Thursday, August 20, 2009

The President As Fund Raiser

Whether we’re speaking of the president of a college, non-profit, medical center or research institute, it has become axiomatic to assert that he or she MUST be a fund raiser or, even more pointedly, that fund raising is their MOST important duty. There’s one problem with that: a president too focused on the act of raising funds may fail to understand or fulfill the duties that make an organization a viable contender for private funds in the first place. To ensure fund raising success, what presidents really must do is:

1. Explain in clear, compelling terms what distinguishes and differentiates their institution on a local, regional, national or global level;

2. Then articulate how those differentiating and distinguishing features can be amplified, with sufficient funding, to allow the institution to deliver more value to those it exists to serve;

3. Then lay out a series of projects that demonstrate exactly how, when and to whom that value will be delivered; and

4. Assure their supporters, and demonstrate how their institution is a “cause-oriented” culture with a deep commitment to service, accountability, gratitude and reasonableness and will make the most of the private support it receives.

Presidents who do those things well will do more for fund raising than the “glad handers” and “eager askers.” But let me make sure I haven’t made it sound too easy. Project design, emphasized in my third point, in particular, requires a great deal of skill, discipline and imagination. A project-specific plan makes for a more compelling case for support, which leads to more effective fund-raising, which allows an institution to make a greater impact, which sets the stage for continued growth and distinction. To make my point, let me give examples of how various schools might attempt to secure support for the same purpose: financial aid.

College A announces the contracting economy and loss of home values has caused many more students to have financial need. Their plan is to raise $50 million in the next five years to make up for this shortfall. Their fund raising materials feature inspiring stories of, and stirring testimonials from, students and alumni who have benefited from financial aid.

College B says the economic decline has made it particularly difficult for students from the lowest socio-economic quartile to attend. They set a goal of raising $60 million over the next five years to not only augment the financial aid packages of current students but to increase the enrollment of students from the most modest backgrounds from the 5 to 10 percent in that same period of time.

College C announces that it has conducted an extensive analysis to understand exactly how economic crisis has affected its application and enrollment patterns and discovered that it is receiving fewer acceptances to its offers of admissions from students whose families earn $60,000 or less, particularly those from major urban areas, including the city in which it is located. It makes the case that the “true test of any great school is to make it possible for those who come from the most modest means to earn an education that will put them on an equal footing with the most privileged students from the most prominent schools” and, by that measure, it is determined to be great. The President of College C announces that it has targeted and established partnerships with the five urban high schools in their service area that have produced the most college-bound graduates in the last decade. Further, she says, her college has worked with the principals of those urban schools to secure support from business leaders in the targeted cities “to identify, encourage, mentor and support” students who demonstrate a desire and a determination to improve their lives. Each business has pledged $100,000. The President now calls upon the alumni and supporters of College C to provide financial aid for the graduates of those urban schools so that the students who work hard and succeed will know that another opportunity awaits them. She says that if the College C is able to secure $75 million in support, including $60 million in scholarships and $15 million for academic and career advising, and other critical support services for these students, they will be able increase enrollment of targeted students by 100 percent in five years, and serve as a model for the state and nation.

So, you get my point. College A is properly responsive to change and the adverse effect it is having on their students, but its plan is reactive, not forward looking; it seeks to stem the tide of growing need and offers few project details. Its case says, in essence, “We have a need; please give us money.” College B is more specific in defining the target population for its financial drive and sets a goal of not only retaining students from the lowest socio-economic quartile but expanding its enrollment. It’s better than College A but it does not define the project in enough detail. Only College C puts forward a true project, one that defines the purpose of the institution, an analysis of the market it serves, how it might use its unique strengths to deliver value to achieve specific purposes by a certain date. College C had made an investment of time and energy in the project; it has developed partnership and secured business support before turning to its own supporters. What it asks is reasonable given the importance of the goal. It does not act entitled; it expects to serve in very concrete ways for the support it receives. It has differentiated itself, explained how addition funds will allow it to be better serve and put forward a very credible project to secure the necessary support.

I don’t know if the President of College C is the best fund raiser but she has clearly put her institution in a position to raise the most funds. And that's the kind of president for which the best fund raisers want to work.

1 comment:

DCW said...

Great new look for the blog.