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The Academic Dean: An Evolving Role in Fundraising

Tomorrow's Academy

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As colleges and universities deal with rising costs, decreasing state support, and limits on tuition increases, academic deans see added pressure to become advocates for external funds from private donors, to keep technology up-to-date, finance research, and recruit and retain bright new faculty members



The posting below looks at the role of the academic dean in fundraising. It is from Chapter 4 Leading the Way: The Role of Presidents and Academic Deans in Fundraising, by J. Bradford Hodson in the book, Perspectives on Fundraising: New Directions for Higher Education, J. Bradford Hodson and Bruce W. Speck, editors. Number 149 · Spring 2010. Published by Jossey-Bass ; A Wiley Imprint 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA Copyright © 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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The Academic Dean: An Evolving Role in Fundraising


Much of what has been said here about the role of the president in leading the fundraising effort can be applied to academic deans on the smaller scale of an academic school or college. Although deans serve both academic and administrative roles, the traditional responsibility of a dean is to ensure the quality of the programs in her school or college, something of great interest to donors. This focus on program quality has evolved over time from being \"almost exclusively student focused to include a multi-faceted array of roles, such as budgeting and fundraising, personnel and work environment management, program oversight, and external public relations\" (Wolverton, Gmelch, Montez, and Nies, 2001, p. 6). This change in focus has come as a result of a change in how higher education is funded. As colleges and universities deal with rising costs, decreasing state support, and limits on tuition increases, academic deans see added pressure to become advocates for external funds from private donors, to keep technology up-to-date, finance research, and recruit and retain bright new faculty members (Sheehan and Mihailidis, 2007).

Setting Academic Priorities. Just as the university president determines what the university's fundraising priorities will be, the dean performs the same task for the academic college. It goes without saying that the priorities identified by the academic dean at the school or college level should feed into the larger institutional strategic and fundraising plans. Academic deans should keep in mind that donors respond to fundraising priories that are actionable and result in quantifiable results. Lofty dreams that seem unattainable or that have negligible effects on programs or students do not resonate with major donors.

Facilitating Faculty Partnerships. Faculty often expect to have the dean's full attention on faculty, curricular, and student affairs. A dean who appears to be focused too much on fundraising or external relations risks losing the internal support of the faculty. There is, however, a balance that can be struck. Weidner (2008, p. 394) advises that \"the more [a dean] becomes a successful fundraiser or otherwise an 'outside' dean, the more important it is for the faculty to see [that person] approach [his or her] job with humility and with a sense of [the faculty's] importance.\"

Faculty can be enormously helpful in fundraising. The dean should engage faculty as partners in fundraising, asking them to join in on donor visits and collaborate with the dean on crafting the case for support. As was stated earlier, alumni often give because they were treated well by a particular faculty member. In this regard, faculty are as critical to the success of fundraising as they are to the success of the college's academic programs (Weidner, 2008).

Identify Prospects. Because academic deans operate closer to the front lines-closer to students-than university presidents, they are in a far better position to identify prospective donors, particularly from the ranks of alumni. Deans should begin by thinking about former students who now have executive jobs in industry. The dean can also identify other prospective donors, such as industry leaders who are not alumni and corporations that have an interest in hiring graduates or benefiting from research. Faculty can also be helpful in this process. The dean should communicate the name of a prospective donor to the professional fundraising staff, who can then advise the dean of that person's giving history and how best to approach the prospect to ask for a gift. Eckert and Pollack (2000) reminded academic deans and faculty that \"sharing [prospect] information is not giving away 'your' donors. Rather it will ensure that one person is not bombarded with multiple appeals from different parts of the institution.\" Eckert and Pollack (2000, p. 47) emphasized that the importance of sharing information among those faculty, staff, and administrators engaging external constituents cannot be overstated.

Cultivating and Soliciting Gifts. Just as there are some prospective donors who respond best to being cultivated and solicited by the president, there are others, particularly those in industry, who want to hear first-hand what is happening in the classrooms and labs. In this regard, the academic dean has the advantage over the president or the professional fundraising staff. Eckert and Pollack (2000) confirmed that an academic dean is often in a better position to convey what additional private support would mean to their college's programs and students, and will do so with more enthusiasm and passion than will professional fundraising staff.

Thanking and Recognizing Donors. A fundraising adage has it that the university can never say thank you too much. To that end, even though what will be recommended may seem repetitive of the president's donor recognition efforts, in fact by saying thank you again, the dean is reinforcing an institutional message: we appreciate your gift. Just as in the case of the president, the dean's communication should focus on the impact the donor's gift has on the academic college's programs and students. The dean should acknowledge larger gifts by phone and letter. Donald Weidner, dean of the Florida State University College of Law, says that he will \"personally sign a thank you letter to every annual fund donor\" (2008, p. 395). He also tries to \"personally telephone every annual fund donor who contributes $500 or more.\" The end result, according to Weidner, is \"if you give $500 to our law school's annual fund, you get a letter and a phone call from the dean.\"


Eckert, G., and Pollack R. \"Sowing the Seeds of Philanthropy.\" Currents, Sept. 2000, 26(7), 46-49.

Sheehan, M.C. and Mihailidis, P. \"Deans of Change.\" American Journalism Review, October/November 2007. Retrieved August 21, 2009, from

Weidner, D.J. \"Fundraising Tips for Deans with Intermediate Development Programs.\" University of Toledo Law Review, 2008, 39(2), 393-398.

Wolverton, M., Gmelch, W.H., Montez,J., and Nies, C.T. \"The Changing Nature of the Academic Deanship.\" Washington, D.C.: George Washington University (Eric Document Reproduction Service no. ED457708), 2001.