If you’ve been a fundraiser for long — whether in higher education, healthcare systems or large nonprofits — you’ve probably heard these phrases:

The fundraising team loves that program.

That program gets all the funding.

That faculty member is advancement’s favorite.

And the reality is, it’s likely true! We know that not all initiatives are created equal, and philanthropy reflects that. But we also know there are plenty of strong fundraising opportunities that can be created when faculty/physicians/program leaders invest in becoming a fundraising favorite.

Of course, we cannot raise money for every program within our institution, no matter how important the cause. But we can raise more money for the programs with leaders who are strong partners. That’s why we, as fundraisers, need to be honest about that, and then clearly define how a program can become a favorite.

Expectation-setting is critical. Leaders new to this area may expect quick magic, rather than the thoughtful process of building toward generosity. Expectations that I share regularly include:

  • Not every program will have the same fundraising results.
  • Fundraising must be a true partnership between advancement and program leadership to be successful.
  • Leaders need to consistently make time for fundraising.
  • Donors have their own interests and we support those interests, even if it means a gift to a different program.
  • This work takes sustained effort and time – the results will not be immediate.

Then we must outline that we need the leaders’ partnership in three key areas: vision, engagement and alignment.


  • Define a clear vision and impact for the project.
  • Engage in a transparent budgeting discussion.
  • Be prepared to demonstrate milestones and outcomes along the way.


  • Be prepared to communicate directly with donors.
  • Share your research, lab, classroom or other showcase opportunity for donor tours/visits.
  • Don’t feel that you need to go it alone – advancement will partner with you to create donor strategies, communications and more.
  • Be available to edit communications/proposals.
  • Learn to speak passionately about why philanthropy matters to your project – but know that your fundraising partner will solicit the gift.


  • Speak about the institution positively.
  • Be a champion for your project and institution, both internally and externally.
  • Be a true partner with advancement, working together to align communications calendars, messaging, donor outreach and more.
  • Do not keep your own database: provide all engagement and biographical data updates to your fundraising partner for the university’s database so there is one accurate tracking system.

We know that leaders who partner with us by committing to supporting vision, engagement and alignment will be fundraising favorites. Let’s share this message with our internal partners and invite them in!

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