The Nature of the Foundation-Institution Partnership

By Françoise Aylmer October 4, 2016 January 27th, 2022 Blog Post

It would seem logical that an institutionally related foundation should develop a strategic plan to meet the needs of its affiliated institution.  Yet, there are many opportunities for missteps in the process which could easily create a divide between the two.

Timing is one possible pitfall.  The time to start the discussion between university and foundation leadership is when a new or revised campus strategic plan is being considered, not already underway.  Doing so is even easier when the president of the university defines a clear vision for the future of the institution.  The leadership at the foundation can ensure that it will support this vision and will have the time to develop a plan that is well aligned with the university’s.  Improper timing interferes with the alignment required for success.

Open communication is essential in preventing problems.  When thinking of a new strategic plan, the university leadership should be transparent about its expectations of the foundation.  It is best for both to be realistic about the abilities of the foundation to deliver on expectations and about the resources needed to do so. The foundation can then create its own robust strategic plan and line up its annual plans to meet key goals and objectives. Early and candid sharing of the vision and goals helps the foundation board move beyond simply being an asset to feeling genuine excitement about the partnership and project.

When properly engaged, foundations can offer entrepreneurial ideas and possibilities to the university leadership that may not be possible or available in an academic setting, becoming key partners and valued counsel as the campus works on its strategic plan.

With proper timing, open communications, and joint dedication to the mission of the institution, the development of a strategic plan can engender or cement a strong and long-lasting alliance between the university and its foundation.

Learn more about the strategic issues and best practices for foundations at the 2017 Foundation Leadership Forum, held January 22-24, 2017, in Naples, Florida.

This blog post is part of the Institution-Foundation Partnership Toolkit, which includes resources that help define roles and responsibilities, assign ownership, and encourage collaboration in strategy development and planning.