Carl J. StrikwerdaIf you’re a dean, fundraising is probably an important part of your job. Most academic administrators come from the faculty, where they have been focused on teaching activities. They’re expected to learn about fundraising on the job. “That’s almost unrealistic,” said Carl J. Strikwerda, president of Elizabethtown College.

The expectation that arts and sciences deans will play an important role in fundraising is a nationwide trend, Strikwerda said.

That’s why the Council of Colleges of Arts & Sciences published a book on fundraising for its member deans. Strikwerda and Anne-Marie McCartan, executive director of CCAS, edited Deans and Development: Making the Case for Supporting the Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Done well, fundraising can be a positive experience. Deans and development officers working together can build relationships that result in legacies, McCartan said.

“Fundraising allows you to go to people and enable them to make a difference. It’s an honor. It shouldn’t be thought of as anything but a privilege,” Strikwerda said.

Follow this advice for successful fundraising

Anne-Marie McCartanMcCartan and Strikwerda offered the following advice to get you started on fundraising:

  1. Get to know your university development office. You need to understand how the office is organized and what it does, Strikwerda said.
  2. Hire the right development officer for your unit. “That person makes or breaks a dean’s ability to raise funds,” McCartan said. The dean helps set goals and priorities and seals the deal. But success depends on the development officer, she added.
  3. The development officer for an arts and sciences division needs to understand the breadth of that unit’s fundraising needs, Strikwerda said. The needs are more complicated in arts and sciences than for colleges such as law or medicine that are more directed, he added.

  4. Rely on your strategic plan. “If you don’t have a strategic plan, get one,” Strikwerda said. You can’t raise money for everything. Donors need to hear, “These are our top priorities,” he added. The dean must educate department chairs and work well with development officers to deliver a clear message.
  5. Remain flexible to opportunities. A potential donor could present an idea that might not, at first glance, appear to align with the strategic priorities, McCartan said. But it could really have a profound effect on a program.
  6. Consider restructuring your operation to give yourself time for fundraising. That might mean assigning more responsibilities to an assistant or associate dean, Strikwerda said.
  7. Don’t be afraid of fundraising. Many deans say it is a favorite part of their job, McCartan said. For it to be enjoyable, you need to become comfortable working with the development officer. And you need to learn not to be afraid of people telling you “no,” McCartan said. It’s helpful to know that “no” doesn’t always mean “no,” she added. It might just mean “not right now.”
  8. You also have to remember that although many people you might ask for money work in specific fields such as law or medicine, they have broad interests, Strikwerda said. You need to explain how what you are doing touches their interests.

  9. Understand that what your faculty members are doing can resonate with potential donors. It’s your job to make that connection, McCartan said.
  10. Know that the expectation that deans will fundraise will not change. “The landscape has changed and it’s never going back,” Strikwerda said. And the expectation that deans at public institutions will fundraise is growing. That’s because funding from state legislatures has dropped but expectations and competition between institutions have risen.

Connect with your community

The deans who are most successful at fundraising connect to their local community, Strikwerda and McCartan said.

“Most of our colleges are local,” McCartan said. Students enroll from the state where the college is located, and graduates settle nearby. Connecting with the culture and heritage of the local community can be powerful, she added.

Numerous local and regional foundations could be good sources of support, Strikwerda said. “People might be surprised at the aggregate wealth of family foundations in any state,” he said. And many of them already give to education. That means a dean can point out that the college supports what the foundation is already doing. And local donors can immediately see what their money is doing to help the community.

To order Deans and Development: Making the Case for Supporting the Liberal Arts and Sciences, go to