The College President and Fundraising: Perspectives on the Responsibilities and Challenges of Fundraising

The College President and Fundraising: Perspectives on the Responsibilities and Challenges of Fundraising

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6560-5.ch013
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This chapter describes the changing role of the American college president, focusing on responsibilities and duties in fundraising. In addition to covering the evolution of higher education fundraising, the chapter explores the historical and current role of the president in fundraising. These responsibilities are contextualized by including a description of the major elements of university fundraising. In particular, the chapter provides a highlight of the stresses of university fundraising on the college president and how time- and attention-consuming the process can become.
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The challenges and scope of the modern American college presidency are significant. The role, similar to that of a politician, requires complete immersion all day, every day. Constituents include the obvious, such as students and their parents, trustees, faculty and staff, donors, prospective donors, etc. But these constituents also include the less obvious, including business and industry leaders who hire graduates, state and federal politicians, sports fans, local city council members and mayors, etc. All of these individuals, and more, compete the for the time, attention, and priority of the president. The broad range of demands result in a complex and comprehensive skill set as a basic requirement for the presidential role; a president must be an excellent speaker, communicator, collaborator, empathetic, and among many other personal skills, must be an exceptional leader.

Former University of California President, Clark Kerr indicated that

The university president in the United States is expected to be a friend of the students, a colleague of the faculty, a good fellow with the alumni, a sound administrator with the trustees, a good speaker with the public, an astute bargainer with the foundations and federal agencies, a politician with the state legislature, a friend of industry, labor, and agriculture, a persuasive diplomat with donors, a champion of education generally, a supporter of the professions (particularly law and medicine), a spokesman to the press, a scholar in his own right, a public servant at the state and national levels. ... Above all he must enjoy traveling in airplanes, eating his meals in public, and attending public ceremonies (p. 22).

Kerr’s ability to speak and his perceptions leading the California university system resulted in him becoming one of the most quoted university presidents in the United States. One comment of his that was replayed at the time of his death in 2003 was the answer to a question about what he, as chancellor was going to do about parking, to which he replied that “the chancellor’s job had come to be defined as providing parking for faculty, sex for the students, and athletics for the alumni” (UC Berkeley Public Affairs, 2003, p. 2).

Change is a constant in higher education, even though contemporary jokes refer to change as taking place at a ‘glacier-like speed.’ For the college president, new funding models, revisions and oversight of funding streams, changes in building codes, etc. all converge to make the presidential job even more difficult. One of the most telling indicators of this growing challenge is the shortening length of time that most presidents last in their roles, with a national average just under 5 years. For some, the short length of tenure is due to the high stress of the position; for others, it is the result of governing boards changing composition, ideology, or simply, the success of the institution’s athletic teams.

Among the primary roles of the college president is assuring the institution’s strong fiscal management and financial stability. This seemingly simple role includes more than establishing tuition rates and lobbying the legislature; it involves the cultivation of the private gift support that allows an institution to do more than survive, but rather, to thrive and distinguish itself from its peers. Despite the necessity for this presidential role, the majority of presidents do not have the experience or the skills to upon their ascension into the role to be successful in fundraising. This chapter explores what is needed to be ultimately efficacious in pursuing support from wealthy individuals, alumni, corporations and foundations. The chapter will explore the history of fundraising in America and how presidents can gain knowledge and experience in development work. The chapter then provides and overview of working with governing boards and volunteer organizations, the role of president as senior fundraiser and solicitor, including developing relationships with development staff and working with the different branches of institutional advancement. Also discussed are the topics of athletic fundraising, providing budget support for development, and presidential spouses and fundraising.

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