As the Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic at the Australian National University from 2012 to 2019, Marnie Hughes-Warrington was instrumental in two of the most transformative gifts in Australian higher education history: the Kambri campus redevelopment and the Tuckwell Scholarship gift.
Today, as the Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Enterprise at the University of South Australia, the renowned professor of history and philosophy says philanthropy has become as essential to her career as her academic scholarship.
It wasn’t always that way. Like many academicians, Hughes-Warrington’s foray into philanthropy started with trepidation. As a new administrator, she was asked to meet with a donor who was interested in making a legacy gift.
“I went into it with all the stereotypes, thinking I was going to have to ask for money,” she recalls. Instead, she found herself mesmerized as the woman described her faraway memories of a Sydney beach.
“She painted a story of where she came from. Her description was so vivid I could see the color of the sky. She was inviting me into her life,” says Hughes-Warrington. “I quickly realized that before donors ever give you financial support, they offer you gifts through insights into their lives. That trust and that connection are so much of what philanthropy is about.”
In June 2022, Carmenita Higginbotham, Dean of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, U.S., was on the receiving end of a $5 million gift to her school. The gift will create three endowed funds aimed at exploring themes of social justice through theater education.
“The donor’s interests were very much in line with our school’s vision. It is a beautiful coming together,” says Higginbotham, an art historian known for exploring social justice, race, and urban culture in her own work. Her scholarly work was among the factors that led the donor to VCU.
“We are so excited to form a relationship with our donor as we steward this tremendous gift,” says the dean, who values her development colleagues with as high regard as her faculty, program chairs, and students.
As with Hughes-Warrington, it wasn’t always that way. When she became chair of the art department at the University of Virginia, fundraising was in the job description.
“Did I hesitate? Was I fearful? Oh, absolutely. I was not prepared for it,” says Higginbotham. “I was lucky with the support I received from our development team. They were masterful at understanding the emotions that are attached to giving. They helped me learn the nuances of listening to a donor. And, surprisingly to me, philanthropy would come to be a gratifying aspect of my position.”
Joining Forces with Academia
Fundraising is increasingly in the job descriptions of deans, department chairs, and center directors, says Genevieve G. Shaker, Associate Professor of Philanthropic Studies in the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI, U.S.
“That trickles down to faculty too. For many, the preparation is not what it should be,” says Shaker, who is the co-author with Aaron Conley of the 2021 book, Fundraising Principles for Faculty and Academic Leaders.
“The good news for the uninitiated is that fundraising can be, for many academic leaders, one of the most rewarding activities among the litany of responsibilities they oversee,” the authors write. The book speaks to faculty members’ motivations by taking a deep look at the science behind philanthropy, using data from sources such as CASE’s Voluntary Support of Education survey.
Like Conley and Shaker, David D. Perlmutter has written extensively for his colleagues in academia on faculty and academic leaders’ role in successful fundraising. His interest in the subject comes from his own positive experience when he became a new department chair at the University of Iowa and was asked to have dinner with a prospective donor to talk about a legacy gift.
“I was the luckiest academic in the world because my development officer was Jeff Lieberman. He was my sensei, expertly preparing and guiding me. I went from initial fear I would be thrown into deep water without knowing how to swim to becoming passionate about philanthropy,” says Perlmutter, now Professor and Dean at the College of Media & Communication, Texas Tech University, U.S.
He believes today’s economic climate makes a seamless collaboration between the fields of advancement and academia imperative.
“The costs of every aspect of what we do are increasing and we can no longer rely on tuition, government funding, and endowments alone. Creating a culture of philanthropy must expand to faculty members,” says Perlmutter.
Integrating faculty into a development strategy isn’t just common sense, it’s good sense. Faculty often have strong relationships with students, parents, alumni, and industry leaders. They are the storytellers in the areas in which donors seek to make an impact, and they are well positioned to be stewards of gifts.
“Donors are inspired by the work, the research, the students, and the societal needs being met,” says Sarah Hendricks, Executive Director of Development for VCUarts. “Donors seek deeper engagement with those on the front lines—the people whose work, whose passion, whose intellectual vigor will be enhanced by the gift. If you want donors to have trust and faith in your institution, introduce them to the deans, department chairs, and faculty.”
