Universities are engines at the heart of national and international prosperity. Yet they are inherently costly to run, let alone expand.
With reduced levels of public funding and increased competition both at home and from overseas, universities must work harder than ever to find the resources to support world-leading research and teaching.
With intense pressure on funding, income diversification is an important strategic driver in helping universities become more financially sustainable. Diversification can take many forms:
Exploitation of intellectual property,
Research and teaching contracts (including student fees),
Revenue generation from estates and conferencing,
Philanthropy in higher education is not new. Many great educational institutions were founded on the philanthropy of church leaders, royalty and farsighted patrons.
In recent history, although many governments have provided significant funding to educational institutions around the world, the income from private philanthropic sources (individuals, trusts or foundations, corporations, etc.) is an increasingly significant – and needed – component of the funding mix.
Philanthropic income is particularly useful in these ways:
It provides flexible income to support the projects and activities that shrinking core funding cannot finance,
It enables universities to build upon their strengths, enhance their student experience, extend their research programmes and create the best possible environments within which people can excel and;
It builds networks of friends and supporters who contribute to the long-term well-being of the university in many ways beyond their financial contribution, e.g., acting as ambassadors, providing links with industry and mentoring current students.
Fundraising in the context of the higher education sector can be challenging. The complex activities of universities can be difficult to communicate to a wide range of audiences, and some people do not perceive universities as ‘causes’ – especially in countries with a history of strong public funding for higher education.
Fundraising professionals need to break down misconceptions about how universities are funded. Fundraising is an opportunity not only to raise financial resources but also to communicate both the purpose and importance of universities in the world and the impact they have on all our lives – not just the people who study and research within them.
It may be helpful for institution leaders and the development director to discuss (or even document) their viewpoint of why it is valuable to raise private, philanthropic funds for their institution. This conversation will help in creating a few key talking points when ‘making the case’ to prospects and others at the institution.
University of Cambridge Prof. Robert G. Edwards, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was unable to secure funding to push forward his pioneering research on in vitro fertilisation until a private donor stepped forward and offered to help.
The term advancement encompasses alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and allied areas as described in this detailed definition by CASE.
Whilst the focus of this resource is development and fundraising activities, the link with alumni relations is integral (and often a part of the same department). It demands significant attention when thinking about your start-up activities, vision and strategy and about how you make your case.
Without strong alumni relations, your prospect pool will be significantly reduced and your chances of significant fundraising success compromised. Alumni have the potential to be your most loyal and generous supporters.
What Is an Alumnus?
It is important for your institution to decide how it defines an alumnus and to document this to avoid any confusion.
The classic definition of alumnus is a graduate or former student of a specific school, college or university. Different institutions develop their own definitions of what alumnus means
Some restrict the term to graduates.
Others widen the definition to include all former students (even those who failed to finish), retired staff and other associates.
Why Is Alumni Relations Important?
In the past, alumni relations, or engagement, tended to be treated as a stand-alone activity divorced from fundraising and other advancement activities. Indeed, some alumni associations were entirely independent of their parent institutions, and whilst their members interacted with each other, they had very little interaction with the institution.
Today, alumni relations is an important part of an institution's advancement activities for many reasons:
Alumni are an institution's most loyal supporters.
Alumni are fundraising prospects.
Alumni generate invaluable word-of-mouth marketing among their social and professional networks.
By engaging alumni, an institution can continue to benefit from their skills and experience.
Alumni are great role models for current students and are often well placed to offer practical support to students as they start their careers.
Alumni are often in the position to engage the expertise of the institution in their professional lives.
Your alumni are your international ambassadors. They take their knowledge of your institution to their hometowns and countries and into their professional and social networks.
Maintaining a positive relationship with your alumni means that the messages they share about your institution will also be positive – and current.
If the relationship between your alumni and your institution stalls when they leave campus, their knowledge of your activities and achievements will no longer evolve. The messages they will share with people will be out-of-date and could reflect poorly on the progress your institution has since achieved.
