Philanthropy and the Department Chair

April 30, 2010

Philanthropy, notes Anne Patterson, is defined as private action for the public good, from the Greek phil + anthropos, love of humankind. In these days of diminishing state support and the demands for increasing endowments to support tuition scholarships and other types of need, it also is an area of responsibility that has and will continue to grow for department chairs. In this article Anne Patterson, a faculty member at Fairmont State whose duties straddle both her academic unit and the university's foundation, offers both a primer and words of advice for department chairs in the field of philanthropic giving.

    - Keith Ward, Chair, Committee on Academic Leadership and Administration

Recent articles from, and national sessions by, members of the CMS Committee on Academic Leadership and Administration have demonstrated that academic leaders are expected to serve in many capacities. In addition to all the things a leader must be, there is a formidable list of things they must know. This article will serve as a brief introduction to one of the most important of these: briefly, fund raising, with special emphasis upon major gifts, but more significantly, upon working within a culture of philanthropy. I also will offer suggestions, strategies, and habits that will serve department chairs well in fundraising and donor development.

For the sake of discussion, let us posit a college/conservatory/university's definition of "Culture of Philanthropy" as faculty joined with alumni, staff, friends of the institution, and with the community in volunteer, generous, organized efforts intended to enrich educational opportunities and strengthen programs. An institution or, in our case, a music unit with a well-developed culture of philanthropy, is far more inviting to potential donors than an institution in which the only contact is with the development office. In such a culture, everyone associated with the enterprise is invested in it to one degree or another. Faculty members, for example, don't passively wait for someone to make a contribution that will help their areas; they actively cultivate relationships that lead to gifts from external sources, and in fact, they make contributions themselves.

The Continuum of Giving

An institution's appeals for gifts are generally of three types: annual giving, major gifts, and planned giving. Annual appeals typically raise money for the general scholarship fund. They are characterized by mailed solicitations, a link on the institution's home page, and telephone appeals, where the calling is often done by bright, articulate students. They tend to bring in many, but often modest, gifts. They are absolutely essential, because they raise awareness, they facilitate donations by a broad base of givers, and they get donors into the habit of giving. They also offer the smallest donors the chance to feel part of something, of making a contribution that is both appreciated and meaningful. If we think of responses to fund raising appeals as a triangle, the annual giving campaign will form the base of the trianglemany, sometimes small, but often regularly given, gifts.

The rest of the triangle comprises major gifts and planned giving. Larger gifts tend to be fewer in number and form the apex of the triangle. Planned gifts (or bequests) are deferred gifts that mature upon the death of the donor. There are many, often complicated ways of making a planned gift, and the execution of the planned giving instrument requires the attention of a professional who is knowledgeable about legal issues and tax requirements. Major gifts, on the other hand, are more readily available for use, usually after a period of building interest income. They are described variously as non-recurring gifts to a specific project or program or as gifts that are marketed as having the capacity to make a real difference to the institution by funding scholarships, faculty development, projects, programs, or facilities, for example. These gifts are far above the average gift for an annual funding effort. Greenfield states that "major gifts usually come from individuals, corporations, and foundations that have already been annual donors and that have had significant involvement with the organization."1

Professional literature on major gifts varies little from article to article with regard to the steps involved in the successful nurturing of a major donor, from the identification of a potential donor, through "the ask," and finally to stewardship and resolicitation. Though these stages may have been given different names, at the absolute center of the process is cultivation, where 90% of the work is done. Put differently, a major gift is the result of building and maintaining a relationship, of sustaining something that is meaningful to both your program and the individual donor.

The Donors

Donors are not one-size-fits-all commodities. Prince and File describe seven types of donors: The Communitarian, for whom doing good makes sense; The Devout, for whom doing good is "God's will;" The Investor, who sees doing good as good business; The Socialite, who finds that doing good is fun; The Altruist, for whom doing good feels right; The Repayer, who does good in return; and The Dynast, for whom doing good is a family tradition.2

Whatever the type of donor, it is absolutely imperative that departments work with the development office, rather than in competition with it. Institutions approach philanthropy differently. Some schools are highly centralized, while others may give the department chair substantial leeway. Thus, it is essential that the department chair learn the structure and approach toward giving at her/his institution. Beyond developing a conceptual understanding, coordinated efforts also help one avoid such embarrassing and counterproductive moments as duplicate requests. Development officers are concerned with determining a potential donor's capacity for giving. If an unwitting department chair approaches a potential donor with a request for $5000 for some departmental need, and the development office has determined that the donor has the capacity and the willingness to contribute many times that amount, the chair has muddied the waters. For the donor, who often has many requests, the $5000 gift has done at least two things: It has satisfied the need to contribute to the institution, andrightly or wronglyit has categorized the institution's need as relatively small. Thus the need to work with a development officer rather than try to circumvent the efforts of the development office. "The ask," as the gift proposal it is referred to, is often made by a development officer with a faculty member or academic leader, if the donor has been jointly cultivated.

