Monday, December 20, 2010

Star of Wonder, Star of Night

When we see a star, we’re looking back in time. That coruscating speckle in the far sky that we think we’re seeing in the present is really a package of photons that left another galaxy millions and millions of years ago and is just now arriving on the doorstep of our visibility. Indeed, much of what we apprehend as being in the present is really the past arriving into our view. When we look at the seemingly endless diversity of human, animal and plant life, we’re really seeing eons of genetic history, of innumerable adaptations and mutations, displaying themselves to us. When we look at art that we think is modern and daring, we’re really seeing thoughts and feelings that have been expressed and re-expressed over the millennia using essentially the same visual vocabulary. And, as we enjoy another season of giving, and reflect on all that has been given to society through philanthropy, we’re really seeing the latest manifestation of a timeless ideal, one that we have come to characterize as the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule is a cornerstone of every great faith, every enduring civilization and all people of principle. If you Google “the universality of the Golden Rule,” you will see the many ways that simple but deeply resonant creed has echoed across cultures and throughout time. It is, it seems, the one thing that virtually all of us, past and present, can agree to, at least in principle. Philanthropy is a way of doing for others as we hope they would do for us had our fates and fortunes been reversed. It is a way of doing for future generations what past generations did for us. Since we cannot pay back the past, we give in the present, but never more generously than when we give to the future. No philanthropist leaves an estate saying, “Use this up as fast as you can.” They try to extend the meaning of their lives, and the good fortune they enjoyed, by giving to institutions that will preserve that meaning over a long, long time. That is the purpose of institutions, to preserve and transfer values from one generation to the next so that meaning, learning and value will not be lost in space and time. Philanthropy is not simply believing in the Golden Rule but enacting it in selfless ways for timeless impact.

The star of philanthropy guides humanity toward its perfect light and offers a shining, steady hope for the betterment of the human condition. That light arrives to us from far away and long ago. And what we do today, in its name, will send light to future generations. Time will erode our vanities and follies but preserve our goodness well after our inconsequential names and personal histories have been forgotten and deliver it through many a night in the form of warming, illuminating, loving light.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Inviting Involvement

“An overwhelming majority of Americans say it’s important for them to be involved in their community amid concern that technological gadgets and harried schedules are fraying human connections,” USA Today reported last Thursday, citing a poll conducted in conjunction with Gallup from October 21-24. The strength of those feelings , USA Today reported, was consistent across “educational, gender and regional lines.”

That’s good news for American philanthropy, an unparalleled and unprecedented force for social good that grew out of highly interdependent communities. Our earliest settlers realized that collaboration was essential to their survival, then to social stability and prosperity. They worked side by side to raise homes and barns, to construct churches, roads and bridges, to bring in harvests and lay in food for winter, and to extinguish fires and provide for their common defense. “We the people” existed as a model organizing principle long before the phrase was coined in the preamble of the Constitution.

It is no wonder, then, that Americans still yearn for and seek fulfillment in community involvement. The simple fact is that we need each other and are at our happiest when working together toward common ends and aspirations. Yet too many philanthropy-seeking organizations fail to either fully grasp the importance of this phenomenon or open themselves sufficiently to benefit from it.

Yes, many organizations invite and encourage volunteer participation. Yet too many do it solely as a pretext for fund raising. Volunteers are recruited for no other purpose but to raise money or to serve on boards with little real purpose if they agree to give or get money as a condition of joining. “Make work” activities are orchestrated for boards to induce members to give. Board members soon sense this and begin to complain about being asked to do nothing more than sit through “dog and pony” presentations and write checks.

