It’s planning time of year in most universities. The time of year when you need to defend your existing resources (see my past blog) and justify any additional requests. Looking ahead to a tough year in HE and, probably, a tough year for fundraising, here is my budget checklist.
The Sackler debate has only just begun. Expect more stories and scrutiny around the source of funds donated by trusts, companies and individuals. Now is the time to invest in due diligence and review your practices and processes. The governance route for taking decisions as to who you will accept gifts from needs to be very strong. It’s not enough for the VC to have been given information and to have decided. He/she needs the assurance of a strong governance process to protect the reputational risk to the institution. If you haven’t the skills or capacity to review your ethics process, then seek external expert guidance. This is too big an issue to keep postponing; there will be no time to do this if you are enveloped by a crisis.
Economic uncertainty may turn into a post-Brexit downturn, so make sure your pipeline is healthy and check your major gift portfolios are working – now more than ever you need to prioritise and focus your energies on the best prospects. Many institutions are reviewing their prospect pipeline and the received wisdom around portfolio size is being challenged. One size doesn’t fit all, and you won’t find the answer as to what works for you by looking at the size and shape of other institutions’ teams – you will find it in robust analysis of your pipeline. If you haven’t got the skills or capacity to do this in-house, buy it in as a one-off piece of consultancy – it will reap rewards much more quickly.
Good fundraisers are hard to find, so you need to keep the ones you have and develop their skills. Investment in coaching and training is a must. Ideally this should go beyond letting team members go to the odd conference (as useful as that can be). One-to-one coaching for your fundraisers can step-change their performance and enable them to explore prospect cultivation strategies, plan asks and deliver greater results. Team ‘asking training’ can build skills, teamwork and a shared culture around asking. Every team is different, so it’s vital that the training you buy in is tailored to your team’s specific needs. Bespoke coaching or training will cost you less than headhunting for a post if someone moves on, and is the best way to show that you are committed to your staff. Sometimes it’s valued more than even a pay-rise can be, and given that many institutions have pay freezes in place it might be the only thing you can do to show you care.
Does your case stand up against the negative mood music in the media and politics regarding universities? Can you answer the questions you might receive from prospects? Are your asks highly strategic? Can you demonstrate how your institution is playing its part – locally, regionally and internationally? Can you demonstrate value for money for your students? Now might be a good point to invest time and energy into reviewing and refreshing your case – cast a critical eye over your materials, revisit your ‘scripts’, review your proposals. In tough times you need the very strongest story in order to win support, and a case toolkit to act as a script for your fundraisers to go forth with.
Make sure you have the skills within your team to eloquently convey your strategy/case. This doesn’t have to be a staff communications post – it could be ad-hoc copywriting support from someone who understands fundraising communications. Money spent on outsourced communications support or a review of your fundraising materials could guide your team towards a powerful refresh. This is probably a better and more flexible way to invest in this area than fighting for another team member and locking budget in recurring salary expenditure – let alone finding desk space and buying the computer etc. You could also consider outsourcing other jobs to plug skills gaps in your team.
Don’t put off your campaign plans because of uncertainty in the economy or sector – campaigns look to the longer term. The current storms will pass and regardless of what the sector looks like at the end of the storm philanthropy will still matter, maybe more than ever. If you plan now you can set a 5-10-year journey for philanthropy at your institution. Looking longer term is the diligent thing to do, and investment in campaign planning will help you to do so with confidence. Building enough money into your budget for a robust campaign feasibility study is the ideal route. If that proves too expensive, or you are not quite ready for it, then it’s at least worth considering putting in some budget for high-level strategic advice to support you to work with senior leadership on framing what a campaign might look like.
Get your University leaders fit for fundraising
VCs, DVCs and Deans may need support to engage in the fundraising process and be involved in cultivation and asking. This is often best done through the combination of a workshop and 1:1 coaching so that you develop a team approach but also give them a safe space in which to test out their skills. Given that you will need them to get involved, this investment really is crucial, and an external trainer can say things to them that you simply can’t. Whether you are in campaign, planning a campaign or simply in business as usual mode, this kind of training is valuable.
If your team isn’t performing as you hope or if you are being pushed towards making significant cost-cutting measures, now may be the time to invest in a resources review so you can be sure that you are restructuring your team in the most effective way to protect fundraising income and deliver your work as efficiently as possible. It’s hard to do it as the leader of the team, so investing in professional support will be money well spent. It will help you to objectively identify changes you can make, benchmark your resourcing against other institutions and consider what you need to deliver best value from your pipeline. Better to invest in robust analysis than make blunt cuts that cause long-term damage to income.
If you are considering building these kinds of investments into your plans and budgets and would like more detailed information and costings contact the Halpin team.
Susie Hills is Joint CEO of Halpin Partnership, a management consultancy designed specifically for the needs of the higher education sector. We are the home of experts in fundraising, strategy, governance and marketing.