A 2014 doctoral thesis from Penn State provides details on what drives donors to contribute to higher educational institutions and how leaders can utilize stewardship to build donor relationships and generate additional resources for their colleges and universities. You can download the thesis here if you are interested.
The author shares a 2011 story of a large donor who felt ignored and halted his $7 million dollar donation. The donor actually asked for money back and for his name to be removed from a building that was already completed. That is a big crash!
The researcher found that donors in higher education have a unique connection with the school, potentially as an alum or due to a family or community connection, and this influences the type of interactions they expect when they donate. While much of the responsibility for donor relations resides with the development area, leaders can make a significant difference.
The top strategy for nurturing donor relationships focuses on treating them with respect. Leaders can support this by actively:
- thanking donors
- communicating with donors even when not soliciting money
- looking for opportunities to give donors private attention or private time
Building relationships with your development area, offering leadership support, and spending time with donors will help leaders be better at overall stewardship in higher education – and avoid any painful crashes!