Community College Fundraising: We Are Determined to Work Where Real Change Happens Daily.

By Bill Crouch and Mike Carter

Since March 2020 the world has changed. In addition to the continuing global pandemic, local business leaders struggle to find qualified workers, and a newly inspired call for social justice in the U.S. reminds us inequities need tangible solutions. Well-positioned to help answer the most compelling questions of our time, there’s a renewed appreciation of community college education. Community colleges are uniquely positioned because they are the most affordable and accessible form of education and training, and they are often very closely aligned with local business interests.

For these reasons, BrightDot decided to focus our consulting efforts to assist community colleges with their fundraising dreams. We view a robust increase in fundraising success as essential because the mission of local community colleges is essential.

We have been engaged by community colleges across the U.S. to help with fundraising challenges and opportunities. This is what we learned:

  1. Just like with larger universities, our community college clients have foundations, but their endowments are, in many cases, much smaller. Their volunteer board members are empowered with few expectations other than providing some oversight and making a financial gift themselves.
  2. Almost all foundation staff salaries are paid by the community college, thus foundation staff are state employees which unintentionally creates challenges not encountered in traditional nonprofits. Here are two examples: A great fundraiser should have few, if any, supervisory responsibilities, but state designated position and salary levels hamper the ability to hire top fundraisers unless the job position includes supervision and management duties. Another example surrounds working when the college is officially closed, such as holidays. For state employees holiday leave is compulsory. Since year-end brings the greatest fundraising opportunity for nonprofits, best practice for fundraisers is to focus on valuable donors from December 1- December 31. For our community college clients, fundraisers are restrained during this time and so are their generous year end donors.
  3. Most community college foundations are both understaffed and underpaid when compared to the larger universities and private colleges within their region.
  4. Limiting beliefs: Within community philanthropy, community colleges are often seen as second, third, or fourth tier giving options. Because they have may not often received large gifts in the past, community college fundraisers too often solicit gifts smaller than a donor’s capabilities.
  5. Bereft of research tools, community college foundation staffs find it challenging to locate a large pool of new donors, so past donors are engaged every year.
  6. High turnover. We see higher turnover rates for community college foundation staff when compared to other public and private foundations. 

What is a community college president or chancellor to do going forward? At BrightDot, we believe it starts with hiring and retaining the right people. Who are they? Master’s degree recipients in philanthropy? Credentialed fundraisers from a philanthropic professional organization? Individuals with 5 or more years of fundraising experience? All of these are desirable, but they do not guarantee the best fundraiser. What does? We believe it is high levels of emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence for community college fundraising? 

Here is what we have discovered:

  1. It starts with Heart. It’s the love of building relationships, and helping donors find the JOY of giving. It requires a love for people, including a strong self-love. A fundraiser who does not love his or herself simply cannot demonstrate how a donor can share their love through philanthropy.
  2. The why to serve others. A top fundraiser is driven to make a difference in the lives of others. Community colleges specialize in extraordinary life-changing stories. These accounts should flow out of a fundraiser because his or her “why” is to continually find the resources that contribute to the unique mission of their organization.
  3. The ability to listen.  Learning to ask the right questions, then carefully listening, and watching a donor’s response is a hallmark of highly intelligent fundraisers. A great fundraiser always starts a relationship by hearing the donor’s “whys”.  
  4. Motivation to grow and be better: Top performers in any profession are never satisfied with their current performance. They always want to get better and develop to a place where they have audacious confidence.
  5. Insistence to be held accountable. Top fundraisers thrive on measurable goals. They set high marks for themselves and their performance. They ask for regular critiques and seek help from others when they need it. They are secure in who they are, and not afraid of failure in their effort to get better.

If you are a community college leader seeking to improve your foundation’s success, the hiring process is critical. Learn to ask questions that reveal emotional intelligence. Develop metrics to help foster a culture of accountability for staff and create clear expectations for your board. Finally, invest, invest, invest. Training your staff and board is critical to foundation success.

It is a new day in community college fundraising, and the moment is right to expect excellence from community college foundation staff, because the great needs of our time are answered so well by the mission of community colleges. We believe the key to community college fundraising success is recruiting, training, and retaining emotionally intelligent staff.

Learn more about how BrightDot can help your organization step-by-step meet and exceed your fundraising goals. Let’s work together towards fundraising success!

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