Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Shared Enterprise

Some of the most rewarding training sessions I have conducted have been all-day events on university campuses that engage academic and advancement leaders in an exploration of the best ways to achieve a greater sense of shared enterprise in the pursuit of private support.

When I begin these sessions, I see anxiety and apprehension in the face of many academic leaders. They fear I have been brought in to harangue them on the need to raise money or to drill them on mindless fund-raising mechanics. When I begin to articulate a role for them that is consistent with their calling -- that of a teacher, or one who explains the value or application of new knowledge, or even as one who embodies or explicates the ethos of their institution -- I see most of them relax and, by the end of the day, become positively enthusiastic.

So, let me offer a truncated version of that session by offering one “shared enterprise” scenario to demonstrate how academic leaders and advancement professionals can and should work together in ways that marry their respective talents, foster enjoyable collaboration, and lead to repeated successes.

I begin with these assumptions:

The university or academic unit in question has imagined ways in which private gifts will allow them to leverage their core competencies to provide greater services to worthy beneficiaries (and there’s a lot in that sentence that I would unload and explain during a training session).

They have translated these concepts into a compelling set of projects, characterized by precise definitions of the benefit to be provided, to whom, when it will be realized, and at what cost.

There are academic leaders in place to implement each of these projects; if not the first fund raising priority will be to raise sufficient funds to recruit them (if you are raising money for a project designed by a committee for which there is no leader, you’re in trouble).

With these predicates in place, let’s focus on one project and explore in a broad ten step process the appropriate division of labor between the academic and advancement sides of the house:

Step One

Advancement conducts research to see which donors’ propensities best align with the project (i.e. if the project is environmental in nature, the advancement research office, working with the front line fund raisers, looks first for donors with a proven passion for the topic, then those with a possible interest). Advancement develops a prioritized prospect list using a scoring system that puts those with the highest financial capacity and most proven passion for the topic at the top of the list. It then determines if the total capacity and propensity of ranked prospects is of sufficient critical mass to begin active fund raising. There is always an element of risk in such judgments, or an element of judgment in such risks, but one generally hopes to have enough depth in the prospect pool to assume the project can be successful if only one out of three give.

Step Two

Advancement develops a project roll-out plan focusing on geographic areas thathave the largest number of the most promising prospects.

Step Three

Advancement deploys staff to those regions to meet individually with the best prospects, preview the project with them and encourage their attendance at an upcoming salon event (an intimate gathering on a substantive issue with major prospects, academic leaders and advancement professionals preferably hosted by a donor or prospect in his or her home, private club or workplace).

Step Four

Academic leaders review the roll-out plan, coordinating their calendars with advancement to ensure there is at least one significant academic leader and one senior advancement professional at each proposed salon event.

Step Five

Academic leaders and advancement professionals conduct a series of salon events in targeted areas that go something like this: The host welcomes the group and provides a personal testimonial as to why he or she believes this particular topic is of great importance; the academic leader provides a 15-minute inspiring overview of the project trying to relate it to the lives and concerns of the prospects; the academic or advancement leader then leads a conversation on the topic by asking a series of questions designed to bring out the opinions of those in attendance; the academic leaders and advancement professionals listen intently to see if the project is well-understood and greeted with enthusiasm or if there are other issues in the way; the advancement professional makes sure the event is well-paced and that the conversation is not cut off too soon or allowed to run too long: the host closes the event by thanking everyone for gathering around such an important topic and lets the prospects know that a member of the advancement staff will debrief with them soon.

Step Six

Academic leaders and advancement professionals meet shortly after each salon event to engage in an open, critical review of what worked and what didn’t including if the opening presentation was as effective as it might have been and if questions were well and succinctly answered. They also share impressions of which prospects seemed most intrigued, most confused or most negative.

Step Seven

Advancement professionals secure follow-up appointments with prospects who attended the events, ascertaining their level of interest and determining follow up actions for each. Academic leaders should understand that this can be a highly iterative process over many months as the advancement professional responds to each individual’s questions, concerns, suggestions and decision-making style while trying to determine which prospects are deserving of the most time and attention.

Step Eight

Advancement professionals “call in” academic leaders as certain prospects move toward gift commitments. Academic leaders should remember that they can be most effective early in the fund raising process by helping the prospect see what is possible and late in the fund raising process to assure the prospect of the importance of his or her support.

Step Nine

Advancement professionals run drafts of gift proposals by academic leaders before submitting them to prospects to ensure all parties are aligned. Any changes suggested by prospects should be reviewed by academic leaders to ensure they can be implemented and stewarded over time.

Step Ten

Academic leaders, in accepting gifts, accept responsibility for stewarding the most generous gifts and for deepening relationships with the most significant donors, including attending gift recognition ceremonies and helping to personalize stewardship reports.

While this is only one scenario for one project, it should underscore that collaboration between the two sides of the house is absolutely essential, that no advancement office can cast itself as a “go it alone” operation and no academic unit can afford to relegate its advancement effort to “just go get the money and leave us alone” status. Shared enterprise is the key to satisfying sustained success.

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