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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 4.1


Leaders and Academics as Fundraisers

Raising funds is a team effort. Whilst the director of development can support, coordinate and instigate the activity, he or she needs the endorsement, support and cooperation of colleagues to successfully build a sustainable development practice.

Why Is It Important for Leaders and Academics to Get Involved?
  • The more leaders and academic staff become involved, the more they will understand development and pioneer culture change across the institution. As their understanding grows, they will begin to identify new development opportunities leading to donations or other partnerships.
  • Most high-level donors and prospects want to get to know the people to whom they are entrusting their money. They want to feel confident in the institution’s leadership and that their donation will be appreciated and used wisely.
  • A major donor’s relationship that is limited to her ties with the director of development is more tenuous and vulnerable to stagnation or failure. If the development director moves on or does not get on with the donor, for example, the institution will potentially lose this donor. It is important for prospects and donors to feel that their relationship is institution-wide.
  • The support of the leaders and academic staff adds credibility to an ‘ask’. They speak from positions of expertise and, by communicating their passion and enthusiasm, can motivate prospects to give.
  • Leaders and academic staff provide powerful eyewitness accounts to donors about the difference their support is making. These reports are great for donor stewardship and inspire further gifts.
  • When discussing an academically related gift, prospective donors often prefer to talk with academics fluent in the language of that particular discipline.
  • Major gift donors often view leaders and academic staff as peers, and peer-to-peer asking is very powerful.
  • Individuals in senior positions often expect to interact with the most senior individuals of an institution. Expecting them to interact with less senior staff can be inappropriate and can be perceived as insulting.
  • Leaders and academic staff bring a different perspective and can often suggest other ways for a donor or prospect to offer support through areas such as graduate recruitment and collaborative research.
  • The support and involvement of academic and senior staff increases the success rates of development activities.
Training and Support

Leaders and academics are not development professionals, and they approach fundraising with varying levels of empathy, knowledge and confidence.

Development directors need to share their expertise with leaders and academics and assist them by providing training, information and personal support. It is important that leaders and academics receive credit for their fundraising activities and that their successes are celebrated and noted.

The development office should make it as easy as possible for leaders and academics to be involved. Members of the development staff should take responsibility for any administrative or organisational activities and ensure that leaders and academics receive good briefings before, and prompt feedback following, prospect meetings.

The development office and leaders and academics need to forge a close professional relationship based on a mutual trust and understanding of the distinct skills and motivations each contributes.

Action Items
  • As your fundraising strategy develops and key prospects are identified, work with the development director to identify key leaders and academics who best align with these strategies and prospects.
  • Articulate your vision to leaders and academics about why their support is critical.
  • Ensure there are clearly defined activities and simple processes in place – including strong training, preparation and follow-up provided by the development office – before leaders and academics are engaged.
  • Recognise and celebrate their contributions frequently.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Common objections and their rebuttals
Key working relationships and links with other offices/departments
Articulating the vision and setting priorities
Championing the office internally
Role of leaders and academics in the cultivation process
The role of academic colleagues


CASE provides in-depth information about campus and external relations, including the role of the president, deans, faculty and staff in fundraising, as well as campaign ideas for faculty and staff giving.

Shirley Pearce recalls the first steps she took to create her development team, beginning with training at CASE.
Shirley Pearce describes how vice-chancellors need to be flexible and well-prepared by their development team.
Peters describes how her institution involved academics in development efforts.
Thomas talks about the vice-chancellor's role in fundraising and how the development office can help prepare for that role.
McCallum talks about how to involve academics in development as curators and leaders of institutions.
Manders talks about the role of the vice-chancellor, and how development teams can engage and work with senior leadership.