How to Make Philanthropy Count

A frequent dilemma faced by Presidents and Chancellors in American higher education is how they can use the role of philanthropy to meet financial challenges. We were recently asked by some board members for suggestions for how to make philanthropy count. The easiest way, of course, is to increase the budget support for advancement, but it’s not as straightforward as one might think.

Money alone is not the answer.

Even the most financially-sound advancement programs have little chance of being very successful if the institution’s commitment to philanthropy is lacking.

However, there are six areas where the board can help make a difference in the policy arena:

  1. Philanthropy must be included in the institution’s strategic plan. This is a key component, and cannot be overlooked.
  2. The President or Chancellor should play a leadership role in creating an annual performance plan, including measurable objectives for advancement – specifically, development. This depends on the institution and the individual, but it is essential for success.
  3. Create a strategic plan with three- to five- year goals and annual objectives, and ensure it is approved in advance by the board. Often times, the board is not even aware of the annual dollar goal!
  4. Benchmark with peers, and aspirational peers, as a way to improve and keep the strategic planning grounded in reality. Update the board frequently on performance over the last five or ten years – and keep them aware of progress toward annual objectives and multi-year goals.
  5. Track performance and update the board with results and progress toward annual objectives and multi-year goals.
  6. Long term relationships are key to long term success securing gifts. The Chief Development Officer needs to design career paths with creative and flexible personnel policies, allowing development officers to stay in place longer in order to build and maintain those relationships.

If your aim is to build a campus-wide culture of philanthropy, then these six steps and strong board leadership will be instrumental in your success.

Are there areas of your advancement program that could benefit from using these six steps? What are your thoughts on the dilemma board members face, and suggestions of how to make philanthropy count?