Do We Do What We Say We Do? Cognitive bias in the boardroom

A big part of my job as a consultant is discerning the big picture in things. Working with boards, two big picture factors play an outsize role in diminished governance outcomes. The first is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is, you will remember, the tendency to seek out, favor and recall information that confirms existing beliefs. As such, it is a prime component of erratic inductive reasoning.

The second is what I call normative bias. That is a bias to favor the assumption that current and future events will tend to preserve and confirm the status quo. That tomorrow will look like today. That students in the next decade will face the same challenges as students in this decade.

That is, if you can’t see change, it most likely isn’t happening. Or, that the world leans toward stasis rather than change. And this factor is particularly applicable as a component of considering some localized issue at hand where the big picture is easily obscured by the demands of the moment. Think of it as the error of assuming past stock market winners will be future winners. Think of it as viewing any given infrastructure as immutable and not prone to degradation or obsolescence.

Together, these two biases lead good boards astray. They lead board to ignore threats and opportunities in the interest of preserving the status quo. On the face of it there might seem to be nothing wrong with such conservatism of governance. I do not discredit the term “conservatism” here in the least. The role of a governing board is to govern an organization in trust for the greater community in the service of a relatively immutable mission. That is as it should be. Reckless—and feckless—board governance is anathema to the continuity of a needed service.

But confirmation bias, especially collective confirmation bias, or groupthink, is endemic to board culture and decision-making. It begins with overbroad notions of collegiality, of knowing “one’s place,” of not rocking the boat; there are so many ways American idioms express the concept—precisely because it is so commonplace.

Confirmation bias tells us that since we serve an organization that does good work, the evidence tells us that we’re doing good work. Statistics are quoted, testimonials are heard, anecdotal evidence is convincing…or…the statics are not germane, the testimonials are pure emotionalism, and the evidence not actually evidence. What we are hearing in such a scenario is confirmation bias at work.

Confirmation bias gets in the way of realizing that we are underserving entire sectors of the community, that we are training for the wrong jobs, that we are not tracking our former enrollees (all too often inaccurate to call them graduates) for outcomes; all of these circumstances are serious business, but in the face of challenging notions, studies show convincingly that confirmation bias is invincible unless countered.

And what of normative bias? Normative bias says that change that happens slowly isn’t happening. Global climate change might be the poster child for this one. But it happens at every intersection of personal and collective experience. Baby boomers are not aging. Suburbs are not growing more diverse. College tuitions are not becoming unaffordable. White collar jobs are not disappearing.

In the rear view mirror, it all seems so obvious. Half of all Americans worked in agriculture in 1890. Forty percent of Americans worked in high quality manufacturing jobs in 1950. So we see titanic forces are obscured in the slowness of their conquest. It happens all around us every day, in nearly every neighborhood, but all to often we don’t know what we’ve got—or don’t have—‘til it’s gone.

When you pair confirmation and normative biases, the errors of inductive reasoning can be compounded to an astonishing degree. We develop an entire sector, let’s say the community college sector, that tells itself and the world that it is the go-to choice for job retraining and access to education for the underserved.

Yet we see that millions of jobs go unfilled every year in regions where un- or underemployed workers are legion and the community college sector has a strong presence.

The educational-industrial complex, to put an ironic twist on it, has not done a good job of providing meaningful retraining for the good jobs that actually exist. Why? Because we so busy doing a good job that we didn’t have room, time, or resources to do the job that needed to be done?

Boards need to ask themselves one question: do we do what we say we do? And they need to demand answers that are backed up by rigorous empirical methods that are as free of cognitive bias as possible.

Do we do what we say we do? That is the question. Let’s start there.

 

“Working Class Colleges” Lead the Way in Educating for Upward Mobility

New York Times opinion writer David Leonhardt’s article, “America’s Great Working Class Colleges” is a must-read for people who care about higher education in America. It concerns a recent study of the ability of colleges to launch students from the bottom fifth of American earners into the top three-fifths, a pro-forma measure of upward mobility toward the middle class.

