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Dean's Corner: 'Friend-raising': A Positive Take on Development

April 2015

Stephen Magnum

By Stephen Mangum, Dean, Haslam College of Business, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

It is my hypothesis that many of us did not enter the academy with an intention to become deans or any other form of educational administrative leaders. Instead, I suspect that most of us in contemplating entry were motivated by a love of research or teaching, and most likely both. Many of us were likely first called to administrative service as department or academic program heads, at the request or urging of faculty colleagues. Perhaps this was because, if nothing more, we were seen as the least objectionable of the alternatives. High praise indeed! Most of us likely entered with an intention of serving for a season and then returning to the “faculty ranks.” Some successfully delivered on that stated intention, but those are not likely the ones reading this column. Neither is it true of the one penning this particular column.

Given this hypothesized shared history of how we came to be where we are, there are likely parts of the “dean job” that come to us more naturally than others. My sense is that fund-raising is a part of the job that is often of greatest concern to many of us academicians when contemplating the prospect of such positions. I have heard many new and prospective deans express anxiety about this aspect of the job, and I admit to feeling and from time to time expressing that anxiety myself over the years prior to making the leap.

Having made that leap (program head, department chair, associate dean, dean), I am pleased to report that the anticipated anxiety was far worse than the reality of it. I believe that my experience is not uncommon.

So, while I am far from being among the most experienced of deans at AACSB schools, and my name would not appear among the most successful fund-raising AACSB deans, I am working on it! I would like to share what I believe are a few keys to success in this critical, ever-present aspect of our dean responsibilities.

In doing so, I offer a note of context that impacts my assessment. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to be at a university where alumni allegiance runs deep. It is indeed great to be a Tennessee Volunteer! Our alumni care deeply about the university and the Haslam College of Business. Many of our graduates/donors are first-generation college graduates. For many, their lives are a living testimony to the power of an education. They regard their University of Tennessee education as a key contributor to their personal success, and true to their Volunteer roots, they are prone to actively give of their time, talent, and treasure to the institution they love. We, in turn, regard their generosity as philanthropic investments, and we are committed to working diligently to generate and demonstrate a positive rate of return on each investment made in us.

With this as background, a few brief thoughts from my perspective on successful fund-raising. Much more could be said on each.

First, it really is all about relationship building. “Friend-raising” does in fact lead to fund-raising. There is much to be said for focusing on the friend-raising and letting the rest follow, for it does often follow quite naturally. Friend-raising involves taking a real interest in the individual and individual situations. No two people and no two situations are alike. Understanding their aspirations, their capabilities, their constraints, their many worthwhile commitments, and being sensitive to and understanding of the flow of victories and setbacks that are invariably part of life—and understanding these as a friend understands them—this is very important. It involves patience, not hurrying things along, while still seeking to establish a pattern of escalating commitment where circumstances allow, remembering that ultimately we respect and operate on a timetable that we may influence but which the individual defines.

The image that I keep in mind as a symbol of my objective is that of the family unit gathered around the dining room table at that point in the lifecycle where the head of household (individual or couple) is ready to divide up their accumulated assets and pass them on to the next generation. I want there to be such a strong, enduring personal relationship in place that the Haslam College of Business is deserving of an inheritance alongside that received by the sons and daughters! Yes, this is said a bit with tongue in cheek, but I hope that you catch my intent.

Second, fund-raising is just one part of a larger development mosaic. The key elements of that mosaic are alumni engagement, fund-raising, and donor stewardship. Each is an important piece and each piece reinforces the others. Active attention must be given to all pieces.

Third, from my perspective there is a set of elements basic to successful fund-raising. These are (a) a consistent framework or story of why the school exists and what it is about (a living/breathing mission); (b) a vision of where the organization is headed and why; (c) consistent and frequent repetition of the message; (d) a personal commitment to and passion for the message and the visualized future that communicates to others that it is real to you, that it is your passion and that its pursuit is more than a job to you; (e) stories of faculty and student accomplishment that support the framework and vision; (f) indicators of consistent progress toward the vision; and (g)consistent reference, both general and specific, to the positive impact of donors in driving and fueling the forward progress.

So easily said and a challenging pursuit!

In summary then, yes, development and fund-raising activity, often viewed with trepidation and anxiety before the fact, can be enjoyed. Many deans will bear testimony to this being the case. What are keys to this being your future? An enjoyment of people and of getting to know them and their life stories (past and future); a passion for your institution and what it represents; a personal commitment to the goal that you have helped define; enjoyment in singing the praises of others making good things happen through their actions; and a development team focused on building lasting relationships rather than chasing transactions.