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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 4.2


Articulating the Vision and Setting the Priorities

Lead with vision!

The development director, your colleagues and donors alike will look to you for a bold, inspiring vision around why the institution is creating a development office and what the efforts of this office will help the institution accomplish.

This vision should integrate with the overall strategic vision of the institution, build upon its unique characteristics and strengths and focus on specific activities where philanthropy can make a significant difference.

It is your mission statement for development and should inspire both internal and external stakeholders to understand the impact development can have and make them to want to contribute towards achieving its goals.

The vision statement should encapsulate your development goals at the highest level and be reflected in your internal and external communications so its influence can be widely felt. (See ‘Sample Vision Statement’ below.)

Remember that your development vision should focus on those elements of the institution’s overall strategic goals that can form the basis of realistic fundraising projects that are appealing to your prospect pool. However, you may want to include one broad statement about the overall welfare of the institution and students, so as not to disregard all other areas of discipline for which other funding is needed (i.e., so that all funding does not become restricted on the institution’s top few focal areas).

With Whom Should You Be Sharing Your Vision and Priorities?

The senior staff should take collective responsibility for choosing fundraising priorities and projects through a transparent and equitable process, thus ensuring that they accurately represent the aspirations of the institution and all its members.

To be achievable, the vision and priorities need the support and buy-in of all staff. Staff should be formally briefed at staff meetings and inductions. The vision and priorities should be featured in the staff newsletter, on the intranet and website.

One university successfully held a ‘Philanthropy Day’, during which staff could hear about the institution’s vision and priorities, come to understand their role in development efforts and offer suggestions or ask questions.

It is also important to brief your governors, trustees or other semi-autonomous advisory boards. Ideally, they should be involved in the process of developing the vision. Working with the marketing and public relations office to develop core messages and internal and external marketing strategies will help you distil your vision and ensure it reaches as many audiences as possible.

Externally, you need to share your vision and priorities with:

  • Prospects,
  • Funders,
  • Partners,
  • Business associates,
  • Alumni,
  • The local community,
  • Students,
  • Parents,
  • Retired staff,
  • The general public,
  • The press — trade, local and national,
  • International contacts,
  • Academic collaborators and
  • Any other individual or organisation with whom you have a relationship with or would like to engage.

This can be a costly and complicated process. With careful planning, however, you can tailor your messages to make them appropriate to different audiences and make full use of electronic media and communications and pre-existing mediums (annual reports, graduation ceremonies and other events) to reduce costs.

Be Flexible

Once you have articulated your vision and priorities, you should build your development strategy to reflect them. You should also remain agile enough to respond to donor-led requests.

Increasingly, high-value donors are taking an active role in how their donations might be spent to reflect their own strongly held vision and priorities. It is unlikely that any institution in receipt of such an offer will be unable to identify some shared priorities with the donor, but it is important to remain flexible and receptive to new ideas.

It is also important to be able to articulate the vision for the institution, but in a manner that inspires a donor to support that vision with core, unrestricted funding.

Review Regularly

Strategic planning is an iterative process. Institutions need to review their vision and priorities regularly to ensure that they still reflect the strategic direction of the institution. Where possible, these reviews should involve both internal and external stakeholders.

Action Items
  • Create a bold, inspiring vision that aligns with the institution’s priorities and vision.
  • Vet this vision with other key leaders, and then communicate it internally to get buy in.
  • Ensure the fundraising and development priorities mirror this vision and that the vision is reflected in activities and external communications.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Adapting and modifying to fit your institutional and cultural setting
Championing the office internally
Developing a fundraising strategy
Selecting the right communication channels
The case for support
Cultural sensitivities

Sample Vision Statement

By 2020, XYZ University aims to be celebrated internationally for its excellence in teaching and research, especially in the disciplines of medicine and health sciences. Its work will be expanding the boundaries of medical science and making a real difference to the health and well-being of people across the world. This will be achieved by:

  • Developing a £100m world-class teaching campus;
  • Recruiting 10 internationally renowned professors in health-related disciplines;
  • Funding five substantial research programmes in priority areas: ageing, cancer, mental health, child health and health education;
  • Creating 200 postgraduate scholarships and
  • Continuing to be dedicated to all student achievement.

Isabel Penne is the director of partnership and academic development for Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. Here, she talks about making the case internally, prioritizing projects and setting expectations.
T.J. Rawlinson, director of campaigns and alumni relations at the University of Bristol, talks about the importance of annual giving.
Peters discusses identifying and articulating development priorities.
Chris Cox, director of development and alumni relations at the University of Manchester, gives advice on how to effectively combine development and alumni relations departments.
 Chris Cox gives his view on "interventionist donors" and how to adapt to donor agendas.
Lori Manders talks about the role of leadership and the vice-chancellor, and how they need to provide the big vision but also be accessible on a day-to-day basis.