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Advancement and Academics: An Essential Partnership part 2

June 2021
Written by: Janet Sailian
Featuring Advancement Leaders from SAIT, UofT, Laurentian University & Trinity College School

Seasoned advancement leaders understand the importance of working effectively with faculty members and academic leadership to enhance relationships with alumni, potential and current donors and external communities.

The perennial popularity of CCAE’s Development for Deans Workshops - led by McMaster University’s incomparable Lorna Somers - testifies to academics’ and advancement’s mutual need to raise engagement and support for the essential work of educational institutions.

In part 2 of Advancement and Academics, we conclude with a Q and A on advancement and academics with representatives of two universities, one Institute of Technology and an independent school:

Brian Bowman, Director of Alumni and Development, SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology)
Darina Landa, Executive Director, Advancement at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
Tracy MacLeod, CFRE, Chief Advancement Officer, Laurentian University
Doug Mann, Executive Director of Philanthropy and Alumni, Trinity College School

Go back and read Part 1 of Advancement and Academics with Joanne Shoveller

How can advancement staff work effectively with academic support units to maximize impact among alumni, donors, external partners and the community?

Brian: The collaboration between advancement and academic partners is essential to maintaining a well-functioning development program. This requires regular contact and each making the other a priority. It's important to keep the connection to alumni, donors, external partners, etc. top of mind.

An effective tool is to engage academic support units in discussions around advancement activities by, for example, sharing the alumni engagement strategy, discussing fundraising priorities or campaign strategies. Building rapport and establishing trust are essential and require that advancement officers follow up on any action items stemming from these discussions. Most academic units are fascinated by the work of advancement and are keen to learn more about it.

Also, involve advancement staff in strategic discussions or team meetings of the academic unit to gain insights into pressure points, misconceptions, and opportunities to remind academic partners of potential connection points. As Director of Alumni and Development, I have a monthly meeting with the VP Academic, which gives us an opportunity to share developments on both sides.

At SAIT, we are in the process of rolling out a new Alumni Engagement Strategy. We are meeting with the Dean of each faculty and getting their input to improve the plan. We have also identified many opportunities to elevate the importance of alumni in their own schools and how we can better work together to leverage the relationships with our grads.

Darina: It’s important for academic leaders to realize that fundraising for their priorities must occur in partnership with advancement. There must be trust, and it takes time to develop. It takes patience. Little wins, little stumbles lead to incremental steps toward success.

Endorsement by academic leadership is very important. I need to be in the know about the inner workings. What we try to do for our fundraisers is be embedded in the executive levels of the academic unit. Not a peer in a traditional way, but a partner.

Tracy: We have focused our limited efforts on  working with a coalition of the willing. It’s all about partnerships, such as working with the Director of a School to raise funds to enhance a specific initiative to benefit students in their program.

We recognize faculty are the subject experts. We listen to people and do the “rah-rah” for the university as a whole. The Advancement team can speak at a high level as to why Laurentian is has expertise in subject matter X. Then we include the faculty who can bring their expertise and knowledge to bear. Cohesion is key. We used to attend a big mining conference together annually.

Doug: For independent schools, the scale of academic activity is limited to primary and secondary education curriculum delivery, and generally does not include academic research.

Independent schools have much more robust parent giving programs than post-secondary institutions, Many parents develop personal relationships with teachers and other staff that work with their children. As a result, many of these parents welcome the input of teaching staff regarding academic fundraising priorities. For example, a popular science teacher can play a highly influential role in explaining the impact of a science laboratory renovation to prospective parent donors.

Similarly, alumni often develop lifelong relationships with teachers starting in their student days. These faculty members can be key influencers with prospective alumni donors.

Finally, the Principals of independent schools often have much longer tenures than their post-secondary counterparts. These Principals often become iconic figures with decades of alumni and parents, and often enjoy considerable access to alumni and parents for philanthropic purposes.

What best practices at all levels help maximize academic / advancement relationships on a continuing basis?

Brian: Make advancement a partner in achieving the vision of the organization. Money follows mission.

Advancement must be at the table in strategic planning for the institution. The external voice of alumni, industry partners, etc. needs to be heard. Advancement needs to be clear on its priorities and communicate them to internal stakeholders. We should not be order takers.

On the ground, advancement needs to earn a place as a respected partner in every interaction. On a foundation of trust, much can be accomplished.

Darina: We had to demonstrate our value proposition. We had to make our case for academic leaders and faculty. In the past five years we sort of got past that and we are now embedded in the fabric.