Far greater opportunities and rewards await organizations that more genuinely seek to put the times and talents of volunteers to their highest and best use. To attract and benefit from the talents of the most substantive volunteers, enlightened organizations must:

Truly believe that they need, and will be far more strategically adaptive if they complement internal staff strengths with external volunteer capabilities;

Integrate volunteers into the fabric of the institution, including in the deliberation of sensitive issues, including crises and controversies;

Guide their efforts without exerting undo control over them;

Make it clear, in word and deed, that volunteers are not there to serve the organization but help the organization better serve others;

Involve them early on in the design of specific service outcomes associated with major initiatives;

Seek to provide a rich emotional return on their investment by sharing struggles and credit for successes;

The organizations that master the art of selective, strategic, substantive volunteer engagement in the context of service-oriented initiatives will secure the greatest amounts of private support in the decades ahead. And, in the process, they will build stronger communities which in turn will create a stronger nation and a more vibrant democracy. That’s how “we the people” did it in the first place. That’s how we can and will do it again.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Upcoming Conferences and Webcasts

Here are the topics I will be addressing in the next six months through a series of Academic Impressions webcasts and conferences. I hope you will join me and let me know what other topics are of interest to you.

Looking Ahead to 2011 in Advancement
(Free Webcast): Tuesday, January 25, 2011 – 1:00-2:15 PM EST

The Art and Science of the Advancement Interview (Webcast): Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 1:00-2:30 PM EDT

Rethinking Major Giving to Meet Today’s Donor Demands (Conference): Monday & Tuesday, March 28-29, 2011

Understanding the Differences Between Sponsored Research and Private Support (Webcast): Monday, April 04, 2011 - 1:00-2:30 PM EDT

Dealing with Competing Internal Demands on Advancement Resources (Webcast): Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - 1:00-2:30 PM EDT

Recruiting and Positioning Faculty for Successful Advancement Work (Webcast): Monday, June 13, 2011 - 1:00-2:30 PM EDT

Building a Fundraising Partnership Between Academics and Advancement Managers (Conference): Monday & Tuesday, June 27-28, 2011

Collaborative Prospect Identification Between Academics and Advancement (Webcast): Monday, July 11, 2011 - 1:00-2:30 PM EDT

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hard Questions

One of the best ways to create a compelling case is to imagine, and answer before they are ever asked, the hardest questions that may be put to you on that particular topic. Since many institutions are trying to raise ever larger amounts for financial aid, let’s explore the hard questions associated with that topic to see if we’re prepared to answer them. Here’s a potential scenario:


What’s your top priority?


Financial aid.




So many families have been hard hit. They’ve seen their savings cut by at least a third and the value of their homes have declined by equal or greater amounts; both were primary vehicles for paying for their children’s education.


Then why did you raise tuition?


Well, it was our lowest increase in many years.


But why did you raise it at all?


Some of our costs continue to rise.


Why didn’t you just cut costs?


(If you can’t say you did cut costs in the past two years, your case is now substantially weakened; if you can you say, “We did,” the prospect might ask:)


What percent of the expense side of the base budget was cut? And what percent of the income side of the base budget did the tuition increases represent?


(If you didn’t cut as least as much as you raised through tuition increases your case is further weakened.)


Aren’t you creating the need for more financial aid every time you raise tuition?


Yes, but more of our budget is going for financial aid than ever before.


Where does the increased amount for financial aid come from?


(If you say “tuition, the prospect might ask:)


So you’re raising tuition to reallocate more to students with financial need? Wouldn’t it make more sense to hold the line on tuition by cutting the budget or even lowering tuition by cutting deeper?


(If you say the increased financial aid dollars are coming, “out of endowment,” the prospect might say:)


So, how long can you afford to do that? The value of your endowment declined in 2008 and you didn’t make up the difference in 2009 or 2010 (which is true in most cases). Is this the time to be eroding endowment even further?


(If you argue that tuition increases are essential to preserving quality as measured by faculty excellence, student-to-faculty ratios, curricular choices or first-rate facilities, the prospect might say:)


So you have no deadwood anywhere? No inefficient practices or systems? No duplication of effort? No bureaucratic inefficiencies? No chronically under-subscribed courses?


(If your institution hasn’t cut costs and your answer to all these questions is no answer of “no,” how do you then respond to these questions from the prospect?)


