Winning buy-in from university stakeholders for strategic investments

Many colleges and universities are making more deliberate efforts to find and safeguard dollars to fund strategic priorities. However, with an increase in central reserve dollars comes greater scrutiny from states, boards, and faculty.

On one hand, sharing too little information about strategic reserves may lead to skepticism of the university’s financial position. On the other hand, over-communication about reserves may cause stakeholders to criticize (or "nitpick") spending decisions.

Instead, leaders should proactively seek a middle ground of financial information, between communicating too much and too little about strategic savings.

What stakeholders need to know

Institutions that do this effectively and win buy-in from key stakeholders focus their communication efforts on two key questions:

1. How big are our strategic reserves (and what is truly unallocated)?

To communicate the size of their strategic reserves, the CFO at Thompson Rivers University shares a report at all faculty senate meetings that explains the university’s accumulated surplus. The report breaks down the surplus into smaller categories defined in lay terms. For example, the report compares the category “Invested in Fixed Assets” to home equity, an analogy most board members and faculty understand.

This proactive approach ensures that stakeholders understand the different types of surplus dollars and which funds are truly unallocated.

2. Why are strategic investment dollars important?

To communicate the importance of strategic savings, the CFO at Ohio University created a report for the board with four major points explained in clear, concrete bullets: strategic reserves provide liquidity for future debt, improve the university’s bond rating, increase funds for capital projects, and provide a cushion against market changes.

Download Ohio University's board presentation to share with your team

This presentation allows the CFO to quickly communicate the necessity of strategic reserves to get the board’s buy-in.

More resources on fungible dollars

To further assist members in growing central strategic dollars, we offer a host of additional resources with best-practice recommendations and implementation guidance, including our infographic on institutional budget models. It profiles 29 budget model "elements" to help you develop a more strategic resource allocation system. Download the infographic

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