Workshops explain shift in thinking about fundraising

CU Foundation, campuses partner to listen to donors
By Staff

A new fundraising approach is taking root throughout the CU Foundation, and among campus and volunteer partners.

"The old model of fundraising is us simply pushing our ideas on donors," said Patrick Kramer, vice president of the CU Foundation. "Now we want to step back, listen to donors and see what they want to fund."

This donor-centric approach — part of an "Insight Into Philanthropy" training workshop also undertaken by Harvard and Stanford fundraisers — helps CU faculty and administrators raise money for their programs and initiatives.

More than 100 CU faculty and staff on all four campuses, as well as most foundation members, have taken the training. Participants have raved.

"The workshop was one of the best I've ever attended — I have a much better understanding of my role in the process of development and the importance of finding out each donor's story," said Julie Wong, CU-Boulder vice chancellor for student affairs, a fall 2009 attendee. "The process of tapping into people's stories and passions really works."

Another benefit of "Insight Into Philanthropy," conceived and presented by development consultants Advancement Resources, is that it heralds a consistent fundraising philosophy as private support becomes increasingly important. The approaches of foundation fundraisers and campus partners have not always been unified across all campuses. And while campus leaders often play key roles in fundraising for specific programs or projects, they often lack background in, or orientation toward, fundraising.

The "Insight Into Philanthropy" program gives campus personnel specific strategies to help them connect with donors and engage their personal commitment. Asking donors which personal passions they want to fund with their donation is one way of doing this.

The program also bolsters the confidence of campus fundraisers, and assures them that fundraising is not about prying money from the reluctant.

"We don't try to convert the unwilling. If you are uncomfortable asking for money, you should not and will not be asked to ask for money," Kramer said. "But in fundraising discussions, we engage donors by talking about the things they care about most. When faculty members do what they do naturally — talk about their teaching and research programs — they open the door."

Michael Glode, professor of medical oncology at the Anschutz Medical Campus, said he found the workshop very helpful.

"By not being sensitive to patients' desire to help, we actually deny them the opportunity to do something very personally meaningful," he said. "I also liked the idea of getting back to donors more frequently on a personal level."

By inspiring the passions of donors rather than merely their loyalties, Kramer says, the potential for larger gifts enters the picture. This premise is based on three years of Advancement Resources research on why people give. (Indeed, they do: Nonprofits received $306 billion in donations in 2007, according to a report by the Giving Institute.) The approach attracted the CU Foundation to Advancement Resources; its numerous higher education clients include four other Big 12 universities.

CU Foundation trustee Linda Shoemaker said that when she recently was visited by a development officer who practiced the donor-centric approach, it immediately got her attention.

"I've been giving away money in this community for years, and no one has ever before asked me what wanted," she said.

In the fall, the CU Foundation will offer the workshops to another 100 to 120 campus personnel. If interested in Advancement Resources training, contact your department leadership or CU Foundation development officer. More on the curriculum is at