So if I give to financial aid, chances are it’s just a patch. I may help the school or some of the students with their present debt load but I’m not really making a long-term difference. Even if I give a substantial endowment for financial aid, chances are that the value of that endowment will be eroded by future tuition increases -- which seem inevitable. If I give current use dollars, I’m just eliminating or alleviating the burden of a few students. If the school doesn’t cut or contain costs for several years, I’m making no real difference. And, if people like me continue to give just to patch over the problem, does the school have any real incentive to cut or contain costs? It seems to me that if the school pledged to hold costs, maybe even cut them slowly but steadily over the next five years, you could make the case that my gifts to financial aid were closing the gap between need and ability to pay. Without that kind of commitment, giving just to stay even or to keep from losing even more ground isn’t appealing. I want to make a difference.

You see, then, why I say fundraising today must address the three Cs: cost, case and connection. If you aren’t containing costs, every case you make for private support is weakened. Philanthropy provides the margin of excellence; charity provides the margin for survival. People give far more to philanthropy than they do to charity. And, if you don’t have deep emotional ties to many prospects, you’d better have one helluva case. And, even if you do have lots of strong emotional ties to your prospects, you don’t want to weaken them by making a case that has too many holes in it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Awakening the Philanthropic Spirit

The inaugural issue of Higher Ed Impact: Monthly Scan, launched by my partners at Academic Impressions offers some wonderful insights (my own notwithstanding) on “Translating a Positive Student Experience Into Lifetime Support for Your Institution.” I am glad to see increasing strategic emphasis on the design of the student experience and less on short-term fund raising tactics to build student and young alumni loyalty.

The link below will allow you to sign up for this valuable but free service.

I read this new publication right after I had finished a wonderful book entitled, Butler’s Big Dance: The Team, The Tournament, and Basketball Fever, by Susan S. Neville, which is about so much more than Butler’s ascent to the National Championship last year. It’s about how community finds a shape, and voice and a spiritual force field on a college campus through the exploits of earnest young athletes. In that book, there’s a vignette about one of the basketball players, Avery Jukes, who went to Uganda under the auspices of a University-sponsored program, witnessed the perilous lives of young people there, and, upon his return to Indianapolis, created a foundation which, in a month’s time, raised enough money to send five Ugandan children to school for year. The book quotes Jukes’ mother: “Before he went to Uganda,” she said, “it was all about Avery. And when he came back, I could tell in his voice that he was a different person.”

That got me thinking. Maybe it’s about something weightier than creating the conditions to induce or inspire young people to give back to their alma mater. Maybe the greater cause is awakening a larger, non-specific philanthropic spirit and purpose in our students. If, like Butler and many other colleges and universities, we give students the opportunity to see the disparities in the human condition and to reflect and their relative good fortune, we help them move from being unconscious acceptors of what they have been given to consciously grateful and then, perhaps, to conscientious givers. And what if we attempt to do more than make that opportunity available to some? What if we attempt to design it into the student experience and make it assertively available to all? Yes, I know, we must be careful not to preach but we certainly can come up with all sorts of creative and interesting ways to help our students see disparities and to understand where differences most need to be made. Through our own caring, our own example, our own journey -- whether we’re faculty, staff, parents, alumni, friends -- we can at least help them see for themselves and reflect on why they have been given more than others, and to ask themselves what is the highest and best use of those gifts. We can guide but we can’t push too hard or expect too much too soon.

And what if one college or university worked on that design and refined it over time? Would not the deeds of its charges accrue to its reputation? Would it not become known as a transformational place, as a well spring of conscientious giving? And wouldn’t that mere fact inspire many and cause some of philanthropic intent to support the source of such good in the world?

Do we spend too much time thinking about how we could raise more money and too little on the good that we could do? Does not the doing of good earn the admiration of others -- today, tomorrow and well into the future? And, in so doing, would we not stand a far better chance of securing far more support by thinking of what we could do for others than by asking how we could get others to do more for us?

