Dec. 3, 2019

By Shane Burgess, University of Arizona Vice President for Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension

Philanthropy has been more important to us every year. All of our transformational initiatives have happened because of it. Although I officially spend 25% of my work time doing development, I’m always thinking about how it could be affected by, or fit in with, the work I’m doing all of the time.

I’ve learned about what we call "development" and what inspires personal philanthropy since I became a university faculty member in 2002. My learning curve had a very gentle slope for my first six years, but I listened when I was exposed and was involved when I could be. That proved invaluable for when I came here and my learning curve went exponential.

Working successfully with donors comes naturally to very few people. Thankfully, we have some of them on our team—our talented professional development officers. All CALS academic unit heads and associate deans do development. Some faculty are also very involved, and more naturally will be. Here are some things I’ve learned from our pros and the hard way; I hope they may help you, too.

Donors want to know how you can be a part of realizing their vision not yours. You need exciting ways to help donors transform the world by helping solve their hitherto seemingly intractable problems.

Face-to-face visits are essential. Direct-mail letters and email blasts do not raise major gifts and may annoy people.

Listen more than talk. Ask open-ended questions, and truly listen to the answers. Do donors want a habitable planet for their grandchildren? Are they struggling to get a highly trained workforce? Do they care that first-generation students are food insecure?

Identify where the philanthropist is on the "decision spectrum" and then help them move through it. Are they indifferent, troubled, fearful, opposed, neutral, studying, interested, enthused, or committed to give?

Tell stories, well. This is an iterative process, often over multiple visits. Identify where the philanthropist is on their decision spectrum, determine which direction they are moving and respond accordingly.

Never prejudge who is, or can be, philanthropic.

Everyone is connected. Always show everyone why he or she can be as excited about your work as you are. If you meet someone who seems to want to help you in any way, contact your development officer about the next steps.

Post-gift stewardship is critical. How you treat donors is always noticed.

When you cannot help a donor realize their vision, help them to find your colleague who can. No one "owns" a donor and we are all, including the donor, on the same team. Note it when people help you this way.

Please note we do have three development policies we all must follow:

Media contact:
Bethany Rutledge, director of administration and communications