Maintaining communication channels with alumni means you can keep them informed of your achievements and make them part of your institution's future, not just its past.
Good alumni relations benefits alumni as well as the institution. If you support your alumni in their professional and personal lives through activities such as the facilitation of social and professional networks, preferential access to on-campus expertise and facilities and negotiated benefits with third-party suppliers, they are likely to be your loyal life-long supporters. Your support may also help your alumni achieve positions of success and influence, which will in turn benefit your institution as they begin to give back.
By helping the institution become bigger, stronger and more successful, alumni are also enhancing the value of their own degree qualification.
Alumni as Prospects
All alumni are fundraising prospects. They are the most likely group to give (if the institution has done its job right), as alumni should have a sense of gratitude and want their institution to succeed.
A strong link between alumni relations and fundraising will enable you to spot alumni who have the capacity and inclination to make significant gifts. It will also enable you to effectively segment the majority of alumni who might only give smaller amounts so that you can match them to the ask that has the highest likelihood of success.
Don't Be Overprotective
It is tempting to keep close control over your alumni and funnel all contact with them through the development or advancement office, but this can have negative consequences. The capacity of the office to deal with alumni contact might be overwhelmed, frustrating the alumni who want to get in touch. A bond between an alumnus and the institution that is focused on a single point will be weaker than a bond focused on multiple points.
Good alumni relations should be flexible enough to allow an alumnus to maintain a positive link, not only with the office, but also with his old tutor, former football coach, careers adviser and any number of his peer group. This broader network experience is far more enriching both for the individual alumnus and the institution.
The trick is to be aware of these links, capture the information and make sure these interactions are recognized as a part of the overall donor cultivation process (as multiple links are a strong indication of an individual's favour toward the institution and probability to give).
Define alumnus for your institution – and document that definition.
Outline a few key ways in which you are maintaining positive relationships with your alumni (in partnership with other departments).
Outline in your fundraising strategy how you would like to focus the support of your alumni (in partnership with other departments).
Traditionally, the masculine plural noun has been used when referring to both genders, though groups consisting of both males and females can also be referred to as alumni/alumnae or the alumni and alumnae of our institution.
Alum is an informal term that is occasionally used to describe an alumnus or alumna, often when the gender of the person is unknown.
When you arrive as director of development, it is unlikely that you will be starting with nothing. You will need to investigate several factors. This may take time, as some information you will be aware of before you arrive, but you are certain to discover far more once you have started working.
Typically, institutions will have researched the potential benefits of development and fundraising activities. They may have commissioned a formal feasibility study and may even have the experience of previous attempts.
There is also a strong probability that your institution will already have resources, such as a database (if not several), historical files, some donors (though they may not call them that) and an ad hoc history of previous philanthropy. This history of previous attempts to establish a development operation is important to understand, as it may well influence (negatively or positively) your colleagues’ view of what you are trying to build.
Also, you may inherit existing staff members who have been running a modest development programme as a precursor to your appointment, often on secondment from other departments.
Your priority is to understand your starting position. Unless you know your starting point, you will find it difficult to set goals and to develop an action plan for future success. It is important to acknowledge what has worked – to build off of these achievements and foster morale with your new colleagues.
During recruitment, you will have (or should have) discussed your employer’s expectations regarding income generation, time scales and the number of prospects and projects you can manage. To assess the suitability of these expectations you need to now take stock of your resources and understand the context in which you will be working.
After taking stock, you should revisit these expectations with the vice-chancellor or senior management and use the information you have gathered to set goals that are realistic and attainable and to establish what resources may be required to achieve these goals.
Be realistic as to what can be achieved and the time scales involved. If new staff members need to be recruited, for example, then factor in the time needed to appoint them and for them to be able to start functioning effectively.
Resources: Who and What Do You Have to Work With?
Resources can be split into three main subheadings: people, tools and investment.
Inherited staff can be a great source of support and information in the early days. Development is a team effort, and establishing a team ethos from the start is important.
