Learning to Raise Money -- as an Academic Administrator

Michael Bugeja recalls how he learned development and offers tips for those who didn't expect that to be part of their careers.

February 12, 2008

For more than 20 years I had been an award-winning journalism teacher with former students ranging from mega star Garth Brooks at Oklahoma State University to the late E! network movie critic Anderson Jones at Ohio University, with a few Pulitzer Prize winners in between. So it surprised hundreds of alumni when I took an administrative job with no teaching duties but plenty of fund-raising ones.

“Won’t you miss the classroom?” asked colleagues who knew my love of students and doubted I would succeed as a fund-raiser when I became director of the Greenlee School at Iowa State University.

I, on the other hand, was eager to raise funds for professors who often lack the resources that they need to be effective educators and researchers.

Unhappy with budget cuts and reversions, I had reached that stage of academic life when I had to decide my fate: Make do with my sliver of the legislative pie chart and fade into retirement, or chart a bolder plan of my own.

That plan was to work with the ISU Foundation to enhance programming, boost professional development and maintain first-rate facilities.

Fact is, external support, always vital at private schools, is increasingly so at public institutions as lawmakers allocate fewer dollars to higher education, forcing institutions to raise tuition. That also motivated me to hone my skills as a fund-raiser to attract scholarships and paid internships so that students could afford a degree.

To be fair, however, I knew the fundamentals of fund-raising before I took a job as a full-time administrator. Before relocating to Iowa State, I had the advantage of working closely with some of the best development officers in business in the president’s office at Ohio University.

I didn’t deal directly with benefactors under former President Robert Glidden and Len Raley, then executive director of the Ohio Foundation. I did something more educational concerning fund-raising: I helped write annual reports and edit other documents recognizing and thanking benefactors. I put to practice in my current post what I learned at OU. In the past five years, the Greenlee School has raised millions in pledges, cash and in-kind support from individual donors and media corporations. As our first priority, we increased giving to programming and faculty development. Then we focused on scholarships. Now, with a new Ph.D. proposal under review, we’re emphasizing assistantships and fellowships. The theme of any effective campaign is to align it with the strategic plan of the unit and institution. I learned that at OU, too.

At the moment we are using additional funds to complete our building renovation with state of the art technology augmented by interpersonal space -- part of the original design before I arrived at ISU -- which gave me insight into the culture of the place. Professors wanted their students to think of our building as their second home. The more students remain in our midst, the more opportunity we have to interact with them face to face. That does wonders for climate especially during Iowa winters.

The open area in the central part of our building is furnished with lounge chairs and café tables and stools where students congregate in luxurious environs. Vending machines are nearby. The furniture and walls look new although they are almost five years old because our students consider Hamilton Hall, where journalism and communication are housed, their shared property.

We want them to share more than that -- a legacy with faculty and alumni founded in lifelong learning. This relates to any program at any college or university.

Taking in part what I had learned at OU, we have codified 10 best fund-raising practices outlined below for chairs, directors and deans:

1. Spend an hour a day on alumni relations. Keep contact by letter, phone, e-mail and personal visits, asking how benefactors are doing and what is new in their lives. Relationship building requires a genuine interest in why a benefactor feels that his or her home department is special. Soon you come to understand the culture of your unit better than you thought you did and grasp, conscientiously, why the focus on benefactor relations not only generates external funding but new friendships based on shared values.

2. Send a "Good News" e-mail to your alumni and friends about faculty, staff and student achievements. Each month I ask colleagues to send me word on their latest contributions in the areas of teaching/advising, research/scholarship, professional service and community service. We’ve been doing this now for four years and so can chart productivity with data from previous years. It has risen each year in most categories. This has been an effective tool because we can document empirically a direct connection between support and achievement. Moreover, benefactors want to keep in touch and help celebrate success. So we provide the contact numbers of faculty and students to foster continuing dialogues within our unit because fundraising is a collective endeavor. No administrator should take full credit for annual giving levels as all activities in academe require a team approach, and that includes staff members whose daily contributions typically go unsung. Moreover, benefactors usually remember professors, not administrators, when they feel the urge to give back to the institution that made a difference in their lives. Here is an example of "Good News from Greenlee" from our archives.

3. Put out a newsletter and invite alumni and friends to network with each other through it. The Greenlee School newsletter, really an annual yearbook, is shared in print and online. You can check it out here. We also publish and post a monthly newsletter that focuses on faculty, students and alumni. That newsletter goes in faculty boxes with agendas and items of the next faculty meeting. Here is an example. In these and other publications, profile projects that alumni may want to underwrite, and otherwise use these forums to thank benefactors for their support as well as acknowledge anonymous giving without identifying benefactors, of course, but by showcasing how their gifts have helped faculty, students and staff.