What do you think? In the aforementioned book that’s not really about basketball, there’s a quote from As A Man Thinketh: “Men attract not that which they want, but that which they are.”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Best People

The key to running a successful fund raising organization is making sure that your best people put your organization’s best proposals in front of your best prospects. Simple enough, right? Well, let’s see.

Let’s start with what it takes to recruit, retain and bring out the best in the best people in fund raising. What the best fund raisers want is to make a real and lasting difference in the human condition. Some believe that education is the best way while others look to medicine, early childhood development, the arts, environmental remediation, or a number of other worthy causes. I am reminded of this again and again, most recently during my trip to Indianapolis to deliver a keynote address for the good people that gather under the banner of CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) Indiana. It was immensely rewarding to interact with so many committed professionals in various areas of advancement. In the very best of them is a deep and driving desire to put their talents to their highest and best use, to somehow contribute to sustaining and strengthening the human family. That’s what gets them up in the morning, motivates them to work long hours, to sacrifice weekend and evening time with their loved ones, and to see their way past frustration.

The best fund raisers, therefore, want to help put those ideals in action; they want to broker philanthropic compacts between the high-minded doers in their organization and like-minded donors. They want to be able to put compelling proposals in front the most principled and practical philanthropists and say, “Do you see what we can achieve together?” They didn’t get into the business just to “make their numbers” or meet fund raising goals. They aren’t just in the business of chasing individual gifts but of securing and sustaining the support necessary to alleviate suffering, lift the human spirit, extend opportunity or provide liberty and justice to a greater segment of society.

The best fund raisers can’t achieve those purposes if their leaders aren’t asking themselves, “Who are we here to serve, and how can we do a better job of it?” Is it only in the context of honest self-assessment that true strategic planning can occur, that intentionality of purpose can be reviewed, revised and revived in light of emerging opportunities and obligations. Out of such an assessment will come a clearer picture of the gap between where an organization is and where it should be. It can then determine what it will take to get there, both by reallocating existing resources and securing new ones. It is then is in a position to explain to potential donors who will be better served, as well as how and when. The best people in fund raising will now have the best proposals to take forward. Two of the three conditions for optimal fund raising success have been met.

The best fund raisers know that they can’t just run out and ask the prospects for money no matter how strong their proposals. They know that the best prospects will make the largest gifts to the organizations that best align with their values, that have the clearest and most compelling plans, and that involve them in the planning and in the design of major initiatives, and that allow them to bring their talents to bear on the pursuit and completion of their goals. They know all of this takes time, that if they rush to the ask, they are likely to be told “no” or receive less support than the best prospects are capable of. They need the organizations they represent to respect their experience and trust their instincts. They need to be able to call on various people within the organization at various times, particularly the leaders to help the best prospects see the depth of commitment and talent, and to know who is charged with seeing the project through. They need to be a part of a culture of purpose, gratitude and accountability.

All too often the best fund raisers fall short of their potential because the organizations they represent instruct them to raise money to sustain internal functions or to placate internal stakeholders, not to achieve specific, service-oriented objectives, and to raise it as quickly as possible to meet the institutional metrical goals. All too often the best fund raisers leave or lose their animating ideals because they do feel as if their work is advancing a greater good or because the job is about what they must do to make their numbers, not what they can do to help their organization make a better world.

The best way to attract and retain the best people is to create the conditions that allow their best work; in turn they will help the organization create the conditions for more productive, predictable, sustainable philanthropic support.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

True Fund-Raising Professionals

In the past week I was afforded the privilege of providing the keynote address for the Hudson-Mohawk Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals on National Philanthropy Day. The occasion gave me the opportunity to spend time with the chapter’s fine leadership team and other true fund-raising professionals representing a variety of organizations and institutions. I call them true fund-raising professionals because they know:

Real fund raising doesn’t begin until you’re face-to-face with a prospect so they put themselves “out there,” or “on the road” sacrificing time with family and loved ones, not just to advance the interests of the organization they represent but to earn the trust, then the support, of their donors;

