A Defining Moment for Our Role
Recognizing our importance
Once viewed as a “margin for excellence,” fundraising is now a major pillar of support for the core mission of many colleges and universities, and very much recognized as such by provosts, deans, and business officers.
At public institutions, academic and administrative leaders are depending on advancement to offset declines in state funding; private colleges and universities—worried about future tuition pricing and federal research funding—are increasingly betting on advancement to support major new initiatives.
Not really understanding our role
Further, higher education’s dependence on fundraising is likely only to increase in the future, with no one forecasting a return to the high-growth years of the recent past.
With that increased dependence will come even greater visibility for advancement’s role—and even higher expectations. And herein is the larger problem facing advancement officers as they look to the future.
While fundraising has never been more important, and campaign goals never larger, many CAOs quip that it might be easier to ask for funds outside the four walls of campus than within. While happy for the dollars, many academic and business leaders—even presidents and trustees—often fail to grasp how advancement works or what investments are necessary to achieve ever-higher fundraising goals. How can the development executives change the funding dynamic, convincing boards, academics, and administrators that investing scarce budget dollars today will pay off tomorrow? How can they persuade faculty leaders to invest more time in fundraising, and in developing the skills to do so at a high standard?
Emerging Challenges to Our Success
A generation less inclined to give
If colleges and universities have never been more dependent on fundraising, someone forgot to tell their alumni, as development leaders nationwide report worrying declines in alumni engagement and giving.
Some suggest unprecedented student debt, a difficult job market, and a proliferation of charitable giving opportunities as the root of the problem; others complain of a social media generation just more difficult to engage, and of alumni affairs offices not always interested in fostering giving.
All these challenges are even more keenly felt at the many public institutions trying to build a culture of giving for the first time.
More demanding when they do
What explains the difficulties many college and university advancement offices are having engaging their alumni? How real is this phenomenon and will it get worse in the years to come? What (if anything) can advancement do to re-engage and re-energize the alumni base?
A growing share of mega-gifts are perceived to come from social entrepreneurs seeking to solve real-world problems in their lifetimes, demanding global multidisciplinary collaboration, stewardship reporting, and impact tracking to standards uncommon in higher education.
Eager to present a compelling vision to this new generation of major donors, but cautious of unrealistic administrative burdens and dissonance with institutional priorities, many CAOs wonder what it will take for higher education to remain the primary destination for philanthropic “investments.”