When you consider your most valuable allies in higher education fundraising, whom do you think of? I’m willing to bet that for the vast majority of you, your dean came to mind quickly. And that’s because the dean’s role is irreplaceable as an influencer with prospects, advocate across campus, and champion for our cause in the larger community.

However, many fundraisers struggle to create the kind of relationship with our dean that maximizes these roles and leads to greater success. How many of us have felt that our dean didn’t understand our work, provide development enough time, or have all the tools to shine with donors?

There is good news here – these challenges can be overcome to create a strong, mutually-beneficial partnership by using techniques like those below.

  • Cultivate your relationship with your dean just like you would with a prospect – get to know his/her communication preferences, goals, and values, and celebrate his/her non-development successes.
  • Use written strategies to demonstrate a clear thought process, purpose, and outcomes for prospects, events, and projects. For example, if you are planning an introductory event, what is the realistic expectation for new prospects identified – 2 or 20?
  • Be clear with your dean about your manager’s expectations for your work – what are your metrics, are you responsible for alumni relations or pure major gift strategies, etc.
  • While it may not be fun to play the “bad cop” by adhering to naming gift policies, identifying fundraising projects that may not be viable, etc., it will help your dean save face and time in the long run.
  • Make it a standard part of prospect meetings to provide and receive thoughtful feedback afterward.
  • Get to know what your dean enjoys and excels at in dealing with prospects, and adjust accordingly. Is s/he good at making small talk with prospects, or do you need to always facilitate the rapport building? Can or will your dean make a solicitation?
  • Additionally, set your dean up on campus to capitalize on strengths, and try to avoid situations that highlight a weakness. For example, if your dean actively dislikes conflict with other deans, first flesh out the details of a shared donor strategy with another unit’s development officer before bringing all parties into the same room.
  • Protect your dean’s time by drafting donor communications and even internal communications under the dean’s name.

How many of these tips do you currently practice, and how do you think your dean would respond if you implemented more? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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