Talking Shop: Getting to Know Your Faculty
This edition of Currents offers a feature story on the importance of faculty partnerships in philanthropy. Here, we look to a community college development director, who fosters a culture of faculty involvement, to share her thoughts and tips.
How do you develop relationships with your faculty?
It’s very similar to the way I develop relationships with donors. The first couple of visits are exploratory. [I ask,] “What about your program is most compelling? Where are you looking to expand? What are your needs for students?” My job is to connect the dots, which often means connecting people.
I met with the chair of the music department and learned the piano lab had not been updated in 15 years. The students would bring in their flash drives with the music they were working on, but the electronic keyboards could only take floppy discs. Well, you can imagine!
Serendipitously, two weeks later, I made a presentation to a family foundation. They asked, “What are your needs in the area of music?”
And just like that, they fully funded new pianos and keyboards. That happened because of relationship building with faculty. If we don’t have their stories, when the opportunity comes up, we can’t make [that support] happen.
What role do your faculty play in interactions with donors?
I open the door and simply ask them to share their stories in ways that connect with the vision of the donors. If there is an “ask” involved, I assure them that’s my job. But in many instances, if we are doing our job well, we don’t have to ask. At the end of a compelling story, a donor will say, “I want to be part of this.”
How do you prepare faculty to tell a compelling story in a way that connects with donors?
Two things: Leave acronyms out of the case statement and the conversation. Faculty members can tend to speak their own language, especially among their peers. I also tell them to take the “I” out of the conversation. It’s about the students. The faculty members who can boil the story down to student impact—how you can change someone’s life through education—are the best storytellers.
What makes community college student stories uniquely compelling?
Of course there are students in need across the higher education landscape, but yes, our student population is different from what you see at four-year institutions. The average age of our students is 26, and they are generally the first in their families to go to college. They have moved toward getting an education because they are already in the workforce and have a family, and they simply cannot survive, much less thrive, on their current income. Many of them are one flat tire away from having to drop out.
Our students can get an associate degree or a certificate in 18 months to two years and get hired with a life-changing salary. We are giving them a skill set to serve society and the local economy by filling workforce needs unique to our community.
At the end of the day, isn’t that what education is all about? Our donors are drawn to these stories. Our job is to tell them honestly and succinctly.
What is your one best tip for development officers to foster a strong relationship with faculty?
I keep talking about stories, but that’s what it’s all about. Meet them in their classrooms, their labs, and their training clinics. You have to go where the stories are.
About the author(s)
Ellen N. Woods is a CASE content creator.
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