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Institutional Advancement in Higher Education

Historical Background, Areas of Institutional Advancement

With the rapid increase in the costs associated with higher education, there has been an ever-increasing pressure placed upon colleges and universities to raise funds for institutional support. Fund-raising drives in excess of $1 billion are commonplace among top tier institutions in the early twenty-first century. The responsibility for identifying individuals capable of making gifts to the institution falls under the umbrella of institutional advancement. Offices of institutional advancement are typically responsible for all of the institution's relationships with individuals external to the institution. This discussion of institutional advancement in higher education includes two sections. First, it presents a brief history of institutional advancement. In the second section, the four functional areas of institutional advancement are discussed (public relations, publications, alumni relations, and development).

Historical Background

The philanthropic support of educational institutions is not a new concept. Some of the earliest examples of educational philanthropy include Greek philanthropist Cimon's support of the Academy of Socrates and Plato and Alexander the Great's assistance in opening Aristotle's Lyceum through his financial support.

The history of educational philanthropy in the United States can be traced back to medieval universities in twelfth-century Europe. In these institutions, founders were forced to approach potential donors for money and resources for college operations. Wealthy individuals established endowments to support the universities of Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge. The idea of the chief faculty member raising funds for the institution was transferred to the early colonial American colleges.

The first president of Harvard College, Henry Dunster, counted generating resources as part of his duties. While the first solicitation for Harvard College in 1641 is cited as the beginning of fund-raising in this country, Kathleen Kelly commented in 1998 that the extent of the solicitation efforts tends to be overstated and presents a misleading portrayal of early educational institutions as heavily dependent on financial donations. Others also dismiss the notion that fund-raising began in the 1600s given that most early colleges were supported by government funds and taxes. Systematic fund-raising traces its roots to the twentieth century; early efforts were limited and involved only a few wealthy benefactors.

In 1821 Williams College established the first alumni association and in 1823 Brown University established the first alumni fund. Not until 1897 did the first public university, the University of Michigan, establish an alumni association. This difference in organizational behavior between public and private institutions is repeated throughout fund-raising history, although only minor differences exist today.

One of the first great institutional fundraisers was William Lawrence, an Episcopal bishop, who raised more than $2 million for Harvard in 1904–1905 as president of the alumni association and who led a drive at Wellesley College that brought in nearly $2 million. From 1905 to 1915 Charles Sumner Ward and Lyman L. Pierce conducted the first "capital campaign" for the YMCA that raised about $60 million in capital funds.

However, in 1936 fewer than fifty percent of colleges and universities had alumni funds in place and. According to Kelly "apart from a few exceptions related to annual giving…the first full-time staff fundraisers did not appear on the scene until the late 1940's" (p. 149). Private, rather than public institutions employed the first fundraisers, "with only 25 percent of all institutions reporting a centralized development function as recently as 1970" (Brittingham and Pezzulo, p. 82). The majority of those were private institutions. In 1912, twenty-three men who were responsible for organizing former students of their universities founded the Association of Alumni Secretaries (AAS). While some of those involved had responsibilities for raising funds, the majority were engaged in the organization of alumni to support their universities in ways other than financial. By 1938 only one fifth of those surveyed by the American Alumni Council (the new name adopted by the AAS) were engaged in fund-raising activities.

In the spring of 1958 the American Public Relations Association (ACPRA) and the American Alumni Council (AAC) met at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Springs, Virginia. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the need for administrative coordination of the functions of public relations, alumni relations, and fund-raising. In 1974 the AAC and ACPRA merged to form the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). This organization brought together the organizational functions of public relations, publications, fundraising, and alumni relations under the umbrella of institutional advancement.

Areas of Institutional Advancement

Public relations. The first functional area within institutional advancement is public relations. Through this department, an institution crafts messages for its various publics. Frequently the director of public relations serves as the institution's chief spokesperson. The public relations arm of institutional advancement also cultivates and manages the university's relationships with members of the media, which may consist of being available to members of the media when they have questions about the institution or its activities or contacting the media to get placement of stories. Many public relations offices facilitate media relationships by maintaining a list of faculty members who are experts on specific subject areas and having them available for media interviews when comments are needed for news stories.

In some public relations offices, there is an individual or a team that is responsible for planning special events for the institution. These may include commencement events or other large-scale special occasions that will increase the public visibility of the institution.

Publications. The second functional area within institutional advancement is publications. Publications offices are responsible for all print materials used by the institution. Within publications offices are graphic designers, proofreaders, and photographers.

Typically, an institution's publications office is responsible for the design and production of the alumni magazine. This is frequently the largest and most visible of the publications produced by an institution. Depending upon the size of a college or university, individual colleges, schools, or departments may have their own magazines or newsletters. The design and maintenance of the college or university web pages also falls to members of the publications staff.