Existing staff members have an invaluable institutional knowledge about past and current activities. Talking to your colleagues will quickly increase your own knowledge and help you understand what skills and experience your staff can offer to advance development efforts.
Conducting a skills audit of existing staff by reviewing their current job descriptions, status (are they seconded, part-time or on short- or long-term contracts?) and current responsibilities will help you understand how best to manage your staff resources and identify any immediate training needs. It will also help you decide the best way to develop the right team to make your office a success. Support from your institution’s human resources department will be useful in this process.
If you are working alone, you will need to focus on understanding the context in which you are working and the expectations that you must meet. When you have a clear understanding of these issues, take a step back and make a realistic assessment of your skills, the time and resources you have available and consequently what might be achievable.
You should base your development plan on this assessment and avoid the trap of trying to do too many activities and stifling progress. For sole fundraisers, building strong working relationships with other internal stakeholders or perhaps forming an advisory board is vital to success.
The most important fundraising tool is information. You need to know whom you will ask and what you will ask them for.
Review what data you have about current and potential supporters (and alumni) and assess its state.
How many records do you have?
Where is the information held?
How accurate, current and complete are the records?
Has the data been assessed in any way?
How many existing donors do you have and how have they been thanked?
How many people have been identified as prospective donors and how much do you know about them?
In what form is the data presented? Have you inherited a room full of dusty index cards or a complex, populated database?
Who is managing the data, if anyone? Keep in mind that data management is a specific skill and a time-consuming task, leaving little time for other activities.
This initial assessment will help you decide the spending priorities for your budget.
Note: If you handle personal information about individuals, you may have legal obligations to protect that information – for example, as proscribed by the UK's Data Protection Act of 1998.
Once you have assessed your prospect data, you need to assess the projects or priorities that you will be asking prospects to support. It is important to have a well thought out, balanced list of priorities that align with institutional priorities, appeal to potential donors, and fall within a realistic timeframe to allow for fundraising to have an impact.
This list should be reached by consulting with key internal stakeholders and leaders, and it should be clear the difference that philanthropy will make (i.e., will these projects go ahead regardless of the amount of funds raised or is 100 percent of funding required?). You should be able to judge what is more or less feasible, but it is not your job to prioritise the projects for which to raise money.
The final key element of data to analyse is any existing donations, legacies and other forms of philanthropic income. The finance office will be invaluable as you piece together the often patchy and irregular history of philanthropic income to your institution. This information is important, as it provides an initial benchmark from which you can measure future income generation and identify any pre-existing donors who merit careful stewardship.
Existing channels of communication are another important fundraising tool. Do you have an established alumni magazine or website? Are they adequate to support a new development office? What other existing channels of communication do you have available to you (e.g., events programme, e-newsletters, telephone campaign)?
Finally, what is your working environment like? Do you have adequate room for your staff and activities, a good IT infrastructure and sufficient meeting space? Are you accessible to visitors?
Your institution has already invested in your post and may have made other investments in staff and previous development activities. To develop a strong development team and successful development programme you will need a clearly articulated, well-managed budget.
Your budget may be assigned to you at the time of your appointment without your input. As you make your initial assessments, you may find that you need to put money aside for large expenditures, such as new staff and a database.
It is sensible to work out how much budget you will have left to support your activities once any unavoidable regular expenses (e.g., photocopying, print costs, postage) have been deducted. This remaining element of your budget will inform your development plan. It is up to you to decide how this element of the budget can be spent most wisely.
As you implement your development plan, be sure to gather evidence that will support any future requests for a larger budget. Accurate record keeping of expenditure and income is essential to demonstrate that you can provide a return on investment.
Who Are Your Current Donors and How Are They Recognised and Stewarded?
You should become aware of who have been and are currently the major donors to your institution and what donor recognition or stewardship processes are in place.
What currently happens when individuals or organisations make gifts to your institution (including legacies and gifts in kind)?
Where are donations handled?
How are they acknowledged?
