Talking Shop: A Strong Narrative Matters
Valerie Boulet began her career in strategic communications in Paris, working in the arts, including at the Musée du Louvre, and at other nonprofits. That led her to community fundraising and then higher education advancement. Now, she directs development for public and global health at the London School of Hygeine and Tropical Medicine, and she chaired the CASE Europe Annual Conference Planning Committee in 2022 and 2023.
What’s unique about your work at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine?
We’re a world-leading institution for research and postgraduate studies in public and global health, with a mission to improve health and health equity in the U.K. and worldwide. I love the fact that our institution translates research into tangible action and immediate impact for public health improvements. This is what I find most stimulating—that connection to making the world a better place. I can’t think of a worthier mission than worldwide health equity!
How does that mission impact your work in fundraising?
Shaping and delivering an ambitious income growth strategy to support our mission is so energizing, as there has never been a time where the global community better understands the importance of scientific research.
We’re always looking for the best narrative to contribute to our mission to sustain and promote human health. The stories we share help create a strong value proposition for our donors and show LSHTM’s commitment to making a lasting impact.
But I do feel the challenge of making sure we focus our efforts and resources where we can add the most value. We could be fundraising for so many different priorities because we have research in every aspect of health. Understanding our institution’s core purpose and needs, as well as the impact potential of each funding proposition, is key. Identifying areas of strength or potential is important, as most potential donors are more interested in building on strengths than in rectifying weaknesses! So where should they invest strategically to achieve our priorities? How can we create much-needed strategic headroom and breathing space to enable agile responses to unexpected events?
In [the book] Entrepreneuring the Future of Higher Education: Radical Transformation in Times of Profound Change, Mary Landon Darden argues that an “entrepreneuring” focus will be needed for institutional viability going forward. Our new, post-pandemic fundraising environment will require institutions to maximize resources from all available funding sources, with entrepreneurial flair, to create a resilient, diversified funding base.
When working with donors, how does your team present complex research?
I see our role as balancing what matters the most to the institution with what inspires and interests our supporters. Before you even bring donors into the fold, you must spend time internally crafting the philanthropic message and aligning it to the institution’s culture and mission. Embedding science with philanthropy comes down to creating a team of academic champions who can help you articulate their research stories. They are the rock stars who donors want to talk to!
Connecting our research findings to the human stories behind them always helps. Using images, diagrams, quotes, and examples bring concepts to life. Major donors are savvy and receptive to vision-inspired narratives. It’s important to have a clear line of sight between vision and impact before even talking about complex scientific research. I think of it as bringing our donors along on the journey as partners.
What has your CASE volunteer service meant to you?
Behind the nuts and bolts of our success as advancement professionals are inspiration and passion, and we fuel those by networking with colleagues globally. Through CASE, we encourage, share, and inspire one another. It’s so helpful to see different approaches to the challenges we face as a profession.
About the author(s)
Ellen N. Woods is a CASE content creator.
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