Publications departments are also responsible for the consistency of an institution's print image and the proper use of university symbols. This is frequently accomplished by requiring internal production of all print pieces or by subjecting anything that has been designed outside of the publications office to scrutiny by a member of the publications staff. This review, coupled with the office having the ability to stop the printing of a publication that does not conform to university standards, allows for a tight maintenance of the institution's graphic identity.

Alumni relations. The alumni relations office is primarily responsible for maintaining ties between graduates of a higher education institution and their alma maters. This is typically accomplished through events held for alumni either at the university or college or by scheduling programs away from campus. For example, a college or university alumni office may be responsible for organizing homecoming festivities for alumni at the institution.

The activities of the alumni office are frequently directed by an alumni board. At some colleges and universities, the board has hiring and firing authority over the director of alumni relations. The board helps to direct the activities of the association and to shape the programming for alumni. Two different types of alumni associations exist in higher education. The first is a dues-based organization that requires graduates to join the association by paying yearly dues (or perhaps by making a certain level of gift to the annual fund). The other type is an alumni association to which all alumni become members automatically without any required contribution or dues payment.

The office of alumni relations is also responsible for maintaining a chapter or club system for the institution. These clubs or chapters are separate organizations located in cities in which there are large concentrations of alumni. Frequently these organizations have their own officers and may have responsibility for their own finances.

Alumni offices also design programs targeted to specific alumni affinity groups, for example, a program designed for graduates of an institution who were members of a fraternity or sorority. These programs help maintain the bond created by the extracurricular activities alumni participated in while they were students on campus.

Development. The development office frequently contains the largest number of positions within an institutional advancement division. The office's organization may be centralized, decentralized, or a hybrid of these two. Organization is often dependent upon the size of the institution. In a centralized environment, all individuals responsible for fund-raising are housed in one physical location and report either directly or indirectly to the same person. This type of organization is better suited to smaller colleges and universities. In a decentralized environment, development officers are spread out among the various academic units of the institution. The fund-raisers in these schools and colleges report to the deans of their respective areas. This organization is often found in larger institutions. The hybrid model mixes the centralized and decentralized, with development officers physically located in a college or school, yet reporting to both a dean and a chief development officer.

Within a development office, there are a number of distinct areas of operation, each of which are discussed in detail.

Annual fund. The primary responsibility of the annual fund of a college or university is to ask graduates of the institution for small gifts that are given yearly. Annual fund gifts can range from one dollar to ten thousand dollars or more. These gifts are solicited primarily through the mail or by telephone. Occasionally, high-end annual fund gifts are solicited in person. Annual fund gifts can be either restricted (to be used only for a specific purpose) or unrestricted (to be used however the institution deems appropriate).

The annual fund is one of the most important components of a mature development program. Not only does it provide annual operating dollars for the institution's budget, it also helps to identify individuals who are interested in making gifts to the institution and who may want to make larger gifts in the future.

The annual fund office may also help to organize a senior class gift program through which graduating seniors make a pledge (either for a single year or over a number of years) to donate for a specific project identified by the graduating class. Many annual funds are also responsible for a parents fund, through which parents of current and former students are asked for gifts.

Annual fund offices are also the coordinators of matching gift solicitations. Some companies have standing agreements with their employees that the company will match any gifts made to a charitable organization. Annual fund officers craft specific solicitations to their graduates who are employees of those companies, asking them for gifts and reminding them that their donation comes with additional funds for the institution.

Major gifts. Major gifts are larger than annual gifts. They frequently are composed of a pledge, on which payments are spread over a number of years. Because of the large amounts of money involved in major gift solicitations, individuals who have longstanding relationships with the potential donors usually solicit them.

Major gift prospects are identified in many ways. They may be annual fund donors who have a history of providing support to the institution. Other individuals are identified because they have a level of wealth that would allow them to make a major gift to the institution and they have an interest in an area which the institution is seeking support.

Once major gift prospects have been identified, they are assigned either to a development officer or to an individual who is engaged in major gifts fundraising. At most institutions the president has a list of individuals with whom close relationships must be developed or already exist. Other individuals who are involved in the major gift process include deans, some department chairs, and select faculty members and administrators.

These individuals bring their prospects closer to the institution by involving them in programs, inviting them to serve on advisory committees or on boards of trustees. Throughout this process, the prospect's interests emerge. Once the development officer has an idea of what sort of gift the prospect might make, a team is assembled of individuals who are closest to the prospect and who are best suited to ask the prospect to consider the donation. The actual solicitation is usually done face-to-face. Actually getting a definitive "yes" to a major gift solicitation may take a considerable amount of negotiation. The prospective donor may want to change how the gift would be used, the amount of the gift, or other specifics related to the request.