What happens to the funds once they are put into your institution’s bank account?
What donor reporting takes place?
Are donations received elsewhere in the organisation and, if so, how will the development office become aware of them?
Your institution must be clear about how it defines philanthropic income and whose responsibility it is to attract other types of income (e.g., corporate sponsorship, lottery funding, statutory support and research grants), which may come from charitable trusts or foundations.
The Legal and Financial Position
You must understand the legal and financial framework within which you will be operating and the implications it may have for your activities.
Many institutions will have charitable status; some will have independently governed charitable foundations; others may have different legal status. It is important that you know the legal status of your organisation and that you ensure any legal obligations relating to this status, in the context of fundraising, are met.
This applies as well to any associated organisations or structures that may have been established to assist with fundraising (e.g., a 501(c)3 charitable foundation established in the United States).
In some circumstances, your institution may wish to change its status or establish a separate foundation as a vehicle for fundraising. A change such as this is a specialist area, and expert advice should be sought.
Whenever money is changing hands, it is essential to accurately record the transactions and report them to the appropriate authorities. You need to know whether the systems already in place can accommodate philanthropic income in this way. The responsibility for recording, acknowledging and reporting philanthropic income needs to be clearly assigned and properly fulfilled. A good working relationship with your institution’s finance office is key to achieving this.
It is equally important to be aware as soon as possible of the internal policies or procedures within your organisation that will affect fundraising and relationships with donors. Ideally, your institution should already have a fundraising policy or policies that cover(s) matters such as the acceptance of donations, ethical fundraising, data protection and management, management of endowed funds and donor recognition (e.g., the naming of buildings, facilities, academic posts or scholarships). Your institution’s legal or secretary’s office should be consulted early on to clarify what may already be in place.
Who Will Be Your Best Supporters?
Successful development offices normally have a strong champion – ideally, the leader of the institution. This champion will need to work closely with you to win the cooperation and support of colleagues and to maintain the momentum of the fundraising programme.
Other important colleagues with whom you should cultivate a strong working relationship with from the start are:
Academic leaders, who will help you identify the projects that need philanthropic support and the engaged alumni who may support them;
The staff in the office of the leader of the institution, who will be the gatekeepers to the leader’s schedule and will know how the flow of information is best managed;
The head of the finance office, who will help you process, measure and report the income you raise;
The marketing/website team, who will help you develop your communications programme;
The head of estates development, who will help you identify projects that need philanthropic support;
The legal team or company/university secretary;
Members of the governing body or council (especially those who are alumni or existing donors) and
Key opinion formers among your alumni and prospects (e.g., president of the alumni association, honorary graduates etc.).
Ensure there is an expectation set with senior management that some time will be required to assess the current situation before a fundraising strategy and realistic targets can be agreed upon.
Assess your starting point by interviewing people involved with advancement-related efforts and auditing their skills and capacity; determining what efforts have already been made and how you can leverage these efforts; surveying data, systems and other resources; and understanding your legal and financial position.
Be clear about the development office’s role and remit and those other parts of the organisation that you may overlap with (e.g., the research grant office).
Revise your goals and prioritise your efforts based on this assessment.
Ensure that your priorities align with the expectations of the institutional leadership.
Get buy-in and build a network of support internally and externally.
A fundraising strategy identifies the financial and other expectations of your institution and outlines the activities, time scales and resources that are needed to meet these expectations. It is a working document that evolves as circumstances change, but it typically takes a forward view of three to five years.
Why Do We Need a Fundraising Strategy?
Having a well thought out strategy will help you to prioritise your projects and target your energy and resources effectively. It is also a useful tool for articulating your goals and activities to colleagues and other stakeholders to win their support and cooperation.
The process of developing a strategy brings into focus the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that are relevant to your fundraising ambitions.
What Should It Look Like?
There is no set template for a fundraising strategy, though several common elements (outlined below) are included in most strategic plans.
The important thing is that your plan should not be written and then filed away. Rather, it should be a living document, shared with colleagues and regularly reviewed and updated.