The Challenges

Development staff members are the orchestrators of the major gift process; they become the link between the donor and the institution. But building and maintaining relationships is timeintensive, requiring far more than institutional advancement offices with small staffs can manage alone. For some donors, the annual telephone campaign, mailings, publications, or simply remembering how much they love the institution are enough. Others require more nurturing. This is where we come in.

Knowing potential donors, maintaining personal contact with them, keeping them updated on the department's activities, and sharing their interests with a development officer can be helpful to all concernedto the development office, whose job it is to raise external funding for the institution; to the music unit, which has many unmet needs; and to the donor, who has a real motivation for giving. Understanding the potential donor's motivation is key to matching the donor with a need, as well as with the right development officer and with the faculty member whose work would be positively affected by a gift of substantial proportions.

Suggested Actions

The initiatives you take will speak to the needs and defining elements of your institution. That caveat in mind, this list offers strategies and approaches that reflect the importance of building relationships, both within and outside the institution.

  • Develop a list of needs and desired gifts, and update it annually. Share this list periodically with your development office.
  • Become familiar with presidential/institutional priorities for capital campaigns.
  • Priorities are often linked to the institution's strategic plan, so become familiar with your strategic plan. Know how your unit contributes to the achievement of that plan. Get involved in creating or revising the plan so that the needs are priorities of your unit are more likely to be reflected there.
  • Help to make your unit's needs a priority through updates, newsletters, and meetings with the people who set the institution's priorities.
  • Make friends with advancement officers.
  • Show your development office that you are interested in philanthropy and your institution's efforts in the field. For example, ask for a "handbook" of the most important concepts, terms, and abbreviations used in fund raising. There are lots of books available, but a short glossary specific to your institution will be an enormous help. Ask the advancement office for some training. Ask how you can be an effective partner in fund raising. You may find that advancement/development staff members are pleased, and even surprised, when academic units take an active interest.
  • Inform your advancement office about potential new donors and their special interests, if you know them.
  • Contribute, and encourage faculty members to contribute to the annual fund, the capital campaign, or the faculty and staff campaign.
  • Volunteer to call for the annual telephone campaign. Put together a team of faculty members to call. Donors often like to talk with faculty. Be aware that this won't be every faculty member's strength, but some will do it well. The development office will provide training and a script, so you won't have to improvise.
  • Keep a current list of graduatesmajors, minors, ensemble participants who are neither.


At the risk of stating the obvious, the generosity of donors is important to us because state allocations are increasingly insufficient to cover the costs of educating our citizens and because many of our students cannot bear the burden of the full cost of their education. Perhaps not so obvious is the fact that a culture of philanthropy within one's institution is important because the sense of investment, of contribution, and of caring is crucial to the long-term health of the institution and specifically of the music unit. It is also very inviting to potential donors. In my view, the sooner we develop this culture the sooner we will realize the benefits for our students.

For more information, please see the online bibliography prepared by members of the Society's Committee on Academic Leadership and Administration and The Chronicle of Philanthropyand of course, start talking with someone in your office of institutional advancement or development office.

Sources Cited

Greenfield, James M. The Nonprofit Handbook: Fund Raising, 3rd ed. The AFP/Wiley Fund Development Series, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2001.

Prince, Russ Alan, and Karen Maru File. The Seven Faces of Philanthropy: A New Approach to Cultivating Major Donors. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.


1 James M. Greenfield, The Nonprofit Handbook: Fund Raising, 3rd ed. The AFP/Wiley Fund Development Series (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2001), 604-605.

2 Russ Alan Prince and Karen Maru File, The Seven Faces of Philanthropy: A New Approach to Cultivating Major Donors (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994), 14-16.

2708 Last modified on May 6, 2013
Login to post comments