It takes time to earn the trust of others; that people don’t let go of large sums without deliberation and evidence of when, where and how their money can make a difference;

They have to listen before they ask because fund raising isn’t about getting what an institution wants but about achieving mutuality of purpose and common cause; that the animating passion of the American philanthropic institution is not “We the institution” but “we the people” trying form a more perfect union;

To ask when the donor is ready not when the institution most wants the money;

To ask only for projects and purposes that their institution is fully-prepared to implement on budget and on time;

To ensure that donors know exactly when, where and how their money is being used, if it is sole source of funding for a particular purpose or project or if it is to be used in conjunction with other institutional or private funds, and if any existing funds currently used for the stated purpose are to be redirected elsewhere upon receipt of those donors gifts;

To ensure that the institution they represent is accepts the moral weight of asking for, and accepting the support of others, and that it fully understands and is prepared to fulfill its obligations to donors;

To insist on, and help frame specific gift agreements so that the interests and obligations of the donor and the institution can be abided by over time;

To do all they can to bring about a culture of gratitude and accountability within the institution they represent; and

To do all they can to represent the donors’ interest within the institution including making sure donors are notified if any actual or implied promises in the gift agreement cannot be met.

None of them, that I know of, got into the business to raise money for its own sake; they accepted the responsibility of fund raising to make worthwhile things happen. I will be forever proud to call these true professionals my colleagues.


The philanthropic support that an institution receives over time has far more to do with the character it demonstrates than with the way it campaigns for support. For that reason I was deeply impressed by the manner in which Notre Dame in general, and it’s president in particular, responded to the death of a student videographer on October 27. “Declan Sullivan was entrusted to our care and we failed to keep him safe,” wrote Reverend John Jenkins. “We at Notre Dame and ultimately I, as president, are responsible.” In a world where too many leaders cite liability as a reason for doing nothing or who throw subordinates under the bus to divert attention from their failings, President Jenkins strength and leadership in the wake of a terrible tragedy is breathtakingly refreshing.


If you would like to take part in, and learn from a survey on how colleges and universities use social media to raise money, please click on the link below.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Encouraging Developments

In the past week, I had the great fortune to be in Gainesville, Florida and Alva, Oklahoma. In both places, I met with accomplished professionals working to strengthen the foundations of philanthropy.

At the University of Florida, a dedicated advancement team is promoting community through a campaign of words and deeds that lift up the joys of being a part of the “Gator nation.” If you get a chance, take a look at their halftime spot. It celebrates how the wearing of UF brand allows Gators of all generations to recognize one another, to exchange friendly words or share campus experiences when their paths cross in their day-to-day activities or their worldwide travels. It reminds them they are not only graduates of a prominent university but members of a cohesive, caring community -- for all their lives. It’s a very wise approach and stands apart from many university spots that say, in effect, “Look at us! Isn’t what we’re doing on campus great?” These spots typically speak to the exemplary research being done by faculty or the remarkable achievements of students. While the spotlighted feats are laudable, the spots come across as boasts designed to impress viewers with campus goings-on. The University of Florida campaign, in contrast doesn’t say, “Here’s why some of you should be impressed with what some of us are doing.” It says, “Here’s what we have in common; here are the joys and benefits of community that bring us together across time and space.” The latter is far more powerful than the former. And the understanding the distinction is important. At the heart of American philanthropy is a spirit of “we the people” working together to create more perfect unions.