Here are the common elements of most strategic plans.
The overarching case for support
This succinct statement should set the tone of what you want to achieve. It says why your organisation exists, what it does, whom it benefits, how they benefit, why funds are needed and why donors should give. The case for support should be based on the vision and priorities set by the institution’s leader and should be the touchstone for all your communications with donors.
What you want to achieve
This section should set out why you are fundraising, detailing the individual projects and/or programme areas for which donations will be sought. Each project description should outline the benefits the project will bring and identify the funds it requires and within what time scale. All the projects should be ranked according to their priority.
It is useful to identify what resources you have as well as a plan of how you would like those resources to develop over time to support your fundraising goals. Resources include staff, budget, data, volunteers, established lines of communication (e.g., website or alumni magazine) and an events programme.
Identification of fundraising prospects
Knowing who your best prospects are is an important element of a fundraising strategy, as it enables you to target your efforts effectively. You may want to categorise your prospects (e.g., individuals, trusts and foundations, corporations).
How can you tell who your best prospects are? Keep in mind the Pareto Principle, which says that 80 percent of your gifts will come from 20 percent of your donors. This 80/20 Rule is generally a reliable method for determining your 'best prospects' in your fundraising strategy.
In addition to knowing who is on a prospects shortlist, it is also important to understand the wider mass of data you have to work with. If you have inherited a database of contacts, you need to know how many are accurate, how many of those on the list have an existing relationship with your institution, where they are located and, indeed, if any are already donors. You might also want to record how you wish to improve the quantity and quality of this data.
Creating a gift table is one way to set out how you anticipate achieving your fundraising target.
This section of your strategy document describes your tactical plan (often referred to as the fundraising mix) – what fundraising methods you want to use to generate income from the prospects you have identified.
Typically, you will choose to use a combination of methods (e.g., trusts and foundations, corporate sponsorship and partnerships, government and lottery funding, planned giving from individuals, major gift donors, community fundraising, telephone fundraising, online fundraising and direct mail).
Different methods will bring different rates of return and over different lengths of time, so the exact balance will depend upon a number of factors, not least the resources available and the number and level of prospective donors.
The classic SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) is an invaluable planning tool. It helps anchor the fundraising strategy in its context by highlighting risks such as resource shortages and competition from rival institutions and identifying the strengths of the organisation that might mitigate these risks and the new funding opportunities that might previously have gone unnoticed.
It is not always necessary or useful to show a full SWOT analysis in the strategic document. Rather, you can include a summary of the main issues and how they relate to your institution's objections. A SWOT analysis should be repeated on a regular basis.
You need to establish criteria against which you can measure progress. This should be done in consultation with colleagues and should represent realistic expectations based on what can be achieved with the resources available and in the time scales the income is required.
Targets should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed.
Targets tend to be predominantly financial; but in the early life of an office, it can be much more instructive to measure activity rather than income. Nonfinancial targets might include things such as increasing the number of major gift prospect meetings held, foundation proposals submitted or addressable alumni added to the database.
It may be beneficial to set targets that are based on benchmarking criteria already used by other institutions and in surveys (e.g., the Ross-CASE Survey), so that realistic milestones and comparators can be agreed upon.
Don’t forget that you will be accountable for achieving these targets, so it may be unwise to set overly ambitious targets. Any section on targets should also state how and when progress toward the targets will be evaluated and the targets revised accordingly.
Calendar of activities
To be useful as a working document, your strategic plan should set out a calendar of activities. It is typical to have proposed activity recorded in detail for the first 12 months and then less detailed accounts for future years. The plan for these subsequent years will become more populated as time moves on and the strategy evolves. It is also useful to record who will be responsible for each activity.
Draft your fundraising strategy.
Get feedback and buy-in from key stakeholders. If possible, get approval from your institution’s governing body to gain support for your activities, increase awareness of your objectives and help set expectations appropriately.