The findings: less selective institutions such as City University of New York do a better job of helping graduates move up the economic ladder than do selective and elite institutions.

It includes the astonishing finding that “the City University of New York system propelled almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all eight Ivy League campuses, plus Duke, M.I.T., Stanford and Chicago, combined.”

Leonhardt asserts that deep declines in state support for working class colleges cuts at the heart of their ability to outperform, even as they beat better-funded institutions at a core element of their missions. That is, they provide the most help to the students who need it most.

Why can’t America’s more selective universities and colleges replicate the success of so-called working class colleges in launching graduates into the middle class? And why aren’t more community colleges taking on the challenge in a more focused manner?

So-called “working class colleges” offer more learning supports including “freshman experience” programs that reinforce how to learn, cohort identification and persistence. The “elites” stick closer to the sink-or-swim model. Open access allows many more students who are only marginally qualified to succeed access to college, yet these institutions still outperform the “majors.” It comes down, I believe, to a comprehensive program of financial supports, cohort supports, evening classes, faculty commitment to teaching and a learning-centered posture on the part of these colleges.

In a moment when the nation considers infrastructure as a potential spending priority, I would argue that this type of educational infrastructure should become a public investment priority. And for those who complain about rising tuition, how about correlating that to declining state support for higher ed?

As to the role of community colleges in student outcomes, while they generally do a laudable job, on par with the great working class colleges, in serving their least affluent students, they persist too often in viewing students as à la carte consumers, and do not take sufficient responsibility for student outcomes.

It’s not that hard to survey student intentions at the outset, and for those students who identify their goal as to use the community college as a primary provider for their first two (or more) years and then matriculate for the final two (or more) years it will take to earn their four-year degree, these colleges need to first track outcomes during the two years those students are on campus and beyond to learn what works. That is to say, they should use the longitudinal methodology of The Equality of Opportunity Project’s study in measuring their effectiveness.

Increasingly, two-year colleges are recognizing and responding to the challenge, but unless they can make their own case based on objective data, they will not be competitive in making the case for reversing much of their own declining state support.

If we want to avoid the creation of a permanent two-track society—the effects of which are becoming strikingly apparent at this very moment—we had better get in gear for education-based upward mobility again. Better funding colleges like City College, the University of Texas at El Paso and California State Los Angeles would be great way to start.

As a consultant in the field of philanthropic funding for higher education, I know that the great class divide is actually deepened by the tendency that donors have to give to high-prestige institutions. That reality increases the demand on the elites to do much better in raising the bar on educating the nation’s poorest students.

10 Things Colleges Need to Know About Alumni Relations

Think of alumni relations as a close cousin of fundraising. Two-year colleges often have under-resourced, rudimentary programs that lack the focus of their four-year counterparts. And if your fundraising program is under-resourced, it’s hard to invest much in alumni relations. But invest we should. And we should remember that alumni relations is a separate cost center from development, one that should not be reflected in your cost-of-fundraising reports like the IRS form 990 or your audit.

Here are some reasons to invest in alumni relations:

  1.  Alumni are a resource of the educational mission of the college.  Their relation to the institution comprises interactions that transcend the fundraising program.
  1.  The college needs to offer multiple, coordinated entry points for interactions with alumni, coordinated by a specialist reporting to the VP of Advancement.
  1. The college needs to promote interaction with the alumni so that they remain informed about the educational activities of the college and can serve as ambassadors of the college in ways that benefit enrollment management, career placement, and other core activities of the college even before we see their cultivation as a future resource of the fundraising program.
  1. Alumni often want to maintain a relationship with the college directly via their academic department, as with professors, or coaches, and don’t want to be perceived primarily as donor prospects. I believe this is particularly true for alumni in their 20s and 30s.
  1. Young alumni as a group cost the fundraising program money to stay in touch with them during the twenty-year period it takes for them to become significant donors.  A balanced, professional alumni relations program will undertake that challenge based on a rationale that is more encompassing than the Annual Fund dollar value of each class of alumni.
  1. Tracking contact information for alumni often exceeds the data management capacity of a fundraising office, requiring significant integration with the data management capacities of the college. This is the most intractable issue facing community colleges today because the effort is under-resourced and not seen as an institutional priority. Even so, much more can be done by most colleges to keep track of alumni, including mailing to them at least twice a year and using NCOA protocols.
  1. A primary way to remain in touch with alumni is a college magazine, backed up by a strong online program for alumni contact.  The editorial content of these reflects the entire college and therefore must be managed to reflect the interests of the college, while at the same time viewing editorial through the lens of Alumni relations and development.
  1.  With younger alumni, their relationship to the college may benefit the college in ways that pertain more closely to marketing than fundraising.
  1. Alumni benefit the college directly by:
  • Providing expert advice and guidance to the university’s leadership
  • Providing case study material, guest lectures, equipment or similar to enhance teaching
  • Supporting student recruitment
  • Providing careers advice, mentoring, placements, internships to students
  • Acting as positive role models to current students

