When development drives distinctiveness
Articulating why donors should choose to support you involves achieving clarity on how you can achieve your mission and what makes you special. Joanna Motion of More Partnership reflects on how seeking philanthropic support can be the driver to wider discussions about strategy and identity.
Contributed by Joanna Motion, More Partnership, June 2012.
Fundraising is good for your institutional health. It’s not just about the money – although philanthropic support can boost your margin of excellence more effectively than any other source of revenue. It’s also a matter of the discipline that committing the university to a coherent and professional fundraising programme imposes on you. It’s tough to raise money effectively if you don’t know who you are, what you’re seeking to achieve, which projects will help you get there and who the supporters are who might be interested in your achievement. In particular, a major fundraising campaign – which depends on crisp answers to all those questions – can act as a kind of fitness regime for the institution. Of course you will succeed better if you are in good shape to start with but the very process of undertaking the campaign can sharpen your focus and help to communicate your identity and purpose more clearly both to external supporters and to your internal community.
Crafting the “case for support” – the particular argument as to why your university and your strategy provide a good use of philanthropic investment – sounds simple enough. But in fact many institutions find it a surprisingly demanding and lengthy task, depending as it does on clarity of institutional mission, the ability to make hard choices and willingness to engage with external communities. In the ideal version, the case for support captures the essence of the university in a voice and expression recognised as both authentic and compelling. The “Boldly Brown” Campaign for the Ivy League University that ran from 2003-2010 and raised $1.61m (£1bn) is one example; the University of Stellenbosch’s current, forward-looking “Project Hope”, now past the Rand 2bn mark (£151m), is another. (Clue: think Cape of Good Hope!)
Campaigns are about a great deal more than straplines, just as distinctiveness goes far deeper than a spruced up logo. But there are several instances where a fundraising campaign’s focus and messaging has so helped to define an institution to itself that the language sticks. The first campaign for INSEAD, the business school with campuses in France and Singapore, raising €120m (£97m) against a €100m target from 1995-2000, was branded “A Business School for the World”. The School recognised the “rightness” of the Campaign strapline and, in a kind of back formation, adopted it on an on-going basis.
Through its widely-admired “World Questions | King’s Answers” campaign, King’s College London is seeking £500m, half of it in philanthropic funding. The process of research defined the campaign potential and goals that articulated the University’s ambitions - even as it helped to raise them and to deliver the means of achieving them.
A fundraising campaign that does not grow out of institutional strategy will struggle to support long-term goals: to do so, it must be well defined, researched and communicated. The same is true, in parallel, of student recruitment plans, which is why the commitment to a philanthropic campaign has the potential to clarify your identity to more audiences than the community that may support you financially.
The last decade has seen real gains in expertise in development and alumni relations across UK universities. That opens up the potential of a virtuous circle: self-knowledge articulated through professional competence driving confidence – which can bring greater clarity to the self-knowledge, alongside a harvest both of reputational standing and philanthropic revenue. Win-win, in fact.
Topics: Establishing your distinctiveness.