Aim to raise 75 to 80 percent of your fundraising goal halfway into your fiscal year, as the last 20 to 25 percent is typically the hardest to raise.
Your institution most likely will have set procedures for the preparation and management of budgets. You probably will be allocated an initial budget to get things started whilst you submit a request for future investment.
Devising an accurate, realistic budget is important. By examining your costs in relation to the income you generate, you will be able to measure your performance – i.e., your return on investment (ROI).
Generally speaking, the newer the office, the higher its costs; but as an office matures, its ROI will improve. Data gathered from the 151 higher education institutions participating in the UK-based Ross-CASE Survey in 2010–2011 revealed that the number of donors and value of their gifts increased (as they have since the survey began in 2001), reducing the median cost per pound raised to 22 pence in 2010–2011 – down from 32 pence in 2007–2008.
How to Prepare Your Budget
Developing a budget is an integral part of strategic planning and should not be viewed in isolation. Your finance office will be a good source of help as you prepare your budget. When preparing:
List all the unavoidable costs and try to estimate them as accurately as possible based on research, historical and comparable information. These costs might include items such as postage, stationery and space overheads.
Revisit your fundraising strategy plan and list all the costs associated with the activities you are proposing. Your budget should reflect the priorities of your strategy and should not undermine the credibility of your fundraising targets.
If you have events planned, estimate their costs and what proportion of these might be defrayed by ticket sales, sponsorships and other generated funds.
Assess whether you have capital expenditure requirements and when these might happen. For example, do you need to purchase new information technology?
Build in some contingency funding.
If you have staff with specific areas of responsibility, ensure that they assist in devising the budget for their activities so that nothing is missed.
Possible Budget Headings
Every set of circumstances will be different, but possible budget line headings include:
Staff training or conferences
Design and print
Data services (cleaning, analysis, etc.)
Professional fees (legal, accountancy, etc.)
Catering and hospitality
Database support (helpline charges)
Conduct a Reality Check
Determine your recurrent operating budget, factoring out any one-off start-up costs such as office furniture, new computers, a database solution, etc. Divide your costs into staff and non-staff costs.
A rule of thumb identified by fundraising consultant Bill McGoldrick is that you should aim for a ratio of approximately 3:1 – i.e., you should be spending approximately 75 percent of your budget on staff. Spending significantly more than this will result in an office full of inefficient and ineffective staff lacking the resources to get their jobs done. Spending significantly less will result in an office of overworked staff lacking the ability to achieve everything that is asked of them. However, this is not an exact science, and the ratio is context specific.
Justify Your Case for Funding
You will probably be asked to justify your budget request and to defend the figures that you are proposing during a process of scrutiny from your institution’s finance office and senior colleagues.
It is essential that you understand and can explain how you have reached your figures and that you can justify your requests for future investment. The links between your budget request and your strategy should be evident, and the potential ROI (short- and long-term) clearly explained.
It is likely that elements of your budget, such as high-level entertaining, may be unusual for a traditional university setting, so you must be prepared to explain why they are important to your fundraising efforts.
Often an initial increase or allocation of resource may be given. Dependent on your success in delivering the anticipated ROI, further resources will be made available. Building the trust and understanding of the head of the finance office is often the key to unlocking additional resources. (This may be difficult to do if there have been prior failed attempts to support development activity by the institution. Be aware of historical context.)
Managing Your Budget
It is your responsibility to manage your budget effectively. Keep careful track of expenditures and regularly review your expenditure-to-date and projected future expenditure in each of your budget headings.
You may find as the year progresses that you need to transfer money between budget headings to reflect levels of expenditure that differ slightly from those you projected. An unexpected cost (e.g., having to cancel an event or reprint a publication) can mean reassessing your budget, cutting back in other areas or even asking for further investment from your institution.
Effective budget management is achieved through maintaining accurate records, reviewing the budget on a regular basis, having systems in place to ensure expenses are authorised and integrating your budget management into the strategic and operational plans of the development office.
Ask your institution’s leader and finance office about expectations and processes before beginning the budgeting process.
