This series of short conversations with advancement leaders gives us a peek into exciting new projects, their thoughts on the challenges facing our industry, and a vision of the future of fundraising.
Tell us who you are in 50 words or less.
I’m driven by the idea that my work makes an impact. When I look at what I’m doing, I could be selling soap or insurance or financial products, but I chose this line of work because the impact of what I do can be generational.
What’s one thing you’re working on now that excites you and why?
I come to work every morning thinking about the school’s strategic plan and how my team can provide funding for that plan to come to fruition. We have a lot of capital projects, endowment needs, and current financial aid and participation levels to work on. How do we get the message out there? How do we maintain relevancy to young alums? All of these things form an ongoing conversation with our alumni, current parents, and graduates’ parents about the school’s mission and how we’re hoping to fulfill that for current students and the next generation.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in advancement during your career?
The pyramid has gotten tighter. There is greater wealth in a smaller number of hands, so we are obviously paying attention to that.
We also pay attention to how we talk with our donors. When I first started in this industry, the primary means of solicitation were letters and phone calls. But now we’re seeing a shift towards digital communications—social media, email, and our website—and how we’re using each to grow our brand. This change is a good thing. If you want to tell a story visually, you can do that more easily and effectively now than you ever could before.
What’s your biggest challenge at the moment?
Instituting a culture of giving.
There are three ways for schools to make money: operating revenue (tuition), endowment, and fundraising. It’s a three-legged stool that doesn’t work well on only two legs. For example, you start to see diversity or cultural issues bubble to the surface when the budget is fully funded through tuition.
So, my biggest challenge is creating a culture of development and fundraising. I’m thinking, “How do I train a board of directors of successful men and women—many of whom are just being introduced to the concept of peer solicitation or being asked to make a gift for the first time?”
I’m also thinking about this when it comes to faculty and staff. I want a math teacher who comes in and thinks about teaching complicated subjects to students. But at the same time, I want teachers to be willing to create space if the development guy wants them to look into a camera and say, “Thanks,” without him having to say something crass like, “This is how we pay your salary.”
We need to explain, internally, the impact of giving on our school through the quality of facilities, the diversity in the student body, and the opportunities available for all. We do this by looking for ways to creatively engage different departments on campus, whether it’s partnering with the principal’s office to fulfill their wish list or including stories about teachers in videos or emails.
Check out this inspiring video from the Loyola Academy annual giving webpage:
Top-down leadership also helps tremendously in this area. Silos persist without the right guiding tone, but you can “manage up” by asking your boss or board chair to help provide direction to establish and spread mission-focused behavior that keeps all departments working in step.
A culture of philanthropy comes through a shared sense of engagement and inclusion. Think of it like a road trip: On a cross-country drive, everyone takes a turn at the wheel to get you where you want to go. Everyone has something to contribute.
Picture the advancement industry 10 to 15 years from now. Where are we headed?
Right now, I’m hiring an associate director of stewardship and prospect fulfillment. Donors are becoming more and more savvy, and they have more choices than ever for their giving. Organizations that can demonstrate the “big three” are going to do a good job:
- Express gratitude for what people have done for the school (at any giving level)
- Recognize donors for what they’ve done
- Constructively demonstrate the impact of their gift
Doing these three things well will keep people engaged at the end of their pledge or your capital campaign. People want to know that their money was spent responsibility, that it made an impact, and that the organization was grateful for their support—so I’m looking to hire a donor advocate. I want a person who’s going to wake up and ask, “Who gave yesterday? How did we recognize them? How did we share their impact?”
The more sophisticated that organizations get with demonstrating impact, the more they will create lifelong partnerships with donors. Until you master those three stewardship values, you’re never going to get the school to where you want it to be.
This interview was conducted by Mike Nagel, associate director of advancement communications at Phillips Exeter Academy. If you enjoyed this article, check out his interview with Kevin Noller, assistant vice president for major gifts at Villanova University.