A recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (“Mergers Turn University Foundations Into Fundraising Juggernauts”) described how two public universities have significantly ramped up fundraising capacity by transferring development operations to affiliated foundations, moving them from campus-based operations. Representatives of the foundations, Portland State University Foundation and the University of Vermont Foundation, had previously shared their stories at the 2015 AGB Foundation Leadership Forum.
For both foundations, transferring development staff to a separate affiliated foundation enabled senior foundation administrators to implement enhanced performance metrics and otherwise professionalize fundraising programs that lagged under campus administrations structured around academic functions. The foundations provided more flexible, nimble, and professionally focused structures for development. Fundraising itself also benefited from the leadership of strategically engaged boards. These board members embraced the challenge of cultivating a culture of philanthropy, providing significant volunteer leadership in addition to the efforts of professional staff. This shift in strategy is proving successful; for the University of Vermont Foundation, launched in 2011, FY2015 was the fourth consecutive year of record-setting fundraising.
Even institutions with campus-based development programs are, however, increasingly investing resources in volunteer engagement. Last week, AGB convened professionals from 21 forward-looking public universities for a two-day roundtable discussion about how their institutions are cultivating and engaging volunteer leaders. Discussion leaders, representing Ohio State, The University of Florida, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Nebraska, Oregon State, and the University of Washington, described different approaches, including:
- efforts to identify and support thousands of volunteers at all levels across the institution,
- development of metrics to measure and monitor engagement,
- plans for the individual engagement and stewardship of board members and other senior volunteers,
- creation of national and international volunteer leadership structures.
In part, these efforts are driven by a recognition of the high correlation of volunteerism and philanthropy documented by the US Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy and Fidelity Charitable’s study on Volunteering and Philanthropy. They also, however, reflect the fact that large public institutions with global aspirations will only be able to achieve their visions by tapping the leadership potential of a diverse network of volunteer advisors, advocates, and partners.