[Source for #9 (condensed): http://www.case.org/Publications_and_Products/Fundraising_Fundamentals_Intro/Fundraising_Fundamentals_section_1/Fundraising_Fundamentals_section_12.html]

These activities reflect the degree to which the alumni relations program must be managed by the college to provide systemic, comprehensive management of the aggregate and individual relationships with alumni to benefit the college as a whole.

  1.  Colleges often provide services or benefits to alumni, both tangible and intangible, that reflect interactions with the entire college, including athletics, academics, placement, and advancement.  An advisory team that reflects the life and values of the college should assist in oversight of these benefits.

Conclusion:  it’s never too soon to invest in alumni relations.

The Actions Meeting

Development consultant Mark Davy recommends that development officers coordinate team efforts through the means of a brief, weekly “Actions Meeting.”   At Dunwoody College of Technology, the development staff began each week with a half-hour meeting first thing Monday morning.

At the Actions Meeting, each development officer presents his or her actions of the previous week for review by the group. Development officers document their own actions, without fail, by Friday afternoon, in the donor database. The development officers then run their own action reports before the meeting. In Raiser’s Edge, this is a simple, automated report. The Raiser’s Edge entry includes a brief statement communicating the gist of the interaction, such as, “asked Ron to make a personal call to Tom about his Annual Fund gift.”

Sometimes the group reviews the report in silence, pausing only for questions or clarifications. Sometimes the development officer walks his or her colleagues through the highlights. You only need to spend a few moments on each entry. Each development officer is expected to have a minimum number of contacts for the week; for example, 10, but lists of 20 contacts or more should be commonplace. Each contact should be a meaningful interaction. Do not list routine attendance of board members at regular meetings.

At Dunwoody, the president usually attended the meetings to present his actions along with the development officers. If he could not attend, his assistant would submit his weekly list of contacts in advance of the meeting. The fact that the president attended was a powerful testament to the value of direct donor contact and the importance of accountability.

In a one-person shop, the chief development officer should attempt to institute a 10-minute weekly meeting with the president to share contacts.

Another feature of the Actions Meeting is a quick review of the main donor-related events of the coming week. If Monday is a holiday, convene the meeting on Tuesday. Actions meetings are never cancelled. The Actions Meeting is a powerful tool in building a culture of accountability on the part of the development officers. It illustrates the point: what gets noticed gets done.

 

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10 Things You Can Do to Increase Year-End Giving

imagesThe end of the calendar year is a wonderful time for donor engagement. The tax deduction available to itemizers, while never the primary philanthropic driver, is always a good reminder that it’s time to give. December is the biggest month for annual giving and many donors are keenly attuned to their year-end giving cycles. Here are a few things we can do to promote their end-of-year generosity.

