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Fundraising for higher education institutions


Exciting opportunities lie ahead if you’re new to or about to jump into a career in higher education fundraising. Nonprofit fundraising jobs are the backbone in securing financial resources that enable higher education institutions to fulfill their mission and impact the world.

Leverage the following opportunities along your fundraising career path to help you blaze a trail to success.

1 Pick your

Ready to dig in and “make the ask” of donors? If you are, great! If not, there are many, many other opportunities in fundraising careers. Which means an opportunity to find the job that’s the best fit for you, whether you’re wondering where to start or considering switching roles at your institution. Universities typically have an office of development made up of multiple positions—some on the frontlines who are “money-askers,” and others on back-end operations, such as gift processing, research, and IT. Linda Lysakowski, a fundraising consultant and author, said thinking through your options early on, as she did, is an important step in guiding your fundraising career path. “It’s important to evaluate your own skills and interests, and consider what you love doing,” Lysakowski said. “For example, when I started in my career, the reason I never wanted to be a grant writer is although I love to write, I wasn’t very interested in the research part, so I decided that would never work for me.”

2 Show them the
(impact of their) money

Higher education fundraising brings a unique challenge compared to for-profit sales: You have nothing to “give back” to the donor. It’s a one-way transaction. That’s true, to a degree. But on the other hand, you can indeed show them a return on their investment. Your opportunity lies in showing a need for money, and highlighting the impact and how giving can change lives, says Katy Nelson, associate vice chancellor for university development at the University of Arkansas. After all, this is the reason behind your passion, right? “One of our top fundraising priorities is scholarships for students with financial need and first in their families to attend college,” said Nelson. “This vision of ours resonates with donors … that scholarships provide opportunities for students to graduate from college and pursue their dreams.” Nelson said donors have an opportunity to meet these students and hear firsthand how impactful the scholarship has been. Additionally, universities thank donors at events and with recognition displays. “Many donors receive great satisfaction from these types of interactions.”

Your opportunity lies in showing a need for money, and highlighting the impact and how giving can change lives.

3 Expect
the unexpected

While you’re busy making a difference in your role, one of the difference-making perks in your fundraising career path is life-long learning opportunities, professional and personally. You never know what new opportunity awaits you around the corner or where it might lead you.

Here are a few examples:

– You can glean valuable insight, like the vision for the college and fundraising priorities, traveling with the dean of a college and faculty members while exploring fundraising opportunities.

– If your specific position oversees fundraising efforts for a particular college within the university system, you might get a close-up look at the impact the college has made on the local community, the economy, and even on a global scale.

“You can get an understanding and deep appreciation of how a university plays a role in maybe discovering new technologies or cures for diseases, or starting a business,” Nelson said.

“For example, when I was fundraising at another university, I received a call from a faculty member asking if my team could assist with raising funds for a new supply chain management consortium,” Nelson said. “We met in the coffee lounge and he educated me about supply chains, and we were very successful in our fundraising efforts. This  ultimately led to the creation of the Supply Chain Management Center at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.”

– There are also ample opportunities to learn about other roles in the development office, if you’re interested in someday switching nonprofit fundraising jobs or advancing your career.

You can learn other responsibilities organically by closely working with your colleagues and watching them in action. Set aside time with a co-worker to find out more about his or her specific role and the skills required to succeed in it. Find a mentor, maybe your boss or a faculty member, to meet with regularly to discuss and map your career goals.

And there are always external resources that can help, as well.

“Attend workshops and conferences, and seek out online opportunities to learn about the aspects of fundraising that you want to pursue,” said Lysakowski.

Make the most of these and other opportunities to grow and succeed in your purposeful career.

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Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America has created and the information within it for informational purposes only. Many of the experts featured in the content are unaffiliated with Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, College Retirement Equities Fund, and their affiliates and subsidiaries (collectively TIAA), and TIAA makes no representations regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information on the posts or otherwise made available by the individuals. Statements of external featured individuals are solely their own and are not endorsed or recommended by TIAA. Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America and LinkedIn Corporation are independent entities collaborating to bring you
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