In Oklahoma, I learned the citizens of Alva had voted for increase in the sales tax to provide scholarships for the students of Northwestern Oklahoma State University (NWOSU). There is a wonderful symbiosis between the campus and the citizens of Alva, a sense of shared interest and enterprise. The leaders of NWOSU, meanwhile, have worked hard to contain costs and deliver long-term value. As a result, the graduates of NWOSU enjoy the second lowest student debt burden in the country. The low debt loads allow their graduates to invest more in building families and careers, and when their alma mater calls on them for support, to be more receptive to the message and more generous in their response. I applaud the administration of NWOSU for understanding that the greatest form of financial aid for the largest number of students is low tuition. And, when cost are carefully managed, tuition can be kept to more affordable levels for more families, the vast majority of whom have not seen their earning power increase in recent years. Moreover, low tuition magnifies the impact of any and all financial aid and scholarships. What might not look like a large scholarship to a student at an Ivy League school can greatly alleviate the modest cost of going to school in Alva, Oklahoma.

Being “out there,” visiting various campuses, and meeting with leaders of “on-the-ground” non profits provides me with no end of encouragement. They are building communities of support and delivering real value. Their investors have and will see a great financial and emotional return on their philanthropic investment.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Emotional Return on Investment

I had a fascinating conversation last week with the incoming chair of a major university’s foundation board. We were talking about the general state of philanthropy in this country when he brought up the topic of “donor fatigue,” a condition that he described as disturbingly widespread. I probed further, trying to understand the dimensions of that diagnosis. He confessed that he shared that feeling so I asked him to describe how it came about.

It was, in part, he said, a function of being asked to give often but that was not that alone. It was also being asked for donations to support various parts of the same university without ever understanding how they worked together to advance the whole. And it was about never really comprehending how he had made a difference. But, there was something else that he couldn’t quite name, a nagging, gnawing feeling about his relationship with the university.

I asked him if the university provided an adequate “emotional return on his investment” and his answer was an immediate, emphatic “no.” But then he smiled and asked what I meant by that term. I explained that all relationships are, at heart (pun intended) emotional, including the relationship that an individual donor or volunteer has with an institution. However, I said, many institutions fail to recognize that phenomenon and think only in terms of rational return on investment. They thank their donors and volunteers, offering examples of institutional progress made, but don’t celebrate the uniqueness or singular impact of the individual. I told him that one of my greatest concerns was the growing emotional barriers between alumni and their alma maters, a trend that continues at even some of our most impressive colleges and universities. I hastened to add those barriers could be transformed into gateways if those institutions learned how to listen and respond in an emotionally-intelligent way. The trustee smiled broadly, as if he now understood that nagging feeling, and related the following story to me.

“My family and I found a sushi restaurant we really like,” he said, “so we go there all the time. I mean, a lot. Yet, no matter how often we go, or how much we enjoy the food, no one ever says “welcome back” when we come in or “we hope to see you again” when we leave. The chef never comes from out behind the counter to let us know that he has some special ingredients in stock that evening or ask if we would like our food prepared in any special way. But the worst thing was when we told our waiter how much we enjoyed our California rolls, especially the cucumber, and asked if we could have one to take home and were told when the cucumber was presented, “That will be $3.”

Look at it through his emotional lens. He has spent thousands of dollars at this restaurant but never been recognized or welcomed as a repeat customer, never been offered any special “valued customer” treatment, and then, most gallingly, asked to pay $3 for a cucumber. If would have been so easy to have given the cucumber to him as a small token of appreciation to a generous patron. The restaurant in question demonstrated a staggering lack of relational intelligence and, as a result, is in danger of losing a big account. No, it’s not enough to provide fine sushi. You see, the repeat customer seeks, without ever defining it or giving it voice, an emotional return on his or her investment. It’s not a quid pro quo, it’s a subtle but extremely important form of reciprocity.

So, what kind of emotional return on investment does your institution offer its contributors? Do you thank them for each gift they give each part of the institution without ever acknowledging them all? Do you thank and steward repeat givers in a different way or speak to the collective impact of their gifts? Do you make repeat givers feel like valued customers by offering special treatment or providing a higher degree of personal attention? Does the relevant academic or administrative leader come from “behind the counter” to ask how they can be brought closer to the institution? And, do you sometimes impose petty charges on donors who have given millions or hundreds of thousands of dollars? Do you tell them that they still have to pay their alumni dues or give an annual gift to attend the annual fund dinner? You see what I’m getting at.