Engage colleagues leading any development activities in drafting their portions of the budget (e.g., an events manager outlining event costs and potential income).
Draft your budget, ensuring that you connect budget items with your fundraising strategy and make the case for the potential ROI.
Value Added Tax (VAT) is levied in the UK on goods and services. When setting your budget, remember that most of your costs need to include VAT (with a few exceptions). If this is not a field that you feel comfortable with, talk to a colleague who understands the detailed complexities of VAT.
Tax regulations will vary between countries. So if you are operating outside the UK, take time to understand how local tax rules might influence your budget.
Learning from the experiences of others is invaluable.
CASE has supported numerous institutions as they have established development office. By being a part of CASE, you can come into contact with institutions comparable to yours that are willing to share their experiences.
This section details some fundamental lessons these offices have learnt during their first years of operation.
Know What You Have to Work With
The foundation of realistic expectations and good planning is an awareness of your starting position. You need to know what you have to work with to achieve your goals and where the gaps are. Stand back, take a long, hard look at your institution and ask yourself these questions:
Do you know what you will be fundraising for and why?
Do you have sufficient contactable prospects to approach?
Do you have the backing of your colleagues?
Do you have the procedures and policies in place to provide a stable backdrop for fundraising?
Do you have a database and data?
Where do you need to target your investment?
Know What You Want to Achieve – and Be Realistic
You need to know why you are fundraising. It is important to keep long-term goals in mind that are integrated into the overall strategic plan for the institution. These goals must be realistic and carefully articulated, as they will form the foundation of your plans.
Don’t Rush into Things
Spend sufficient time planning and establishing the resources you will need to be successful at fundraising. You will need data, a database, some analysis and research of this data before you can properly begin to identify whom you will approach for support.
It is a myth that the more fundraisers you hire, the more income you will raise. Recruiting a fundraiser is not often the first step you need to take, as he or she will have no platform to fundraise from and nothing to fundraise for unless you have taken the time to assess, strategise, prioritise and put the basics in place.
Embed Awareness of Fundraising into Your Institution
Effective development work is a team effort. Your development strategy should be integrated into your overall advancement strategy and align with the institution’s larger goals.
Staff members from every department across the institution need to be thinking about fundraising, integrating it into their long-term plans and working with the development office to take action.
Take a Long-term, Realistic View
You might be lucky and secure a few gifts in the early days from donors who seem to have been waiting in the wings to be asked. Do not be lulled into thinking that this is an indication of how things will continue.
Fundraising is hard work and time-consuming. It typically takes one to two years for a major gift to come to fruition and several years before a substantial income stream is established. Although you should prioritise ‘low-hanging fruit’, do not be tempted to compare your progress with that of other institutions unless they are of comparable standing. Such comparisons are false and disheartening.
As your development activity grows and its success gains momentum and scale, keep things going by investing wisely and at the right moments. Tardy or insufficient investment can create a stop-start effect that stifles progress by stalling momentum. Be proportionate in your investment – it must reflect success and the relative size of the institution.
Work Out How You Will Measure Success
One of the first things you need to decide is how you will measure your success. This extends beyond income levels and covers indicators such as number of addressable alumni or number of visits to donors. Set targets against these indicators, but make sure they are realistic.
If you secure a significant donation, celebrate it loudly and often while thanking all those involved in the process – even if their role was minimal. Such recognition makes the donor feel appreciated, helps win the support and co-operation of colleagues and inspires other donors.
Celebrations should not be confined to campus but should also publicised externally to show the world that you are actively seeking funds and can use them wisely.
Note: Always ask a donor about sharing his or her name before publicising externally.
Strong Leadership Is Essential
Development work needs the vision, endorsement and involvement of the institution’s leadership in order to be successful. Without it, the effort will lack credibility and fail.
Directors of development need to use the time of their senior leaders wisely. Senior staff members need to lead by example and become supporters of their institution or they may lack credibility when asking donors to support.