  1. Keep the office open between Christmas and December 31.

At Dunwoody College of Technology the development staff took turns staffing the office between Christmas and December 31. What’s more, we kept open the line of communication with board members and close friends of the college, suggesting that we were open for business and that we cared about donors’ year-end gifts. If your college or organization is closed, at minimum offer a cell phone number to those who call the development line between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

  1. Check the mail for postmarks.

Any gift delivered by mail with a postmark of December 31 or earlier was intended by your donor as gift to be credited to the previous calendar year—and the IRS allows it. So respect that intention by acknowledging the postmark date and crediting the gift on your database as a December 31 gift. You may need to change a sentence or two in your standard acknowledgment letter. Keep the postmarked envelope on file to document the gift date. You could even add a page to your web site containing year-end giving details. Here how UC Berkeley does it: http://haas.berkeley.edu/groups/alumni/giving/haasfund/endofyear.html

  1. Encourage gifts of appreciated securities.

The overall market is slightly off its mid-year peaks, but many segments of the stock market are quite healthy. Gifts of appreciated securities are the most cost-effective means to make meaningful gifts or fulfill pledges. But you have to be around the office to close these deals. Check in with your bank, broker or local branch of a mutual fund company to be sure you have phone numbers, account numbers, routing numbers and especially electronic funds transfer protocols on file before your donor calls you. If you need leadership authorization or participation to conduct these transactions, make sure you can find board members or organization officers during the busy holiday season. If this becomes a problem, amend your account authorization records so the chief development officer can make deposits without board participation.

  1. Email board members who have yet to give.

Get the word out to board members that you are open for gift processing while highlighting opportunities for gifts of appreciated securities. It is one of the most cost-effective ways for board members to make bigger gifts to your institution. Highlight the tax deduction available and let them know you are striving to meet mid-year revenue forecasts. The truth is, if they don’t make a gift now you may be chasing them around for the balance of the fiscal year. It never hurts to have a message go out from the board chair to all the board members of have yet to make their gifts or fulfill their pledges.

  1. Send a blast email containing a year-end tax advantage message.

Let them know that the dollars they give now will reduce their tax bills when they itemize. Those dollars will then be available for spring disbursements from the foundation to the college. Your donors may have a few days off and a few spare minutes to think about their charitable intentions for the year during the holidays and be moved to act. Emphasize the ease of online giving in the holiday season. (See the link in #2 above.)

  1. Run a report on all year-end LYBUNTS from last year and email them.

If you don’t have gifts in hand for this calendar year, email those donors to offer a gentle reminder that this is the month they gave last year. State their last gift amount to make the pitch more concrete. One of the biggest questions we hear in phonathons is, “When and how much did I give last year?” Get out in front of those good intentions by getting to LYBUNTS before they go stale. Few people are motivated to make gifts in January when all those credit card bills arrive.

  1. Remind staff and faculty that they can make a seasonal gift in honor of someone.

Holiday gifts can be hard for busy colleagues to keep up with. If it’s the thought that counts, a gift in honor of a friend, family member or colleague can be a meaningful way to give. Offer to send out a “Season’s Greetings from Prof. X” card, which lets the honoree know that a gift has been made in their honor. (Of course no amounts are mentioned!) And of course you must have someone in the office to send out those cards.

  1. Ask your president to call his or her top ten prospects over the holidays.

Your president has a list of top ten prospects right? A personal call wishing happy holidays to someone important to the college is one of the easiest, most natural, most appreciated cultivation calls a president can make. And even though this is just a cultivation call, it can inspire donors and prospects to make that gift they have been thinking about. If your president is a little light on prospects, compose that list now. No one possesses the golden opportunity to make a positive impression on friends of the college than does your president.

  1. Send a personal holiday card to your top 25 donors.

Nothing says thank you like “thank you.” And no time is better to say it than now, in the holiday season, when cards are the norm. So even if your college sends out boilerplate cards to friends of the college, say something personal as a steward of philanthropy at your college. After all, the season of giving is your season, right?

  1. Call and thank your volunteers.

Where would we be without those special volunteers that put us over the top on our fund drives? In this era of texts, emails, tweets and so many of the lesser communicative arts, phone calls are often regarded as a more personal medium. Sometimes a thank you is all about inflection—as in, conveying emotion and meaning it! So how about five calls a day, every day through the year-end? Your volunteers will know you care about them. That, as they say, is priceless.