The value of relational intelligence can be under-appreciate within institutions that see themselves as bastions of rationality. Yet, emotion underpins rationality. When the emotional parts of our brains are damaged, we lose the ability to reason. Decisions are rooted in emotionality -- including which organizations we align with and how much we give to them. be it time, talent or treasure. The most successful organizations and institutions of the future will be the most relationally intelligent and provide the highest emotional return.

P.S. I’ll be in San Diego December 6 and 7 to provide a workshop on Board/Advancement partnerships. I’d love to see you and your trustees there. Please click on this link for more details: i=1024&q=6708v274891yT

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hopes and Concerns

My thoughtful colleague, Rob Zinkan, was kind enough to feature me in his most recent blog. The link below will allow me to share those thoughts with you as well, and introduce you to Rob and his very informative blog.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Higher Education, In Retrospect

Here's an op-ed piece I published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, January 25, 1989, -- 21 years ago! I'll leave it to your good judgment as to how we have done since then and if these issues still apply.

"Are we witnessing a rising tide of anti-intellectualism in this country that sometimes manifests itself in the form of “university bashing?” or are we failing to recognize and respond to a growing number of public concerns about higher education?

The tide-watchers point to several disturbing signs, including our Presidential candidates’ less-than-artful dodging of their ivy-beleaguered pasts during the fall election campaign, and the tendency of well-educated office-seekers elsewhere to hide impressive academic credentials in the closet alongside other political skeletons.

Observers cite George Bush’s crack that Michael Dukakis formulated his foreign policy at a “Harvard Yard boutique” and Dan Quayle’s chiding “Dukakis and his Harvard buddies” for suggesting that Iowans supplant all-American corn with something as sissified as Belgian endive. This seeming pandering to what H.L. Menken called the “booboisie” is seen as a part of a larger pattern of anti-intellectualism, supposedly a major force in American politics. Certainly some portion of the American public is anti-intellectual, but how much of the intellectual community is anti-public?

Peruse your reference books of famous quotations and you may find a couple of brickbats directed at intellectuals, but you’ll find many more snide swipes at the American public penned by intellectuals.

That said, there is no question that many Americans love to deflate, puncture, or lampoon those who seem to be putting on airs, and I hope no one would argue that higher education is not given to pretension from time to time. The United States is still a young democracy, one that wrested its freedom from a monarchy a mere two centuries ago. Our revolution was fueled in part by a desire to shed the yoke of aristocratic privilege and let natural ability seek its own level. Deeply ingrained in the American character, then, is an anti-aristocratic, anti-elitist streak.

But even when “intellectual” is used pejoratively by a critic, we might remember that the word is laced with multiple meanings and that there can be a great difference between one person’s implication and another’s inference. Someone may use the word to connote fuzziness, abstruseness, impracticality, or haughtiness while making a grudging concession to intelligence. If “intellectual” is too often used in a derisive way by the American public, “genius” is more often used in an adoring, if not an indiscriminate, way.

Americans are not viscerally anti-intellect; they cherish genius of the Thomas Edison, applied-intellect sort, while remaining wary of the absent-minded professor type. Americans also are not viscerally anti-higher education, as is demonstrated by the many polls that show solid support for our mission and by increased private giving to colleges and universities.

Laying too much of today’s criticism of higher education on the doorstop of anti-intellectualism is intellectually lazy and bad public policy. Blaming the public for our problems will not endear us to those whose support is so vital to our future.

The best way to respond to criticism is to break it down into manageable parts, separating the major from the minor, while remaining particularly sensitive to that which reflects widespread public concerns, whether they are expressed by politicians or by the Bennetts and Blooms of this world. The worst possible tack is to act as if all our critics are a part of an unholy alliance of dunderheads bent on mindless destruction.