We need to find alignment and help academic leaders understand the donor cycle. We occasionally had a coffee, a lunch, went to conferences together - those offline conversations build alignment. Celebrate wins, be there to help solve problems.

Tracy: Our advancement operation is very lean. We don’t have individual Faculty development officers. We centrally serve all of them. Either myself or a member of the Advancement team meets with new academic leaders to offer our partnership. The academic colleague leads the conversation about their subject matter and the Advancement office leads the conversation about the finances.

What advancement strategies best engage academic partners to work well with external audiences?

Brian: Offering a "Development for Deans" course is beneficial. One of the best ways is to include them in meetings with external audiences and then offer feedback. It's always better to rely on academic partners as subject matter experts rather than trying to turn them into fundraisers.

Darina: Be explicit about why a particular gift matters. The fundraiser may have a donor and be advancing a gift, but if it doesn’t align with the department’s priorities or budget, the disconnect can harm the relationship.

When our academic leads are also physicians, we need to acknowledge the trust factor, the gratitude of a patient toward a physician. A negative feedback loop can occur when a past patient is not happy having their physician make the ask.

We need a proposal based on their motivations, well thought out; not just a quick and dirty ask.

Tracy: Some Deans and directors who have strong expertise are not comfortable interacting with donors and partners. We spend a lot of time on professional development with them so they can understand what we do and that we are their partners. They don’t need to ask for money or talk numbers; they are there to talk about their research and projects that we know are of interest to the donor.

CCAE’s Development for Deans has been very useful, especially when it was held in person. Lorna Somers came to do a day on this topic on the Laurentian campus and our faculty partners found it extremely helpful.

When issues or conflicts arise, how can advancement staff work to repair relationships with academics and their staff?

Brian: Being honest and transparent is essential in these situations. It's important to understand the academic perspective, explain why decisions were made, listen to concerns without being defensive, and recognize that ultimately everyone is working toward the same objective.

It can be very challenging to repair relationships, so it's best to ensure there's a lot of collateral to begin with. Building on a foundation of trust by being honest, authentic and transparent will almost always save the day.

When leadership changes occur, being proactive is important. Where possible, ensure that a transition plan is developed prior to a change. Creating a seamless transition saves time and keeps momentum, so it's critical to take steps to prevent any gap in communication. Transfer the relationships, write a note or email, provide an opportunity for an introduction, keep up-to-date contact notes, and don't assume anyone else is doing anything.

Darina: Understand where the pressure points are. Philanthropy can be a gain but it isn’t everyone’s priority. Academics are not as focused on the gift total or our campaign goals.

A good relationship strengthens and lifts the work, but it is not essential to the work. We need to learn and incorporate their comfort level, style, preferences. We do a debrief after every encounter and we need to be open and transparent. We need to be in service of the work. Attention and intention.

Doug: The most difficult conflict that arises between advancement and faculty at independent schools relates to two areas: admissions and parent philanthropy. The integrity of the admissions process is vital to the reputation of independent schools.  Prospective families, including alumni, must be educated that donation offers do not influence the admissions prospects for their children. Similarly, parent donors must be educated that their role as donors has no impact on how their children are treated in the school. There can be no real or inferred perception that the children of donors receive preferential treatment. 

What has changed in recent years that makes these partnerships more challenging or more productive?

Brian: Industry is changing rapidly and the pandemic has accelerated restructuring, resulting in lots of turnover. Within our organization, budget constraints contribute to lay-offs and staff / faculty changes. Keeping excellent notes and records, focusing on more senior-level connections (who are less likely to be impacted) and focusing on the big picture are strategies that help.

People have less time and shorter attention spans than before. Shorter meetings, short emails with only one subject, avoiding assigning work and recommending solutions to issues can help to keep relationships moving forward efficiently.

We've entered a whole new world of technology, so leveraging Zoom to keep meetings convenient and effective is likely to become more common and popular.

Darina: The pandemic certainly accelerated some philanthropy. Although we announced the entire $250 million Temerty gift in September 2020, the family had advanced $10 million in March 2020 as a stand-alone gift. They asked what we needed immediately. Students, frontline clinicians became an emergency priority. Their trust in our Dean was why this unrestricted $10 million came through.

Tracy: I miss person to person interaction and the serendipity of conversations that spring up.

Post-pandemic, there are definitely some virtual initiatives I’d like to keep, such as our Alumni AGM. It used to be like pulling teeth to get people to attend, and when we held it virtually in 2020 we had amazing attendance, including alumni from all over the world. Zoom works well if you include breakout rooms for small-group conversations.


Go back to Part 1 of Advancement and academics with Joanne Shoveller