Capital campaigns. Capital campaigns are intensive efforts to raise a significant amount of money for an institution over a limited period of time in order to increase the institution's capital assets, either physical (through the erection of buildings, etc.) or financial (by increasing the institution's endowment). Many institutions also conduct comprehensive campaigns that raise operating funds in addition to capital funds.

Campaigns generally progress in four phases: the planning phase, the silent phase, the public phase, and the accounting phase. In the planning phase, the institution determines what dollar amount could realistically be raised over the period of the campaign. Additionally, the organization ascertains what volunteers will be recruited to help with the campaign, how many staff members will be needed to meet the goal, and how many individuals will be identified as campaign prospects. Colleges and universities may employ outside counsel to assist with this phase of the campaign.

In the silent phase, individuals who have been cultivated are solicited for campaign gifts. The institution's prospects who have been cultivated the most and have the capacity to make the largest gifts are usually solicited first. While active requests are being made during this phase, only individuals who are very close to the institution would be aware that a campaign is in progress. Most institutions attempt to raise between one-half to two-thirds of the dollar total in this phase of the campaign. Doing so reduces the risk that the institution will not make the campaign goal in the next phase.

In the public phase of a campaign, the institution lets all of its constituencies know that a campaign is in progress, what the dollar goal for the campaign is, the total amount of money raised to date, and the date selected for the end of the campaign. This is usually done in conjunction with a special event for those who have been involved in the campaign and those who will be asked to be major contributors. Additionally, press conferences may be held for the media and if building projects are involved, official groundbreaking ceremonies may be conducted. During the public phase, individuals who have been cultivated through the silent phase are solicited. Finally, in the closing months of the campaign, a large-scale mailing is frequently conducted so that individuals who cannot contribute at a major gift level have the opportunity to participate and feel included.

The final phase of a campaign is the accounting phase. During this phase staff members who were brought on board specifically for the campaign may be let go, the institution tries to collect unfulfilled pledges, and the plans are made for either restarting the campaign cycle or returning to noncampaign operations.

Planned giving. Planned giving is the term given to any gift which involves a transfer of assets other than cash. These gifts are planned because they frequently have tax consequences or involve other structuring. The most familiar of all planned gifts is the bequest, where an individual leaves either a portion or all of their estates to a higher education institution after their death. Also quite common is the transfer of stock or real estate to the institution. However, many other vehicles exist for potential donors to make planned gifts, including those that create a lifetime income for the donor or a beneficiary.

Planned giving officers are often attorneys familiar with tax and estate law. While other development officers may have the ability to discuss planned giving options with prospects, many institutions have planned giving officers on staff to deal with the details of a structured gift.

Prospect research. Within the development department, identification of individuals who have the ability to make major gifts to the institution falls to the prospect research department. Once these prospects have been identified, prospect research, through the use of print and electronic resources, develops dossiers on each individual. These profiles include information on the prospect's family background, interests, previous giving history for the institution and other institutions, a rating indicating for how much the prospect should be solicited, and a cultivation and solicitation strategy based upon the office's research.

Advancement records. The advancement records area is responsible for all gifts and pledges that come into the university. Specifically, advancement records documents donations and pledges electronically for each donor in the university's alumni and donor record system. Address information is kept on each alumnus or alumna, parent, and friend of the institution. Additionally, information that is frequently attached to each address record can include previous gifts and pledges, interests, names of family members, year of graduation and degree type (if a graduate), and other biographical information.

Donor records also generates receipts for those making gifts and may also generate acknowledgement letters letting donors know that their gifts were received and that the college or university appreciates the gift.

Advancement records also sees that daily receipts are deposited into the university accounts and that restricted gifts are posted to the correct funds. At the end of each month this office also generates income statements breaking down gift totals in many categories, and may provide year-to-date totals along with comparisons to previous years.

Corporate and foundation relations. Depending upon the size of the development operation, there may be a department of corporate and foundation relations or an individual who has the same responsibility. Because of the intense writing required for submitting a foundation proposal, individuals in corporate and foundation relations spend much of their time writing grant proposals. In smaller offices, the responsibility for developing relationships with foundations and corporations falls to individual development officers.

Stewardship. Once an individual, foundation, or corporation makes a gift to an institution, the responsibility of maintaining the relationship falls to the stewardship office (in addition to those involved in the solicitation). Being good stewards of a gift includes providing donors with annual reports detailing how their gifts were used and which individuals benefited from the generosity. Additionally, the stewardship office maintains the record of the things to which pledges are designated and to whom the end of the year reports should be sent. The institution also has a responsibility to the donor that it will be a good steward of the donated funds and that they will be used according to the donor's wishes. Finally, the process of thanking a donor is critical to the development process because individuals who have made gifts in the past are the best prospects for the future.


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