Good luck, and good works to you all!

“They Are Wonderful People, They Just Don’t Do Anything!”

The slightly tongue-in-cheek title of my presentation at the 2015 CASE Conference for Community College Advancement was “They Are Wonderful People, They Just Don’t Do Anything: Dealing expertly with passive, uninspired, underperforming, worn-out, and sometimes fossilized boards.”

In keeping with this lighter take on a serious subject I took an informal poll of the audience, asking which of seven paradigms of dysfunction most afflicted their foundation boards. The options were:

  1. They grandstand
  2. They are asleep
  3. They have a commander-in-chief chair
  4. They have warring factions
  5. Fundraising terrifies them
  6. Change is evil
  7. They don’t do anything

And the winner was… Fundraising terrifies them! And it’s a small wonder, I think, given that community college board members often don’t really know much about what is required of a board member when they agree to serve. They mostly have a vague notion about taking on a volunteer community involvement assignment that includes some meetings and attending a gala.

And that, largely, is our fault. The role of the community college foundation board is to secure resources in support the mission of the college. Yes, they govern as a board, but advancement—securing resources—is not governance per se. They need to know the ropes. In order to avoid semi-futile attempts to cat-herd a reluctant board toward functionality, it helps to foster individual comprehension of what it takes to be an effective board member. That is, they need to know what they are in for before they ever join your board.

You can’t just throw people on the board and hope it works out. And while the board has self-determining governing functions, it is the responsibility of the chief development officer and the college president to exert influence in collaboration with the foundation board leadership to constantly improve the effectiveness of the board.

As a corollary to that notion, you cannot leave a foundation board to its own devices. They need professional direction to direct their efforts to secure resources. They need to know that their primary role will be that of ambassador. That is to say, they will be asked to represent the mission of the college directly and personally to individuals in their sphere of influence who control community and personal resources. They need to understand that they will be armed with stories of student achievement, perseverance, and success. They will know a little something about the challenges, hopes, aspirations, and goals of the college.

So, again, what is the primary role of a college foundation board member? Ambassador to the community for a cause. That’s simple enough.

In the world of advancement, ambassadors cultivate donor prospects. This is often difficult for uninitiated board members because they fear that cultivation might damage their standing with peers, business associates, and friends. The notion of ambassadorship helps to clarify the boundaries and parameters of this endeavor. Ambassadors look outward. They open doors. They bring influential people together with the president, where it is the job of the president to articulate the mission and activities of the college with passion and authority.

We need to anticipate that board members who do not receive a comprehensive orientation to the role they are being asked to fulfill will be terrified of fundraising. We need to address that fear with a coherent set of relationship and messaging “cue cards” to imbue their interactions with their own sense of comfort and ownership.

Ambassadors must look outward, that much we know. And while I am happy to have a board member who is uncomfortable with cultivation if he or she is a major donor—because such leadership by example is priceless—we need to get the right people on the bus, and in the right seats, when it comes to advancement.

So if you find your board is terrified of fundraising, consider a formal initiative to address the root causes, and begin with recruiting the right people and giving them the gift of formal orientation to the role of ambassador. That should prove to be a good start on a neverending journey.

 

The Perils of a Staff-Driven Advancement Program

The classic public higher ed advancement model is built on the triad of the college president, the foundation board, and the professional development staff. If the triad is in place and functioning well, do everything you can to maintain its effectiveness. If it is not in place, do everything to can to support the formation of the triad.

Without the president and board onboard you have a staff-driven program, and with a staff-driven program you limit your revenue to 50% of potential. You can do a lot of things right, and effectively, and still have a staff-driven program. You may have a strong Annual Fund and grants program, but you will have a weak major gifts program.

When you limit your revenue to 50% of potential you become irrelevant. That is, you cease to matter in the power dynamic of the college. You won’t receive an adequate budget or sufficient attention to get the job done. If advancement isn’t an engine, it’s a caboose. If advancement is the caboose, it will fail.

