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Contemporary college and university presidents are often expected to be the fundraiser-in-chief for their institutions, a role for which they are typically underprepared. In this case study, the fundraising experiences of college and university presidents in ten private institutions holding membership in a private-institution consortium in one Midwestern state are discussed.
The purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of college and university presidents in raising funds for their institutions in one Midwestern state. Ten presidents were interviewed, using a series of questions related to their interest in becoming a president, their current level of involvement with the fundraising endeavor at their institution, their perspectives about the best and worst parts of the task of fundraising, their competence in this area, described in this study as their perception of their chief advancement officer’s perspective, the surprises for them in this work, their preparation for this work, any lessons they have learned related to fundraising, and the opportunity costs associated with having to be so involved in fundraising.
Three major themes emerged from the study relating to the presidents’ experience as fundraisers: Preparation for successful fundraising work comes from a wide variety of experiences; Fundraising work is not generally perceived as a “necessary evil;” and Fundraising work is intrinsically connected to questions of legacy. The results of this study were inconsistent with the literature describing presidents’ involvement with fundraising activities for their institutions. The literature described the dearth of formal fundraising preparation programs as troublesome and contributing to generally overwhelming expectations and obligations. The findings from this study indicate that a multitude of life experiences contribute to a particular president’s effectiveness in this arena.
The literature described a collective lament on the part of presidents related to their need to raise funds for their institutions, an activity that got in the way of what initially drew them to academia. The findings did not indicate that sentiment. Instead, these presidents framed their responses to this phenomenon as opportunities to tell institutional stories, to connect donors to meaningful projects, or to impact the lives of students.