A Question For Patricia P. Jackson

What should board members know about fundraising?

By Patricia P. Jackson    //    Volume 22,  Number 1   //    January/February 2014

Fundraising is one of a board’s most basic and important responsibilities, and it is key to an institution’s financial stability. Patricia P. Jackson, executive director of college and foundation partnerships for the Fullbridge Program, former associate vice president for development at Dartmouth College, former vice president for development at Smith College, and author of AGB’s new publication, The Board’s Role in Fundraising, talks about what board members must know and do in order to be effective fundraisers for their college or university.

What are some of the trends you’ve seen in fundraising over the years?

I can immediately cite five trends:

Continuing, steading, or growing giving is less common. In particular, as entrepreneurs emerge as major donors we discover those who make one or two large gifts early in their relationship with an institution, and then move on to support other causes they care about. We must accommodate that type of generosity and recognize that continued giving out of obligation is no longer a given for many people.

Women matter! The data are clear that women in households make most philanthropic decisions; single women give more than single men; and, women live longer and so have more time to give. (See the Women’s Philanthropy Institute here.)

Donor education matters. For the last decade, we have articulated more clearly the impact of donors’ gifts on our institutions. Yet by focusing so much on the “why” of making gifts, we may have forgotten that donors also need to know “how” to give. As educational institutions, we have an opportunity to develop programs to teach constituents to be effective and confident philanthropists. Board members can be particularly useful in suggesting topics they believe could be of value to their peers.

Authentic staff and volunteer partnerships lead to success. Higher education institutions have always relied on volunteers, especially board members, to assist with fundraising. In the last 50 years, educational fundraising has emerged as a profession, and development staffs have grown rapidly, resulting in less strategic reliance on volunteers. Now, the pendulum appears to be swinging back to the middle, where staff and volunteers work together to increase philanthropic support for our institutions. That is a good thing!

High tech and high touch are both essential. Technology will assuredly continue to affect the ways we identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward donors. Furthermore, donors’ expectations about our abilities to meet their philanthropic needs in efficient and effective ways are bound to increase. Yet we must remember that people still give to people as we seek to raise money for our institutions.

Many board members are not comfortable asking for money. What advice do you have for them?

Remember, you are asking for support of the institution, not for yourself. Part of the job of serving on the board is assisting the institution to reach important goals through your own giving and the giving of others. Furthermore, people expect you—especially as a board member—to be an effective steward of institutional resources, which includes increasing those resources. Finally, you should find a trustee or staff colleague with whom you can share your discomfort, and then practice overcoming it. In the end, many once-reluctant board members have found that fundraising is a personally satisfying and joyful experience.

Why is it so important that the whole board participate in fundraising?

The board has fiduciary responsibility for the institution, and philanthropy is a vital revenue stream that most institutions need to carry out board-approved priorities. What’s more, before some potential donors will make a gift, they will ask if each board member has also made a gift as a way to determine the board’s own commitment to and belief in the institution’s missions and goals. Thus, the board as a whole should take responsibility for fundraising.

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