Turnover rates for deans and institutional leaders are among some of the highest within higher education. In 2018, Higher Education Publications Inc. released the results of a study demonstrating that while the average turnover rate for university administrators was 12%, deans, directors, provosts, and presidents all had higher rates.

This is why spring has become a season of announcements for the hiring of new academic leaders, as these leaders prepare to step into their new roles for the new school year.

Fundraisers know that our relationships with academic and institutional leaders are among the most important for creating fundraising success … and yet, it’s all too common for these new leaders to arrive without a thoughtful, strategic onboarding and integration plan into the philanthropic function.

There is positive news, as more and more of these job descriptions include language about the importance of philanthropy — but there’s so much more institutions can do. As you approach the season of transition at your university, assess your process against the following key steps to make the most of these opportunities.


  • Is advancement a part of the search committee?
  • Are donors represented in the process?
  • What is the discussion around philanthropy, and how are philanthropic initiatives portrayed, both challenges and successes?
  • Is the institution providing a state of the unit from a philanthropic lens?


  • How will donors and stakeholders hear the news of a new hire?
  • Do you have a philanthropic onboarding plan?
  • What can be learned about the new leader from their current advancement partners?


  • Have you created a plan for the first 90 days from a philanthropic lens?
  • What should the roll-out of donor introductions look like, and why does order and timing matter to this process?
  • How will this leader be staffed — and how do they want to be staffed…or do they know what being staffed even looks like?

The First Six Months

  • Success is a partnership. How can you as an advancement professional assist in building a solid foundation of communication that supports philanthropy?
  • What will happen to the initiatives championed by past leaders?
  • How will you build new initiatives, and how will you ensure the new leader has heard what is important to current donors and future stakeholders?

The arrival of a new leader is so much more than press releases, welcome notes and introductory meetings. With the right tools and strategy, we can build formative partnerships that lead to success for our donors and our institutions.

Looking to sharpen your tools and get new ideas for onboarding leaders? Check out KDD Philanthropy’s new webinar series, Creating Success with a New Academic Leader, and jump-start your role in building a purposeful partnership with your new leader.

Recommended Posts