Essential CEO skills

The American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) John E. Roueche Future Leaders Institute includes a focus on institutional finance and fundraising as two of its top themes. Why? AACC President Walter Bumphus has said that the top two administrative concerns of most new presidents is the ability to raise revenues and manage the finances of the college.

For the past two decades, public community colleges have experienced significant public funding reductions along with increased funding needs. Some states, like Arizona, cut out state appropriations altogether for public community colleges. Most community colleges have moved from being publicly supported to being publicly assisted organizations. However, public funding still represents a large majority of most college budgets and presidents must continue to convince public policy makers that their funding is a great investment for communities and their state.

This article comes from the current issue of the Community College Journal, which is published by the American Association of Community Colleges.

Nevertheless, new and current college CEOs must learn to raise public and private revenue and manage money more skillfully than ever before. As a beginning, here are some top skills that are essential to successful fundraising and financial management.

Resource development

Presidents must become entrepreneurial, and their colleges must become educational enterprises. As public funding dwindles, smart presidents are looking for opportunities to raise funds through their foundations and through college services. They quickly search for seminars or hire consultants to teach them how to become entrepreneurial. They also recognize that there are some very successful entrepreneurial colleges they can emulate by adapting proven fundraising tactics to their own college and community.

Fifteen years ago, Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina established a President’s Entrepreneurial Team designed to identify, research and recommend revenue enhancing initiatives. If an initiative is accepted by a majority of the members, it is proposed to the CPCC Services Corporation, a nonprofit organization for funding. This activity has been producing $3 million in discretionary funding per year for college use and has been instrumental in creating entrepreneurialism as a part of the college’s culture. With this initiative, as well as corporate training and other initiatives, the college has become an enterprise that generates significant revenues to help make up for public revenue shortfalls.

Embrace gifts, donations, partners, campaigns and grants. Enterprising presidents are working closely with their foundations and increasing their capacity to raise more significant revenues. Foundations should be positioned to raise much more revenue than in the past and recognize that they exist to help the college in more ways than providing student scholarships.

Over the past 20 years, trustees have increasingly listed fundraising as an essential skill for presidents. Unfortunately, most new presidents have had little or no training or experience with fundraising. Lesson number one: anyone can learn to raise funds if the fear of rejection is eliminated. This fear can be completely eliminated when presidents understand they are not asking for favors or begging for dollars. They are simply giving people the opportunity to do meaningful things for students, the college and the community.

Presidents must get personally involved with the foundation’s fundraising elements.

Win tax increases and construction bond referendums. Presidents are expected to win public referendums. This is not rocket science. Develop an easily communicated need, have the research to prove it and demonstrate the benefits of voter approval. Then strategically and vigorously market it to the voters.

The most important element needed to get these revenue initiatives passed is for the college to have an excellent public reputation. Building and maintaining a great reputation as a value-added organization is an everyday job.

Resource management

Understand the college’s revenue streams and the parameters of how funds can be used within state regulations. Being entrepreneurial is essential today, however, the president must be sure the initiatives and projects launched are in compliance with audit regulations and fund restrictions. If a new president is blessed with a seasoned chief financial officer, then avoiding pitfalls will be easier. If this is not the case, seek out other respected presidents or CFOs to provide guidance and coaching. It is critical to plan to raise revenues the “right way” to protect both the college’s and the president’s reputations.

Strategically apply financial resources to college needs and goals. When aligning the foundation with college needs, have a clear and constant vision of why funds are being raised and how the funds will be managed. If not already formed, assemble a foundation financial committee to oversee the management and investment of funds raised. Committee members should be respected and experienced business persons in the community. The foundation’s confidence that funds are secure and well managed is critical to its fundraising efforts.

Plan for future programs, initiatives and facilities. A critical component in securing public construction referendums is an in-depth facilities master plan with an analysis of the college’s existing facilities and future needs. Understanding the importance of being a good steward of facilities is essential to raising repair and renovation funds. Understanding the college space shortages and knowing what type of buildings and laboratories are needed to prepare students for high-demand jobs are at the heart of a successful building campaign. Publicly share reliable information that explains and supports the need for facilities funding and community support will follow.

About the Author

Kathy Drumm and Tony Zeiss
have formed The Zeiss Cameron Group consulting business. Zeiss retired as president of Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina, and Drumm retired as the college’s executive vice president.