“We see students every day,” adds Perlmutter. “I can tell a donor about a student who had a terrible health issue in her family that would have caused her to drop out of school if not for a scholarship. I know these students and I can share those stories, and I can ask those students to sit next to a donor at a scholarship dinner. That’s the power of faculty.”
Development Teams Become the Teachers
With the benefits of fundraising engagement so clear, why do so many faculty still hesitate? It often starts with negative misconceptions about fundraising, including fear of compromising their integrity. Other barriers include lack of preparation in and understanding of the field of development, and simply finding the time amid teaching, research, publishing, and administrative responsibilities.
“Fundraising is the number one reason faculty members fear rising to administrative levels in academia,” says Perlmutter, who wrote “Don’t Fear Fundraising,” a series of popular articles that ran in The Chronicle of Higher Education from 2013 to 2016. The series appears in its entirety in the book by Conley and Shaker.
“Time and time again faculty members tell me, ‘I’m not comfortable asking for money.’ That is a common misconception for many academics,” says Chris Tobin, who recently joined Rootstock Philanthropy after a 21-year career in higher education advancement.
To address that misconception, he says, start by assuring faculty colleagues that the development team has the expertise to properly steer the conversation.
“Appeal to them as teachers and explain that we need them to tell the story of their program in a way that is illuminating and inspiring to donors who want to understand the impact of their gifts. It is our job to help our faculty colleagues recognize philanthropy as part of a value system—something that will help them achieve greater things,” he says.
That job, for more and more development shops, means having a solid plan aimed at bringing academic leaders and faculty members onto the team. VCU has such a strategic plan. Jay Davenport, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations, says he and his team meet every quarter with all 13 deans to review fundraising plans. He has a program to introduce new deans to the community, as well as a training program for all deans. He has also established Philanthropy 101 and 201 courses for faculty members and department chairs who are interested in philanthropy.
“The key to the partnership is a clear understanding of what we are fundraising for and clear expectations of what we are asking of our academic partners. We have a development officer assigned to every dean and that helps assure them they are not responsible for the logistics of fundraising and that we are there to support them. Trust is what makes the partnership work,” says Davenport, who has served as a faculty member for CASE’s Development for Deans and Academic Leaders program.
Another good starting place is for development teams to take time to understand life on the academic side—what is it like to be on tenure track, to teach, to publish, to conduct research?
“I have seen development officers struggle in relationships when they don’t understand the pressures on a professor’s time,” says Conley, a faculty member of The Fund Raising School at the Lilly Family School and a former advancement vice president. “A gift officer came to me frustrated he could not get a professor who had an endowed chair to write a letter to the donor. I said, ‘Have you tried drafting the letter for him?’”
“The best way to understand those pressures,” says Shaker, “is to be part of the life of the university and the school or department you are assigned to beyond externally oriented fundraising activities. Attend your professors’ classes and lectures. Stop by their offices. Meet them for coffee.”
Shaker also urges development officers to speak the language of academia by sharing that there is an art and a science to philanthropy: “Show them the data and the research. The research on the emotional and health benefits associated with giving is particularly compelling to those new to philanthropy.
“Let faculty members know you have experts on your development teams conducting research on each donor’s readiness and motivations,” she says. “Let them see that you are dedicated to your field, you believe in the institution, you are ethical, and they can trust you.”
Conley suggests emphasizing that philanthropy is so much more than the act of fundraising: “By nature of what they do, faculty members are always involved in philanthropy. When students have positive experiences with great teachers, 10, 20, 30 years later they become donors.”
“Stewardship, too, is philanthropy,” adds Shaker. “Thank you notes and updates on the impact of a gift on their program or their research or how well a student scholarship recipient is doing are all ways to help put faculty at ease with fundraising.”
A Joyful Experience
With planning, patience, and mutual respect, the joined forces of development and academia lead not only to fundraising success, but to a satisfying and joyful experience for those who made the effort.
“Faculty members are driven by their commitment to the power of education. They want their programs, research, students, and institutions to achieve their potential,” says Shaker. “Playing a role in philanthropy enables them to do that. So many deans have said to me, ‘It is the thing I worried about most and now is the thing I enjoy the most.’”
