I was recently conducting an assessment that will lead to a strategic plan outline for a client. As a part of the process, I had the honor of speaking with a handful of passionate stakeholders: alumni, parents, trustees and donors. Each showed up with incredible passion for their institution, and a deep-rooted desire to support the growth of a philanthropic program.

As we discussed the approaching fall season and all that comes with it — sporting events, homecoming and reunions, campus productions — I kept hearing a message from these committed stakeholders: “keep it simple.” And throughout these conversations, that message kept echoing in my ear.

Now, we know that the things that look “simple” to our supporters often are much more complex for those of us implementing them.

But there’s a message in here that I think we need to hear. A question for each of us to reflect on: How do we take time to slow down to truly create engagement opportunities that will support our greatest outcomes — building relationships that lead to philanthropy?

Our to-do lists and moving through the actions is at exact odds with what we are consistently hearing from our most important stakeholders. But are we listening?

As we plan for filling an athletic suite or a homecoming lunch, are we aligned with what our most important stakeholders are looking for? Are we discussing the desired outcomes through their lens, or ours?

Keep it simple is actually a request. Think about what’s often most important to those returning to campus or attending a regional event: a conversation with a beloved professor, the opportunity to walk through storied halls or favorite campus landmarks or seeing old friends and laughing about memories.

Fall events provide an opportunity to build pride and passion for our institutions and our vision. It is the conversations that happen after these events where our best work in philanthropy can come to life.

How can we keep it simple so that we focus not on our to do lists, or how busy we are, but make time for the most important interactions?

As you plan for fall, ask yourself: Are you creating spaces for meaningful, memorable interactions? And how will you build on those interactions to create deep-rooted, long-term relationships on behalf of our institutions?

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