When I refer to the engine, I mean the resource engine, that term Jim Collins talks about. The major gifts program is more potent resource engine of the development program, as compared to the Annual Fund, and, it goes without saying, special events. Yet the Annual Fund must be well established for the major gifts program to launch. So there is hope for anyone running a staff-driven program raising most of the annual revenue from the Annual Fund. You just have to shift the dynamics of the advancement triad to put the president front and center and the foundation board firmly—and actively—behind you.

I wrote about engaging the president in my last blog entry. As to engaging the foundation board, you might refer to Tip #19 in my book: “Members of effective boards actively support the fundraising activities of the Annual Fund and make it a priority for personal involvement.”

After that, major gifts!

Why Should a President Worry About Fundraising?

The tenure of presidencies and upper-level management positions appeared, at least from anecdotal evidence, to be shortening. The causes were many: greater geographic mobility; a shifting in roles (for example, the increased emphasis on fundraising…)

~Nan Ottenritter “Historic Overview of the AACC Competencies,” p.2. New Directions for Community Colleges series

Really? Fundraising as an essential leadership skill and core competency?

Yes, and it’s been a long time since four-year colleges incorporated this expectation into the job descriptions for college presidents. Yet, the community college sector has been slow to uniformly adopt the notion that community college presidents must “learn” philanthropy.  I talk to community college presidents about seeing themselves as “CPOs.”  That is, Chief Philanthropy Officer: managing the process internally, by way of supporting (and funding) a professional advancement staff and using the bully pulpit of the presidency to build meaningful constituencies for advancement within the college.  Even more important is for the president to be active  cultivating  and closing major gifts and launching the campaigns to secure those gifts.

Too often, we talk to ourselves too much, rather than reaching out the to community that supports us.  In some two-year colleges, the term advancement doesn’t even entail development or philanthropy.  This is certainly a departure from the dominant usage of the term in higher education.

Legendary Yankees Manager Billy Martin once said that preparation always shows itself in the spontaneity of the moment.  The magic of college presidents encouraging prospective donors to make major gifts begins with embracing advancement and philanthropy as a core competency of the president. In the case of philanthropy, preparation means learning how these executive-level skills fit into the presidential suite. The relationship development, the actual relationships, and even friendships, that arise from active donor engagement lead to the seemingly spontaneous magic moments when a donor makes the decision to give. The ease of those interactions begins with a sea change in how presidents view their jobs and their personal relationship to the mission of their colleges.

So yes, fundraising is a core competency for every college president, and if the idea has been a long time coming to the two-year college sector, it is here to stay.

The Problem with Special Events

Opportunity Cost, Transactional Displacement, & the ROI on Staff Time

A word on the origins of our dependence on events: in terms of fundraising tradition, this dependence arises  from a grassroots board and a lack of staff. I advocate that we talk about mission instead. When I hear of a strong dependence on special events, the warning flags go up. We have to look at the opportunity cost of events–of what I call transactional displacement.

Transactional displacement is the displacement of mission-based, purposeful cultivation by event-related fundraising transactions. This includes “selling tables,” “selling sponsorships,” and rounding up auction items. It can become similar to a retail transaction, unrelated to the mission-based story of changing and transforming lives.  And when event participants are done with the event, they are sometimes done with you until next year. They think they’ve done their part.

And we have to look at the ROI on staff time. It usually is lower with events than with other forms of direct cultivation. The higher your gross, the greater your dependence, the more difficult it will be to shift your paradigm. At a certain revenue point, change becomes nearly impossible; you are locked in.

So unless you are raising a lot of money on events, you might want to rethink your reliance on them, and instead think about raising money using the collegiate development model.

The CASE Interview: Advice for Building a Strong Advancement Program

Rereading this March 2012 interview recently reminded me that the more things change, the more we talk about the same confounding paradigm shift. I wrote awhile back in a grant analysis for a consortium of national corporate foundations that community college advancement programs tended to fall into two groups: those that “get it,” and those that sort of “get it” but don’t act. In that study, I found that 50% of colleges “got it,” with performance that correlated to that comprehension. Today, as I consider the sector as a whole, I think everyone could go farther faster, but I particularly worry about the colleges that fall into the lower 50%. It turns out that the dynamics I touched on in an interview that coincided with the publication of my book remain at the center of discussion in the current moment.

