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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 4.4


The Role of Leaders and Academics in the Cultivation Process

Actively engaged leaders and academic staff are critical to the success of the development office. They can be involved in development activities in numerous ways, which are perhaps best explored under the headings of the donor cultivation cycle:

  • Identification and research. Whom will you ask and what will you ask for?
  • Cultivation. Building relationships, engaging the prospect and preparing to make the ask.
  • Solicitation. Making the ask.
  • Stewardship. Recognition and continuing to engage donors – which leads back to identification and research, the first step in the donor cultivation cycle.
Prospect Identification

Leaders and academics can become attuned to identifying development opportunities from among the people and alumni they meet during the course of their work and through their personal and professional networks. Create a simple, straightforward process for them to share these opportunities and prospects with the development office.

The development office can also turn to leaders and academics for help when assessing the potential of prospects and the strength of a match between a prospect and a project.


During the cultivation phase, leaders and academics can support development efforts by engaging a prospect in the institution’s work. This can be as simple as meeting a prospect to discuss a research project, providing information for written communications, giving presentations, accompanying development staff on visits, signing letters or making phone calls.

For high-level prospects, cultivation efforts could be more in-depth, with activities such as hosting a visit or event, inviting a prospect onto an advisory board or meeting with a prospect regularly to discuss strategic issues.


The solicitation stage of fundraising can be daunting to some. It is at this stage that a strong working relationship between an academic or leader and the development director can pay dividends.

If the cultivation phase has been thorough, solicitation should feel like a natural progression and come as no surprise to a prospect.

Before the solicitation meeting, the leader or academic and the development director should agree upon:

  • The agenda,
  • The approach,
  • Who should make the ‘ask’ and
  • What the possible outcome scenarios or responses might be.

Determining who makes the ask depends on the prospect. What are his interests? With whom does she have the strongest relationship?

Having the leader or academic make a peer-to-peer ask is generally the stronger option. If the leader or academic is unaccustomed to asking, however, the development director should coach him or her and provide opportunities to rehearse the ask in advance.

The cultivation process has already done the hard work. The ask simply provides an opportunity for prospects to support an institution they already value. The main purpose of the solicitation is to make this invitation – and then listen!

Even if leaders or academics are still uncomfortable with asking, they will be extremely valuable at the solicitation. Their presence instils confidence and lends credibility. And bear in mind that leaders and academics will feel more comfortable in a solicitation if they are donors themselves. Being donors increases their credibility and shows leadership and conviction.

After seeing the ask modelled, the leader or academic may feel more comfortable taking the lead in a future ask.


Stewardship is about nurturing your donor relationships, adopting best practice in the acceptance and administration of gifts and saying thank you.

Leaders and academics are vital to a successful stewardship programme, as they normally have a direct link to the projects that are benefitting from the donor’s gift and can offer thanks and feedback with credibility and sincerity.

Good stewardship is important for all gifts, regardless of their monetary value. Expressing gratitude and offering feedback ensures that the donor has a positive giving experience, which will influence their future giving behaviour (i.e., how they feel about being cultivated for future gifts) and what they will say about your institution to other prospective donors.

Stewardship guidelines will help manage the expectations of donors and the time of the leaders and academics involved. These guidelines will also help ensure that levels of stewardship are appropriate to levels of giving. A high-value donor may expect a personal thank you dinner with the vice-chancellor, whereas donors who contribute at lower levels might feel it is sufficient if they are thanked by a phone call or email from a current student.

Remember, a well-stewarded donor will retain a high level of warmth toward an institution and is more likely to give larger or more frequent gifts and to maintain a relationship with an institution for a long time. Also, existing donors are far more likely to give again than a new prospect is likely to begin giving.

Investment in stewardship is an essential component of a sustainable fundraising plan. As an institutional leader, you need to make time for it.

Action Items
  • To support the role of leaders and academics role in the cultivation process, ensure that there are clearly defined activities and simple processes in place for every stage (including strong training, preparation and follow-up provided by the development office).
  • Reiterate the value of leaders’ and academics’ involvement throughout the process, and recognize their success!

You Might Also Want to Read:

Leaders and academics as fundraisers
The cultivation process
Cultivation of major gifts
Stewardship activities
The role of academic colleagues
Contact reports
Gift acceptance policies
Cultural sensitivities


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.

Betheny Reid gives advice on how to take care of donors when launching scholarship programs.
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.
Cox talks about what to cover in a first meeting with a prospect.
 Chris Cox talks about the role of academic colleagues in donor meetings.