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Make a Gift, Build a Brand (Internally)

Rob Zinkan explores an undervalued brand-building opportunity: encouraging faculty and staff to make a donation.

December 21, 2016
 
 

For a university’s brand strategy to be focused, authentic, compelling, differentiating, and enduring, it must be built from the inside out. Faculty and staff are both creators and consumers of the institutional brand, and they should be an essential part of any brand development process. Your faculty members, in particular, will want to know how they will be involved and how the process will reflect the professoriate.

Fortunately, higher education leaders understand this necessity. According to results from last year’s The State of Higher Ed Branding: A Survey of Marketing Leaders, 92% of respondents conducted qualitative market research in the form of interviews with internal stakeholders as part of their institution’s brand strategy process. In addition, a large percentage of respondents (79%) involved a cross-functional committee in their process.

It’s also important to acknowledge that once your university finally starts deploying its brand strategy, the work is just beginning. You must continue to meaningfully engage faculty and staff and reinforce the strategy in communications to these core groups. However, communications to faculty and staff fail to reflect the brand strategy as much as institutional communications to other audiences do, according to the aforementioned study.

Auditing your internal communications and conducting ongoing market research with internal audiences are among a few best practices, but there’s one way to further strengthen internal brand-building that is completely undervalued by marketers: encouraging faculty and staff to make a donation to your school.

Why do I say undervalued? Only 24% of faculty and staff, on average, are donors to their institution. What an opportunity!

I have been fortunate to work at two different campuses of my university where more than 80% of the faculty and staff made an annual gift. What a powerful statement this support makes – both internally and externally – when those who know the campus best demonstrate their belief in its mission and in the work of their colleagues through a personal financial contribution.

Our annual faculty/staff campaigns focused on building pride, bringing visibility to philanthropy on campus, and promoting participation (making a donation at whatever level is comfortable). The benefits went far beyond the dollars raised, especially as faculty and staff began to see the institution through a donor lens and receive the same level of communication and stewardship. The act of giving became a tipping point in terms of brand advocacy.

In one sense, we’re all marketers and we’re all fundraisers, right?

Marketing is not a department. Rather, we work to position it as an organizational function that all faculty and staff understand, value, and see their role in. In the same way, everyone is a fundraiser. Yes, the chief development officer, the president, or a board member may be the one making “the ask,” but the solicitation represents only a small portion of the overall gift development process. We want our front-line faculty and staff to similarly understand and value fundraising. Ideally, all of our employees are poised to answer the “why” question – why should someone choose your institution (to send their child, to make an annual gift, or to leave a bequest).

Are you partnering with your development colleagues on the annual faculty/staff fundraising campaign and leveraging the internal-brand building opportunity? Can you enhance your current campaign and make it about more than just giving?

And if you market your institution, make sure that you’re making an individual gift too.

Rob Zinkan is associate vice president, marketing, at Indiana University. In his 14 years there, he has also served as vice chancellor for external affairs and assistant dean for advancement at two different IU campuses.

 

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