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Date of Publication: 

Accentuating The “Fun” in Public University Fundraising

John T. Butler, M.Ed.
Associate Vice President for University Relations
University of the District of Columbia

Over the past two decades, fundraising has come into its own as a profession.  Attribute it to the booming economy of the late eighties and nineties, the successful billion-dollar campaigns that many large and well-established universities have been able to complete, the explosive entry of nonprofits and educational institutions into the fray or even the recent cut back in federal and local government funding.  Whatever the reason, public universities now have to play catch up to get their fair share of the philanthropic pie.

The good news is that fundraising is not rocket science. There is, however, a discipline and art to successfully shaking quarters out the pockets of old and new supporters.  Those who are serious about using charitable giving to advance the mission of our institutions must remember to accentuate the “fun” in fundraising.  Consider the following:

We must “Fund it! “ While it would be nice to wake up tomorrow and receive a multi-million dollar gift, advancement specialists realize that we have a better chance of being struck by lightning than that happening.  Governance boards and university presidents must be wise enough to put the dollars and effort into creating a successful program.  We may hope to see an immediate and exponential return on such an investment, but in reality, we should initially anticipate that there will be a high cost to raising the dollars until we can subsequently reap the benefits of the eighty-twenty rule (invest 20 percent and expect a net return of 80 percent) in future years. Thus, for every million dollars your institution wants to raise, you need not only the right staff, but the appropriate resources to do the job.

Pay good attention to the “Fundamentals.”  You can’t successfully raise significant funds without good attention to the basic “fundamentals”—identification of prospective donors, proper assessment of their inclination and interest in giving, appropriate cultivation, timely solicitation, recognition and stewardship.   This is where the art of fundraising resides; those with well-honed instincts and skills can literally make it rain dollars!  Today, more public university boards and presidents are making the serious commitment and showing the patience required to secure the transformational gift(s) their institutions require.

It has to be “Fun.” For the average volunteer, rejection can be a little disheartening, but seasoned presidents and advancement professionals know that “no” can be the beginning of a successful cultivation cycle.  Rather than obsessing about the “no,” it’s wise to remember that if we can remain focused on the next move or avenue to explore with this prospect, we can eventually align their time, talent and material resources with our mission.

The “fun” of fundraising is ultimately getting to the “yes”--which usually lies somewhere in close proximity to the voiced rejection.  Wishing you happy and fruitful prospecting!