Having recently retired as president of Hollins University, I know firsthand that presidents have many important demands on their time outside of fundraising. According to a 2015 report by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the most pressing concern of private college presidents is their schools’ competitive environment followed by increasing tuition discounts while the most pressing concern of public college presidents is decreased state funding. As other sources of revenue decline, most presidents look to fundraising to help fill the gap. Given that, it’s no surprise that college presidents dedicate between 25 and 75% of their time to fundraising. Since 2001, the American College of President Survey, conducted by the American Council of Education, finds that presidents report that fundraising is one of the areas in which they must spend most of their time.
Given the importance of fundraising despite the other competing demands of the presidency, how can the advancement staff best maximize the president’s time and help him or her be effective in fundraising? I urge you to look at the world from the perspective of your president and then plan your communications, scheduling, and strategy accordingly. Put yourself in his or her shoes.
For example, if your president just can’t seem to get around to writing notes to donors, make it easy for the president to get it done. Need your president to send a quick thank you note following a visit? Provide a draft. Want the president to send a quick email to a donor you are cultivating? Send a draft note for the president’s consideration. Need to send a proposal following a visit? Draft it for the President’s review. Want the president to stay in monthly contact with key donors? Clip articles or send photographs for the president to send off with a quick note. The president is a busy person so make it easy!
And think hard about your president’s personality. If the president is an extrovert, use that attribute comfortably at large events and be confident in scheduling full days. If an introvert, the president may be more comfortable in one on one or small group meetings than large and will need private time following meetings, so plan accordingly. Detail oriented president or big picture person? Communicate accordingly. And if your president avoids meeting with donors because he or she does not feel confident in that setting, try role-playing to help the president prepare or be creative about other solutions. Work with and not against your president’s personality.
Also, consider your president’s strengths and weaknesses. If your president is comfortable in front of a camera, suggest he or she communicate through podcasts with small groups of major donors. A great writer? Make reprints of the president’s printed articles and send it to major donors as a cultivation tool. A great communicator who is comfortable with people? Suggest a series of presidential donors or lunches with major donor prospects. Build your strategy around your president’s strengths.
The old fundraising adage, “people give to people,” is especially true with the president. Donors who believe in your institutional leadership, who have confidence in the President’s vision, are more likely to give generously. And donors at the highest levels expect to know and interact with the president. For these reasons, your success in meeting and exceeding your advancement goals will depend on learning to understand your president and leverage his or her time, strengths and personality for maximum effectiveness. And hopefully, the two of you will become a strong team, also able to find the “fun” in fundraising.