Come Together: The necessity of collaboration in fundraising for higher education

Frank A. Boyd, Ph.D.

Frank A. Boyd, Ph.D.

Frank Boyd is Vice President of the Higher Education Practice at McAllister & Quinn. Frank brings 26 years of experience in higher education as a faculty member and academic administrator.

A confluence of forces—demographic, economic, and financial—have increased the pressure on colleges and universities, such that analysts regularly suggest that higher education has reached an “inflection point.”  To right-size budgets and introduce new programs that will attract students, most institutions are striving to identify extramural funding to supplement endowment and tuition revenue. 

What explains the capacity of some institutions to successfully secure external funding? For small and mid-sized institutions, the sine qua non of diversifying revenue streams turns on their internal capacity for collaboration. In fact, the ability of many schools to survive may depend on the capacity of academic leaders to collaborate with their counterparts in advancement.   

The importance of this relationship—between academic leaders and advancement—was obvious during my time as a provost and an academic administrator, when I was frequently asked to be the interlocuter between my colleagues in advancement and faculty who could partner with them. More recently, as a Vice President at McAllister & Quinn, I’ve observed that institutions that are most successful at building a grants culture are also those who have a capacity for collaboration between academic affairs and advancement. 

Collaboration is Key 

Why is collaboration more difficult at some schools than others? What characteristics are shared by these successful institutions? Some of these lessons are available from the professionals who have successfully built the collaborative capacity at their home institution, and they share these experiences at conferences like the CASE Summit for Leaders in Advancement next month in New York. The Council of Independent Colleges sponsors another fantastic opportunity when they host meetings that include chief academic officers and advancement leaders, the last of which was in the fall of 2023. 

In 2022, I partnered with Carlo Robustelli at Dickinson College¹ to compare the lessons from successful case studies with a systematic cross-institutional study of more than 1800 individuals from 31 institutions collaborate (responses were from 1316 academic leaders and 512 advancement staff). The findings suggest specific ways in which academic and advancement leaders promote collaboration, and in the process, secure the extramural funding that is sorely needed for their schools. 

What did we find? Academicians and advancement leaders mostly agree that collaboration is important.  While this seems to be an obvious finding, these attitudes do not frequently lead to collaboration on many campuses. The following chart suggests one reason that advancement professionals generally place a higher emphasis on collaboration than their academic colleagues.  

To What Extent Would the Following Enhance Your Institution's Capacity to Secure More Federal Grants?

Faculty generally see collaboration with advancement to be important for their work, with 38.5% of faculty indicating that collaboration was either “very important” or “important,” in comparison to similar responses from 71.5% of advancement professionals. This is hardly a surprising finding, given that fundraisers and grants professionals typically need subject matter experts (read: faculty) to provide context or background for proposals.  Faculty members, on the other hand, privilege teaching and scholarship in their academic disciplines, both which speak to the standards for promotion and tenure. 

Further analysis demonstrates that tenured faculty (41.5%) view collaboration as more important than their pre-tenured counterparts (31.7%).  This can undoubtedly be attributed to requirements of tenure at the schools in the study, where candidate publications carry much more weight than grant submissions (or even wins) when they apply for tenure.   Promotion and tenure standards are notoriously difficult to revise.  As the common bromide in higher education states: institutional change in higher education can exact the same emotional toll of moving a graveyard. 

Dispelling the Myth – You are Fundable  

Carlo and I wanted to analyze more closely the respondents’ attitudes about one area in which faculty and advancement professionals are likely to collaborate: grant-seeking. The organizational home of the grants office is often but not always in advancement, and institutional grant applications require intense coordination between academicians and fundraisers. 

The chart below illustrates the respondents’ evaluation of two functional areas in grant-seeking: identifying external resources and providing additional support for drafting and submission of proposals.  

Their responses are arrayed on a scale of 1-100, corresponding to the degree to which respondents believe that additional support in each function would help secure more external grants. The responses were strikingly similar among faculty and advancement professionals. Most of the institutions in the study have grants offices, often with a small staff of one or two people, though there are several participating institutions who do not have a single full-time employee that is dedicated to support grants work. 

Capacity matters, since prospecting the grant opportunities from the federal government and private foundations is resource intensive. Each group reported that identifying external resources related to the institution’s strategic goals would significantly enhance capacity (faculty 68/100; advancement 69/100). The same goes for the drafting and submission of grant applications. Regarding drafting and submission of grants applications, faculty and advancement also indicate that additional support in this function would increase capacity (faculty 68/100; advancement 62/100).  

To What Extent Would the Following Enhance Your Institution's Capacity to Secure More Federal Grants?

These findings demonstrate the false but persistent belief that faculty from small and mid-sized institutions are not competitive for federal and foundation grants.  This fallacious notion extends beyond investigator-initiated proposals into institutional grants, where school leaders often believe that small or mid-sized institutions can’t be competitive applicants.  That is most certainly the case when institutional leaders do not consciously concentrate on building internal capacity.  My McAllister & Quinn colleague, Jessica Gerrity, thoroughly discusses this issue in her conversation on the monthly podcast by the New American Colleges and Universities (NACU). In fact, when McAllister & Quinn begins a partnership with a school, one of the first tasks is to identify the faculty and staff who are ready to collaborate on this important work, and then work with the school’s leadership team to build the necessary capacity.  

Leverage Collaboration for Extramural Funding Success with McAllister & Quinn 

For institutions who are seeking to expand their revenue streams, how might they leverage our growing understanding of how on-campus collaboration can best be supported? Clearly, understaffed grants offices do not have the bandwidth to build the institutional capacity that is suggested here. 

I experienced those limitations firsthand while serving as a chief academic officer and faculty member, and since joining McAllister & Quinn I have seen how capacity building might proceed at small and mid-sized institutions. In her conversation with Sean Creighton from NACU, Jessica Gerrity provides some detail on the importance of building the internal capacity for effective grant-seeking, and to provide tailored solutions that fit the particular structure and function of each school. 

I have worked with very modestly resourced schools who have little experience with federal or large foundations, but who have prioritized securing extramural funding for growth and innovation.  These institutions consistently generate millions in extramural funding.  

One thing is certain: many institutions will require extramural funding to support their transition from the structure of higher education that has prevailed to whatever it will be in the future. Establishing the conditions for successful collaboration between academicians and advancement will be key, especially for the institutions who successfully navigate the sea-change that’s underway in higher education.

About McAllister & Quinn 

McAllister & Quinn is a premier federal grant consulting and government relations firm. Based in Washington, DC, McAllister & Quinn’s unique approach has helped clients secure over $15 billion in federal grants.  For more information about the HEDS research that is referenced in this post or about how McAllister & Quinn partners with institutions, please Contact Frank Boyd to schedule a conversation.  

¹ The schools that participated in the study are: Augustana College, Centre College, Coe College, Dickinson College, Eckerd College, Furman University, Goucher College, Grand View University, Guilford College, Hampden-Sydney College, Haverford College, Illinois Wesleyan University, Jacksonville University, James Madison University, Lafayette College, Macalester College, Monmouth College, Providence College, Randolph-Macon College, St. Francis University, St. Norbert College, Susquehanna University, Union College, University of Alaska Southeast, University of Puget Sound, Valparaiso University, Warburg College, Washington and Jefferson, Whitman College, Whittier College, and Whitworth University.  

Related Posts