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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 9.2


Engaging Institutional Leadership

Most development directors will say that without the support of the institution’s leadership, development and fundraising at the institution will not thrive.

Most leaders are committed to supporting their development directors, but maintaining that critical level of commitment and interest over time can be challenging.

A development director needs to invest as much in the relationship with his or her institutional leader as in the relationship with the institution's best donor. Regularly updating and engaging institutional leadership will enable those leaders to be stronger champions for your efforts.

This support can be achieved in a number of ways:

  • Deliver frequent, appropriate and timely communications. The leaders of institutions are extremely busy and need information to be given to them in ways that are easily accessible and timely (e.g., an executive summary with thoughtful notes versus a lengthy report to read).
  • Put formal reporting and monitoring mechanisms in place. Establish what report your leader would like and when (e.g., a quarterly financial report for the quarterly finance review or a biweekly one-page summary of department activities, progress and action items). Agree on what is appropriate, and stick to the regime.
  • Make your expectations clear and establish boundaries. It can be daunting for a new development director to demand time from an institution’s leader, but it must be done. Development directors have a responsibility to give leaders a clear indication of the time they need to set aside and to make sure that this time is used wisely.
  • Make it easy for your institution’s leader to be involved in the fundraising process, but remember that they may be new to this process and require your support whilst they build their own experience.
  • Identify appropriate training for your leadership team and encourage them to network with leaders of comparable institutions to understand and share best practices.
  • Do not keep serious issues from your leadership team. Share significant challenges with them and engage them in finding solutions before issues escalate and become a threat to the institution.
  • Respect one another’s expertise and skills.
  • Celebrate and recognize successes often!

Action Items
  • Prioritize the relationship with institutional leadership (as you would an major donor). The more leaders are engaged in an efficient and meaningful way, the better they can support your success.
  • When forging this relationship, ask about expectations and preferred communication, engagement and reporting methods. Check in regularly to see if these expectations are being met and methods still effective.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Reasonable expectations
The role of leadership


CASE provides information on campus/internal relations, as well as articles such as "Managing Up," to support your engagement efforts.

Shirley Pearce describes how vice-chancellors need to be flexible and well-prepared by their development team.
Thomas describes how his development office is funded and budgeted.
Manders talks about the role of the vice-chancellor, and how development teams can engage and work with senior leadership.
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.