 

CASE: Given the uniqueness of community colleges and the diversity of individuals they serve, why do you think they should adopt techniques used by four-year institutions?

Klingaman: My nine-year experience as campaign director at a two-year technical college proved to me that the paradigm works.  That said, two-year colleges need to adapt techniques used by four-year institutions before they adopt them. My book covers these adaptations in detail.  But when you look at academic fundraising as a whole, the techniques of the private primary and secondary education sectors share much in common with collegiate fundraising.  The core is the academic fundraising model.  One big difference between two-year and four-year experiences is the degree to which people remain loyal to their alma maters.  I advise two-year colleges to help their alumni celebrate academic beginnings as well as graduations.

CASE: You note that you’re often shocked to hear about the state of many community college fundraising programs, which you say go through the motions without achieving defensible outcomes. Why do you think community colleges should pay more attention to metrics like return on investment? And, with this shift, what else about their fundraising culture should change?

Klingaman: Metrics begin with mission and stewardship. If we are going to devote precious resources to two-year college advancement, we should adhere to standards that exist throughout the nonprofit sector.  Fundraising costs should not exceed 25 percent to 30 percent of gross fundraising revenues, and it doesn’t matter if the college is paying the foundation program expenses. It’s not what shows up on the Form 990; it’s what we know to be the real ROI on development dollars spent. That’s stewardship. What gets measured gets done, and what gets done, gets noticed. Colleges that can show significant ROI on their advancement programs will thrive for the reasons that all well-resourced philanthropic missions do.

The degree of culture change required depends on baseline advancement performance. But if you want to create a high-performing advancement program raising a million or two million dollars a year, it will have to become a top five, or better, top three priority of the leadership culture.

CASE: You suggest that a community college designing a development program should avoid holding gala events and instead focus on establishing an annual fund. Why do you think this is a better investment? Also, when are events appropriate as a fundraising tool?

Klingaman: An annual fund is a better investment from an ROI standard. You have to take personnel costs into account when you evaluate development performance. If you are tying up three or four months around an event, the real net plummets. When you look at the performance of a major gifts program, you calculate the investment of staff time against the revenues. In addition, the opportunity cost of events is exceedingly high. You displace a range of other giving opportunities when you focus on events, including employee annual giving, giving clubs and major gifts.  It’s more productive to lead with the mission, cultivate personally and close gifts where you can put 100 percent of the gift toward the mission.  Then thank people at a recognition event.

Events are appropriate as a fundraising tool when they augment mature programs, serve niche needs and can be proven not to cannibalize other, more potentially productive programs. But if you are relying on events, the more successful they are, the more dependent on them you become.

CASE: You write that, ideally, a community college should make development “a top-three institutional priority” and that its president and foundation board should lend active support to the development initiative. Why is this kind of institutional and personal commitment important for development success?

Klingaman: Development must be a top priority of the institution to overcome the inertia that surrounds nascent, or stagnant, programs.  Fundraising—development—is hard work.  I always say you don’t do it unless you have to.  Without a significant leadership commitment on the part of the president, the leadership team and the foundation board, you end up, even under the best of circumstances, with a staff-driven program that raises perhaps 50 percent of your potential. Or you revert to special events. But the involvement and active interest of the president is key, absolutely key.  Any college that wants to raise a million dollars a year—and up—must have an escalating commitment from the president. Think 15 to 20 percent of the president’s time—and that’s for starters.

For many colleges, meaningful advancement is a challenging new world. But the proven effectiveness of leading with mission, creating personalized cultivation, building a diversified program, and closing gifts to support essential programs remains viable regardless of the intrinsic challenges experienced by the sector.  It’s a new frontier, but public secondary education is joining the fray, and it will be a more competitive universe in the future. The two-year sector needs to claim its rightful place in the philanthropic world because its mission as the gateway to the middle class is so essential.