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Effective fundraising practices require strong relationships

Steven Budd

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from an article in the February/March edition of the Community College Journal, the bimonthly magazine of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Community college presidents and other leaders have long recognized that effective organizational development depends on strong fundraising.

Regardless of how fundraising is carried out at your college—and there are a number of effective models—resource development is best led by a dedicated, well-placed professional within the organization who has a close and effective working relationship with senior leadership. At New Hampshire’s River Valley Community College, where I serve as president, we call this individual our chief development officer (CDO).

Where the CDO is concerned, access to the college president is essential. Presidents must embrace their role as the face of their institution. Achieving significant gifts requires presidential visibility and help cultivating donors. The president need not be an expert on fundraising strategy but should ensure that such an expert exists on staff. It’s about demonstrating a hands-on commitment to fundraising and resource development that serves every aspect of the college.

Bottom line: Fundraising must be conducted and endorsed at the highest level.

Resource development

I use the term “resource development” as a more inclusive term that reflects what college fundraisers actually do. Resource development includes resources gained through collaboration, partnership building, and other strategic alliances. I advocate the organization of resource development around institutional advancement that encompasses grant development, the college foundation, and donor development, with a dedicated leader at the helm.

Comprehensive development through an institutional advancement model ensures that all processes integral to resource development are working together. Such an approach is an important condition for raising money.

The institutional advancement model is also used to establish fundraising leadership at the vice presidential level. The CDO should report directly to the president, ensuring close collaboration, clarity of strategy, and responsiveness to constituents.

With the strategic plan as the platform for understanding needs and priorities across the entire college, the CDO and resource development staff members can create a comprehensive resource development plan. In institutions with independently organized foundations, the strategic plan allows foundation staff to build a case for raising priority-based funds.

The CDO is responsible for assisting the foundation in aligning college and foundation goals. Evidence of such alignment makes a strong case to donors that college needs and foundation activities are in sync, which helps generate donor confidence.

Through oversight of college and foundation activities, the CDO can determine whether the college’s needs will best be met through a government, private foundation, or corporate grant, or a donor-derived gift, or some combination.

Improved fundraising results are often a byproduct of leveraging grants with gifts and vice versa. There should be a direct line of communication between those who produce grants and those who cultivate donors, as well as those who market and promote the college.

Buy-in from the top

The CEO must invest time and money in the resource development operation. It takes venture capital to invest in staff and support operations. Resource developers are ultimately measured, at least in part, on the return they bring to that investment.

The CEO must have confidence in the CDO and respect resource development and fundraising as a profession. Much like the field of organizational development and design, resource development is a product of research and past best practices.

The CEO and CDO should work together to identify prospects and define each other’s roles, including how to use volunteers and foundation board members in the donor cultivation process. It is incumbent upon the president and CDO to work with staff and members of the college and foundation boards to determine the solicitation process and who best fills that role.

As the face of the institution, the CEO is an important participant in making “asks” for major gifts. Most often, the format of the “ask” is developed by the CDO in conjunction with board members and volunteers. Volunteers who are well placed within the community are frequently recruited by the president with the support of board members and the advice and counsel of the CDO.

Changing the culture

It is also the president’s job to create a philanthropic culture within the institution. That process begins by endorsing and supporting the work of the CDO. The president sets the tone. The conduct and specific activities of the CDO need to be seen as explicitly endorsed by the college’s top leader.

Creating a philanthropic culture requires involving faculty and staff in the development process. The contributions of college departments and academic programs must be recognized and honored, legitimizing the role of faculty and staff, via encouragement from the CEO or president.

Budd is president of River Valley Community College in New Hampshire.