TITLE: Department as Fundraiser AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 14, 2006 2:06 PM DESC: An academic department head these days has an extra bullet in her job description: fundraiser. ----- BODY: The first session of our department heads' retreat is on fundraising. When I became department head I did not think of fundraising as a part of the head's job. But in today's funding climate for universities, it is, even for a small, public university that doesn't have massive research infrastructure. As this passage from an article at Chronicle Careers begins,
It's not uncommon to hear administrators at public universities joke that their institutions once were "state supported," then became "state assisted" and now are merely "state located." The loss of state support has had a substantial impact on academic programs, with universities often left scrambling to fill the gap. In light of those cutbacks, the role of fund raising is ever more important to the health and development of academic programs.
University foundations do this sort of fundraising, but increasingly the colleges and departments themselves are taking active roles in raising the dollars for their programs. And that makes a lot of sense, because departments and colleges are much closer to the needs and potential donors than foundation officers -- and we have the passion about our programs and needs. Our foundation has a collegiate development officer for each college. This officer focuses on "major gifts", which here means gifts of at least $15K. This includes cash gifts and planned giving. The CDO's basic plan is to keep UNI on the radar of potential donors -- even of current donors who currently give small amounts, because many of those folks progress to bigger giving. In fact, that's where most major gifts come from; it's rare for someone who hasn't been involved before suddenly deciding to give a major gift. What can departments do? We have two primary target audiences. One is corporate. Those who hire our students have a stake in our efforts. They are interested in the sort of labs and software tools our students use. They also want to build name recognition with potential employees. The second is alumni. In terms of long-term giving, this is perhaps the more important focus. Here, we have some control over the personal element that underlies a strong fundraising effort. We need to keep in touch; let them know what their old profs are doing, what their old classmates are doing, and how the facilities and buildings are changing; and invite their ideas and feedback. Many alumni still feel a deep personal connection to one of their professors, or even to a secretary. What the department can do best is, like our CDO, stay on their radar. And many of our alumni want to be in our radar. When we approach these audiences, seeking funds for certain purposes will be more successful, and more effective for the department, than others. Scholarships are a relatively easy sell. But we need to approach them strategically. We want breadth of support through the student body, to be sure that we help lots of different kinds of students, but we also want depth in certain areas (say, support for the best students, in order to raise the academic climate of the student body). Another dimension of fundraising is the liquidity of the gift -- cash versus endowment. Like many universities, ours has a goal of increasing the number and size of our endowments. This is also a goal of mine, with the notion of having a company endow a laboratory, a computer classroom, or even a particular software platform. Rather than chasing dollars all the time to upgrade the computers in a lab, wouldn't it be wonderful to have an annuity keeping the lab fresh? We'd be able to devote our energies to other, more important items. For us, any attempt to garner endowments will be most effective with corporate donors, at least for a while. We are a young department, at a university offering young CS majors. We separated as a department from Mathematics in 1992, and the math department began offering CS majors only in 1981. Many of our alumni who are old enough to be giving gifts big enough for endowments identify more with the Department of Mathematics than with computer science. Perhaps our most prominent alumnus, the CIO at a major financial services company, earned his degree in mathematics, with a "computer science emphasis", before UNI offered a CS degree. (Fortunately, he identifies himself as a CS guy!) In truth, though we need a mix of cash gifts and endowments. The number of donors capable of making an endowment-sized gift is relatively small, and endowments grown from smaller gifts need time to mature. Furthermore, we need cash today to do things that need to be done now. With alumni, this all translates back to relationships. Pay attention to the details -- for example, don't send mail o Mr. and Mrs. if one of the spouses has passed away. Send personal thank-yous to every donor -- even the donor who gives $5. Ultimately, don't think of people as potential donors; think of them as people. That sounds like trite marketing-speak, but it is the best way to succeed in raising funds -- and the best way to succeed in most other respects as well. -----