There is a very technical aspect of fundraising that covers law, accountancy and tax and ethics. Be professional in your approach to these and become expert in how they relate to philanthropy.
Your professionalism will be reassuring to donors and help you to maintain control of your development activities. Do not bluff or guess. If you don’t know, tell a donor you will find out, and then follow up promptly.
Establish a Pipeline
Invest in your current students (they will be your supporters in the future), and make sure a gift of any size is appreciated as a valuable contribution. Growth is dependent on having a pipeline of prospects and donors. Establish a ladder of giving opportunities, which donors can move up. Many regular or large gifts started as one-off small gifts.
Above all, you will need to be persistent, resilient, optimistic and resourceful.
As you set up your development office refer regularly to this list of lessons learned to maintain an objective focus.
Continue to refer to this list as you review your strategy during the start-up years.
Networking with peers and keeping abreast of advancement trends and philanthropy trends through organisations such as CASE can be helpful in keeping your expectations, goals and strategies relevant.
Fundraising is not an exact science. What works at one institution may fail at another. You will need to adapt and modify your practice to suit the individual characteristics, resources and audiences of your institution.
If you are in a start-up situation then do not be daunted by the success stories you hear from other institutions – the millions they have raised and the number of alumni they are engaged with. Instead, listen to how they achieved their success and consider how their activities might be adapted to your own institution.
You may hear their stories less often, but many institutions have suffered setbacks and failures. Listen to these stories and learn from their mistakes as well.
Organisations like CASE can help you find institutions that have a profile similar to your own. They can also broker an introduction to a more experienced director of development, who would be happy to share his or her experiences with you. Opportunities like the annual CASE conference are great places to hear about the experiences of others and to share your own experiences.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
The scale of activities must be proportionate to the size of your institution.
You cannot expect to immediately be up and running with multiple fundraising and communication channels. You need to roll out activities in a carefully considered manner, constantly reviewing and tweaking them until you find the right formula for your institution and stakeholders.
Listen to your stakeholders and develop an awareness of their attitudes around fundraising. It is likely that you will have to spend some time educating and engaging them before you can begin a fundraising campaign.
If you try to do too much too soon you will fail, as you will not only alienate your potential supporters, but you will spread your resources too thin.
Testing out new fundraising materials, fundraising activities or alumni services can be a great way of evolving an activity that will produce the optimal results for your institution. It is also a way of engaging your stakeholders in development efforts.
Know Your Context
Where you are fundraising can make a real difference to how you fundraise. How you ask a prospect for a major gift in the UK is likely to be very different from the process you would follow in Singapore or Kenya.
Attitudes toward philanthropy, money and being ‘asked’ can vary significantly among cultures. You need to amend your practice according to where it is being applied and respect cultural differences.
That said, the basic premise of identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship is universal. It is the application of these basic tenets that needs adaptation.
After you outline your basic strategies and processes, make sure these are adapted for the individual characteristics, resources, audiences and cultural context of your institution.
Prioritise activities. Determine which are the most relevant and feasible to generate some initial success, which can be scaled down to ‘test’ the idea and scale up later and which can wait for year two or three.
Find an industry partner outside your institution to have as a resource and offer a fresh perspective.
Instead of sending an e-newsletter or appeal to all 30,000 of your alumni the first time, send it to 1,000 and see what response you get. Then choose a manageable number to follow up with, and call to hear how your alumni are responding to the piece. Did they receive the piece? Was this helpful information? What would they like to know more about? What would they alter? Then tweak your future communications or activities accordingly.
Please note that the term advancement is often used when talking about fundraising in an educational context. As defined by CASE, the term encompasses alumni relations, communications, fundraising, marketing and allied areas.
Whilst this resource touches on all areas of advancement, its primary focus is on fundraising, or development. The terms development office and development director have been adopted to reflect this approach.
Many institutions have broad-based advancement offices, and the CASE website provides in-depth guidance on the wider aspects of advancement, including alumni relations, communications and marketing.