Nor is it wise to focus on the personality or motivations of our critics without countering the criticism itself. Former Education Secretary William J. Bennett has lost his pulpit but not his disciples. While Allan Bloom continues to convince many people that higher education has been closing their minds, the defenders of the academic faith respond by charging Bloom with marrow-mindedness. He scorches the academic landscape and we call him names. Hardly an effective response.

If we take a hard look at such criticism, especially that which strikes a responsive chord with the public, we might gain invaluable insights into the way higher education is perceived by key constituencies. If we hope to broaden our base of support, we cannot continue to discredit public concerns by exaggerating the prevalence of anti-intellectualism.

There is, of course, a problem with this line of argument. If we are not swimming against the tide of anti-intellectualism, why aren’t we making greater progress in winning public support?

Who is to blame for the misunderstandings and misperceptions that do exist? To a large extent, we are. And nothing demonstrates our shortcomings better than this tendency to dismiss, if not smite, our critics. Yes, in recent years we have done a much better job in communicating and fund raising, and in establishing ties with elements of the private sector. We’ve let down the drawbridge and sent out more and more emissaries, but we’re still leery about letting anyone but unabashed advocates within our walls.

We are, it seems, still somewhere in transition from the pre-Vietnam War era, when higher education seemed above reproach and a college degree was a sure-fire ticket to success, to a future where greater public support and understanding will come at the cost of greater scrutiny and accountability. We want the best of both worlds and so, in our official pronouncements, we continue to read from yellowing lecture notes filled with platitudes about the intrinsic value of higher education, assuming the public will play the part of dutiful students and ask only the most respectful questions.

If we want to increase public support, and enjoy all the benefits that flow from it, we much conduct nothing less than a concerted campaign. Ours must feature the elements of all successful campaigns, including savvy spokesmen, well-developed positions on major issues, a willingness to seek out constituents and engage them on their ground and in their own terms, and effective communication of a limited number of compelling themes.

In the current climate, the most important themes must be those of creating opportunities and remaining accountable.

If we can show that we are carefully scanning the horizon and consciously creating opportunities for students and the general public through our admissions efforts, curricular design, research endeavors, and cooperative arrangements with the private sector, we stand a better chance of convincing our constituents and the public that the rising costs of education are justified; that we seek more revenue to improve the quality of their lives, not just ours. The opportunity theme will help illustrate that our intentions and instincts are ultimately democratic, not aristocratic; that we seek to be the means by which our society can become more of a meritocracy.

Contradictory messages must be resolved. For instance, we can’t boast of our inclusiveness to the public at large while assuring our students, alumni, and major donors that they are participants in a highly exclusive society.

A theme that stresses accountability will make us seem less prickly ad show that our doors and books are open. We must show that we have not become a world unto ourselves. We must demonstrate that we are consumed with something more than enhancing our individual or collective reputations, that we are willing to be judged by criteria other than those which we establish for ourselves. Individual institutions must show that they aspire to something greater than a pinched superiority measured by the S.A.T. scores and class ranks of incoming freshman, by the total dollar value of externally financed research, or by the ludicrously arbitrary ratings of guides to colleges and universities.

The campaign, which must be waged by institutions and their national associations, must focus on the major misperceptions about higher education. These can only be gleaned by listening more carefully to our constituents through formal surveys, informal conversations, and every other means available. Creative communications could dispel some longstanding misperceptions – that scholarly prominence can be achieved through something less than herculean effort, that the return on the public investment in higher education has been something less than remarkable, or that applied research is a more sensible alternative than basic research.

Higher education will continue to be confronted by critics. The question is how will the public view the confrontation? Will they see us as a good-natured Gulliver being taunted by grumpy Lilliputians, or as an arrogant Goliath underestimating the damage that can be done by determined Davids? Much will depend on our actions.

A more effective public policy must begin with a more considerate attitude toward the public. If we want the public to appreciate us, to understand our multifaceted character and our numerous contributions, we could begin by doing the same for the members of the public. We stand to benefit from listening to their doubts."