It’s something most of us have experienced: in our partnership with a dean, president, or other leader, something seems amiss. Maybe we don’t have a shared vision for the role of a development officer or a leader in the philanthropic process. Maybe they’re just really uncomfortable in the fundraising dynamic. Or it’s any other reason from the countless possibilities.

But regardless of the reason, I’ve found that when this relationship isn’t working, we can’t have the philanthropic impact we would otherwise. That’s why we should provide effort and intentionality in building this partnership…including a commitment to honest discussion. And the best tool I have found when the partnership isn’t working is the reset conversation: an open dialogue that identifies the challenge and builds consensus for a path forward.

I know from personal experience that having this conversation can be difficult. With everything from differences in style to power dynamics, it can be hard to know where to start. However, in my experience, there are six critical elements for creating a productive discussion:

  • Request a conversation specifically to address the issue at hand, setting expectations for what the conversation will be about.
  • Be honest but professional about what you’re seeing — hinting at the issue will only delay real resolution.
  • Ask for feedback about how the partnership is working. Their perspective is critical to creating shared solutions.
  • Provide constructive feedback within the framework of your shared goals. For example, “I know your time is limited and I want to make sure we get the most from our meetings with donors. That’s why I wanted to hear your thoughts and share some feedback about how these visits are going so far.”
  • Identify the benefits of doing things differently: raising more money, more effective donor visits, etc.
  • Be clear about what you’re asking for. Is it a certain number of hours per week for fundraising activities? A different understanding of your priorities as a development officer? Whatever it is, don’t leave room for guess work.

Honest dialogue can be intimidating, I know. It’s also the only way to build a truly productive and trust-based partnership, and developing these skills takes time and practice. To fill your toolbox, join me for my webinar series, Creating Success with your new Academic Leader. We’ll cover everything from onboarding a new leader for success to creating buy-in for the philanthropic process to crucial conversations and more. Learn more and sign up here!

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