4. Use your online home page for alumni and benefactor relations. We do profiles of alumni each month in addition to "Good News from Greenlee" and monthly newsletters. Here are two from our online archives: Louis M. Thompson and Edith (Lillie) Bartley.

5. Send a mass mailing that doesn’t ask for money. We do a holiday letter between Thanksgiving and New Year's, and we do not ask for donations or support but use the opportunity to express our gratitude, in keeping with the season. We also send an annual report at the end of our spring semester or quarter, noting productivity of faculty and students in addition to alumni achievements.

6. Create an advisory council and, if the unit is large enough, national chapters in major cities sanctioned as official by the Alumni Association. Bylaws of the Greenlee School’s Council and part of its more recent structure were based on successful bodies such as found at Syracuse, Georgia and Ohio University journalism and communication schools and colleges. We are opening alumni chapters around the country, thanks to the leadership of two Council members and our assistant director Barbara Mack. See our online Web site.

7. Write letters of thanks rather than send mail merge letters. We use ISU Thank You cards for this purpose, and I enclose a business card with each individual hand-written note to foster increased contact with the vast majority of our donors. We have anywhere from 500 to 750 every year, so this is a year-round activity. Our students also write thank-you letters when they receive word that they will receive scholarships, or else we withhold their awards -- a practice that another colleague, Kim Smith, recommended when he was undergraduate director. Benefactors not only appreciate these letters; students often benefit as well, making important mentors who share with them a culture and common interest in their alma mater.

8. Invite alumni groups to interact with students and faculty. We asked our major benefactors what they would be willing to do -- guest lecture, invite job shadowing, judge contests, etc. -- and compiled a booklet with contact numbers, distributing that to the faculty. Professors and alumni network all the time now without my requesting or scheduling this. After all, as mentioned previously, our benefactors typically give because of teachers. They want to work with them still. While administrators don’t have to monitor this, they do have to support it, to the extent of providing travel and professional development accounts for each faculty member. Thanks to the level of giving of our benefactors, each faculty member in the Greenlee School enjoys a $3,000 professional development account as well as a $2,000 account for grant- and external giving activities.

9. Use homecoming and graduation ceremonies as benefactor opportunities. Host open houses, brunches, etc., and acknowledge college and university alumni awards. Take pictures. Post them. Moreover, try to schedule award presentations around pivotal seasonal events so that alumni and/or council members have additional reasons to visit their alma mater. We use homecoming as an occasion to present our coveted Schwartz Award, the highest honor ISU bestows on alumni and friends who have made significant accomplishments in journalism and communication.

10. In speeches, annual reports and other correspondence -- even ones not necessarily directed at benefactors -- mention their legacies and build a culture around a common theme embraced by all. Our graduate program embraces communication with practice, a take-off on ISUs “science with practice” motto. Our undergraduate degree programs are known for “hard-hat journalism” and “hands-on advertising.” Those monikers represent our 400-hour required internship, one of the toughest in the nation. Alumni and council members represent both our graduate and undergraduate programs, and we link their contributions to our mottos so that our culture can be embraced by newly hired professors when we continuing ones are long gone. This is why an emphasis on "culture" is more important than on "vision" when hiring or appointing new unit heads and explains why benefactor relations is vital in any leadership position. As an example, the Greenlee School is known for international communication across our graduate and undergraduate degrees. We are in the early stages of creating a foreign correspondence internship program in the name of one of our legacies, World War II combat reporter Jack Shelley -- who at age 95 is still a member of our Advisory Council.

An administrator embodies the culture that alumni have built. I typically wear a 1915 pin from then Iowa State College, which reminds me of the legacy of which I am a part. I have requested lapel pins and memorabilia of our most senior distinguished alumni, past and present, and we will display them in Hamilton Hall and wear them with the knowledge of where these pins have been or who has worn them since World War II. Our alumni include the late Robert Bartley of The Wall Street Journal, who won a Pulitzer Prize and Medal of Freedom, and the late Hugh Sidey, long-time White House bureau chief for Time Magazine. When students ask about these donated items, we can tell them the story of our most successful journalists and continue their legacies.

You can enhance these practices or develop your own, remembering that alumni, faculty and students are the foundation of any program. Enlist them in your efforts, and you will raise funds as well as consciousness of your unit’s contributions to society, ensuring your culture for future generations.


Michael Bugeja’s looking for Garth Brooks at the moment to sponsor a scholarship for aspiring music critics. After leaving Oklahoma State in 1986, Bugeja served as professor and later as associate director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and as special assistant to the President at Ohio University. In 2003 he became director of the Greenlee School at Iowa State University.


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