Publications & Products
Volume 4, Issue 1

Adopt a Donor-Centered Approach to Leadership

Community college fundraisers shouldn't shy away from cultivating major gifts, says a keynote speaker at the upcoming CASE Conference for Community College Advancement.

Penelope Burk, president of Cygnus Applied Research Inc. and author of Donor-Centered Leadership, says that the community college donor base is younger than that of four-year institutions—meaning that its donors have been giving philanthropically for less time.

Penelope Burk"As a result, they're not as fixed in who they'll support and at what level," she notes. "So, from an alumni perspective, there's a lot of untapped potential."

Burk, who serves as a fundraising consultant to a variety of higher education institutions and other nonprofit organizations, says that donors are trending toward supporting fewer organizations but with larger gifts.

"This means that those organizations that depend on a large volume of gifts for support will find it difficult to make a net profit," she says. "Community colleges are different. They have an opportunity not to get mired in the volume-based process of fundraising. They can learn from their colleagues [at four-year institutions] in higher education and run a balanced operation right from the start."

Burk says she has seen a few nonprofit fundraising operations abandon annual funds altogether in favor of spending more of their limited resources on cultivating major gift prospects. She adds that fundraisers can sometimes keep donors in the annual fund pipeline for too long, squandering opportunities to solicit them for more substantial gifts.

"Sometimes the work of fundraising is not in synch with what donors feel," she says, citing a recent Cygnus survey in which 42 percent of donors said they could have given more last year but are holding back their philanthropy.

Burk will further discuss what it takes to build a high performance fundraising team at the upcoming CASE Conference for Community College Advancement in September.

This article is from the July 2014 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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