The work of public university foundations is being reimagined in exciting ways. At a time when state and federal subsidies to universities are waning and student price-sensitivity is rising, some promising, even inspirational foundations are expanding their realm beyond fund management and disbursement into real estate development, advancement operations, public-private partnerships, and institutional advocacy—among other forward-looking endeavors.
Yet, all opportunities involve some risk. One risk, as foundations scramble to become more multi-faceted, nimble, and reliable in their support of institutions, is the potential for fragmented focus on the core mission. Strong boards will need to maintain a clear-eyed perspective about the value foundations are adding through their support. It has never been more essential that the relationship between institutions and their foundations evolves.
A next-level relationship between foundations and institutions will require fresh curiosity by foundation boards about what comprises university achievement, as well as renewed openness on the institution side to share and refine the answers to that same question. Board member orientation and board education should provide boards on both sides with a stronger understanding of the work of their institutions. This kind of partnership represents a mutual investment of effort that goes beyond the memorandum of understanding. The new work of foundations calls for a doubling down on institution-foundation relationships.