in the survey suggest that some colleges may have opportunities to better align the missions of their governing and foundation boards in support of fundraising. While 68 percent of presidents say the mission and vision of the two boards align, just half of fundraisers agree (Fig. 8). The results are similar when presidents and fundraisers answer whether the president actively engages the foundation board as a key fundraising resource.

The survey results also signal the need for presidents and fundraisers to discuss and clarify their own roles in the fundraising process. When asked whether the president is the college or district's chief fundraiser, nearly 80 percent of presidents agree compared with just 44 percent of fundraisers (Fig. 9). The 35 percent perception gap is the largest among all the survey questions.

Overall, a number of factors appear to correlate with fundraising success at community colleges.

The maturity of the fundraising program: Established fundraising programs (defined as having at least two full-time fundraisers for more than 25 years) generally report raising more in the previous fiscal year than emerging (two full-time fundraisers for 11 to 25 years) or new programs (two full-time fundraisers for 10 or fewer years).

Experience of the chief fundraiser: Institutions at which the chief fundraiser has four or more years of experience are more likely to report annual fundraising totals of $500,000 or more.

Chief fundraiser's cabinet role: More than 60 percent of presidents and fundraisers report that the chief fundraiser is a member of the institution's senior management team. They also generally report higher giving totals than their peers at institutions without a chief fundraiser at the management table.

Presidential time spent on fundraising: Institutions at which the president spends at least 25 percent of his or her time on fundraising are more likely to report giving totals of $1.5 million or more.

Independent Schools: Confident Heads

Nearly all heads at independent schools express confidence in their understanding of the fundraising process (Fig. 10) and their role in the process (Fig. 11). They also view themselves as advocates for making the investment in fundraising for their schools (Fig. 12). Eighty-five percent of heads agree that they are comfortable asking for gifts (Fig. 13).

Compared to heads, chief fundraisers for independent schools are significantly less likely to say their heads understand and advocate for fundraising, with the largest gaps in perception occurring around whether the head understands his or her fundraising role and is comfortable asking for gifts.

The perception gap is smaller when heads and fundraisers are asked whether the head spends an appropriate amount of time on fundraising activities (Fig. 14). However, this question also receives the lowest percentages of agreement among respondents, suggesting that many heads and fundraisers alike would like heads to dedicate more time to fundraising.

In fact, 38 percent of heads say they spend less than 25 percent of their time on fundraising activities, while 47 percent say they spend between 25 and 50 percent of their time fundraising. Heads at larger schools with enrollments of 800 students or more are more likely to spend more than 50 percent of their time on fundraising activities than those at schools with lower enrollments.

The gaps in perception are relatively small when heads and fundraisers are asked whether they have an effective working relationship (Fig. 15) and whether the chief fundraiser helps the head improve his or her effectiveness as a fundraiser (Fig. 16). The lower levels of agreement on the latter question, however, may suggest that many respondents—32 percent of heads and 30 percent of fundraisers—would like to see fundraisers providing heads with more support.

As noted earlier, the gap is relatively larger when heads and fundraisers are asked whether fundraisers prepare heads adequately for meetings with donors (Fig. 17).

Overall, 77 percent of chief development officers and 68 percent of heads at independent schools agree that their school's fundraising program is effective (Fig. 18).

One evaluation of effectiveness is whether fundraising results are growing. Sixty-four percent of heads and 71 percent of fundraisers report that their results for the most recent fiscal year are higher or moderately higher than in the previous year. Generally, heads who report spending at least 25 percent of their time on fundraising are more likely than those who spend less than 25 percent to report year-to-year fundraising growth.

Newer teams of heads and fundraisers—those that have worked together less than three years—and those at smaller schools with enrollments of fewer than 400 students are more likely to report year-to-year fundraising growth than those who have been together longer or are at larger institutions.

However, more experienced teams and those at larger schools generally report larger overall results. In other words, small, newer programs and teams may be growing fundraising results faster as they build their programs, but established programs and teams are raising more total private support for their schools.

About the Author Rae Goldsmith headshot Rae Goldsmith

Rae Goldsmith is the vice president for advancement resources at CASE.




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