The CEO and Fundraising: Lessons from a Pro

For more than three decades, Michael Adams, now President Emeritus at the University of Georgia in Athens, has practiced the art and craft of fundraising on a near daily basis (weekends included).

By the time that Adams turned over the UGA Presidency in June to his successor Jere Morehead, his fundraising accomplishments could fill a book. I first met Adams when I was a staff member at CASE (Council for Support of Education) when he was Vice President for University Affairs at Pepperdine University in California and already known and respected as a fundraiser. From Pepperdine, he became the President of Centre College in Kentucky. During his nine years there, the endowment tripled in size to $120 million and the percentage of alumni giving to the annual fund usually led the nation.

In 1997, Adams became President of the University of Georgia, a post he has held for 16 years.  The state’s flagship university has grown significantly during Adams’ presidency, including a growth in overall student enrollment while also raising academic enrollment standards, and the establishment of four new Colleges: Engineering, Public Health, Public and International Affairs, and Environment and Design. By 2011, the endowment also had tripled in size, to more than $750 million.

Without question, fundraising has fueled this growth. When Adams announced he was stepping down as President, the UGA news office reported that more private funds had been raised to support the University during his term than had been raised during the institution’s entire previous history.

Recently, Adams talked with Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Henry Unger as part of Unger’s weekly Sunday series “5 Questions for the Boss.”

Drawing on his experience of 30 years in higher education fundraising, 25 of those as a President, Adams offered some observations that can benefit all fundraisers, whether they are volunteers, CEO, or staff:

“The typical college president spends about a third of his or her time either raising money or making friends toward that end.”

“I learned that people like to give to success stories. People don’t always give to need.”

“I also learned that a lot of things in life are hard work and shoe leather….Today, fundraising requires building genuine relationships. It takes nights away from your family. It takes dinners and luncheons and get-down sessions about where the institution is headed.”

“If you can paint a vision for somebody that they can buy into, and are willing to work long hours to draw them into that mainstream, you’re going to be pretty successful.”

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is simple, if you resolve to practice it—first for a week, then for a month, then for 3 months in a row. Now please go forth, and fundraise!

*Thank you to UGA website for the photo of Mr. Adams