Since joining the leadership team at the University of South Australia in 2020, Hughes-Warrington has made growing a culture of philanthropy her priority. She is proud to tell donors she would not be where she is today if not for the Rhodes Scholarship she received at age 21.
“I have a big view of philanthropy,” says Hughes-Warrington. “Universities are engines of generosity. If you are a great teacher, you are a great steward. If you are a great researcher, you are a great steward. Philanthropy and academia connect through the common point of integrity. Yes, that means we share good values. But the word also means ‘whole.’ When these two worlds come together, the vessel is complete.”
Partnerships at Work: The University at Buffalo
When Jeff Piscitelli joined the development team at the University at Buffalo, in New York, U.S., as Executive Director of Advancement at the School of Management, he felt fortunate.
“I had a supportive dean who understood the value of philanthropy and his role in it. He gave me time at staff meetings and set a tone that allowed me to make inroads with faculty involvement,” he says.
Piscitelli started to see dividends. For instance, there was accounting professor Rose Hu, who embraced her role as head of the scholarship committee, becoming what Piscitelli calls a “rock star of stewardship,” carefully matching students with just the right donors and fostering ongoing relationships with those donors.
Then something happened that took the development veteran by surprise and exceeded his already high expectations for faculty involvement. Two professors, Tim Maynes and Chuck Lindsey, came to him with the idea of forming a Faculty Philanthropy Committee.
“As the advancement team members became more visible, we started to realize so much of what they do is about making connections, and we have so many connections with students and alumni. We thought we could help,” says Maynes, who now serves as chair of the committee, which includes eight faculty members.
“We explained to Jeff that we wanted to enhance his work,” says Maynes. “We had an open conversation and set expectations about our role, making it clear our goal was to assist—not take over—fundraising.”
Already, the committee can claim measurable outcomes, including increasing faculty giving within their school from 20% to just under 70%. The committee also launched the Frank Fund to honor a beloved faculty member who was retiring. The group invited 100 alumni to a series of Zoom events to honor the faculty member, with one alumnus agreeing to match donations up to $100,000.
“They made the connections, led outreach, and led the event, and we provided our development expertise surrounding all the logistics of setting up a fund,” says Piscitelli. “We’ve learned from each other and, as a result, we are all better at what we do.”
Partnerships at Work: UC Davis
This winter, the Ernest E. Tschannen Eye Institute will open at UC Davis Health in California, U.S. For Mark Mannis, Chair and Distinguished Professor, UC Davis Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science, the state-of-the-art facility and its potential for enhanced care and research is a dream come true.
The new building will mean increased capacity for clinical trials, patient care, and research into eye diseases that currently are untreatable. It will also house a wall of some 800 donor names. Mannis and his medical colleagues will have had a personal interaction with many if not most of them—even if just with a personal thank you note—including the namesake donor who provided $18.5 million toward the building and another $20 million to endow and support clinic operations and research. Mannis has developed a close friendship with the philanthropist and former patient, which he says has been a highlight of his career.
“If you had told me 15 years ago I would become so deeply engaged in philanthropy, I would have said you were crazy,” says Mannis. “Our faculty, myself included, understandably are very reluctant to put a solicitation into the patient-physician relationship.”
One solution was simple. The university gave faculty buttons that read, “Ask me about my research at UC Davis.”
“They were quite successful,” says Mannis. “They start conversations in a comfortable way. When we see that someone has an interest in philanthropy, we call in Erin, who has helped us engage in philanthropy without ever compromising our integrity.”
Erin Bauer, Executive Director of Development at the Eye Center, says, “Our faculty members are brilliant clinicians and scientists. They are so humble. They treat every patient with kindness, and they are accessible and approachable.
“UC Davis fosters a culture of philanthropy in which we say to faculty, ‘How can we help you?’ The first thing I did when I started here was meet with each faculty member to get to know them and gauge their interest in philanthropy. I wanted to make sure they could engage in ways in which they are comfortable. I didn’t want this to be an invasive process. Philanthropy should be a wonderful experience,” she says.
About the author(s)
Ellen N. Woods is a CASE content creator.
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