Cultivating Young Leaders

Posted on 05/15/2017

Most educational institutions today have programs in place that appeal to young alumni and engage them in philanthropy. Some offer loyalty clubs to encourage and recognize consistent support regardless of the size of an individual’s gift. Many offer discounted giving requirements to recent graduates who want to become members of the annual fund’s leadership gift society. Others offer volunteer opportunities for young alumni who want to serve as committee members, class agents, and online ambassadors.

Such efforts are typically coordinated as part of an institution’s annual giving program. Unfortunately, few advancement programs today are doing much to identify and cultivate the next generation of major donors. Campaign and development strategies typically focus on those prospects who show signs of wealth capacity and inclination now – not necessarily those who are likely to be institutional leaders or major gift prospects in the future.

Johns Hopkins University is an exception. A few years ago they launched their Johns Hopkins Fellows program as a way to cultivate and educate their top leadership prospects, most under the age of 50. The program engages approximately 25 members at a time, each one serving a two-year term.

While there are no specific membership requirements, the rule of thumb used when vetting potential candidates is that is should be realistic that they will be capable of making a major philanthropic commitment to the university in the next 5-10 years and be suitable for advisory boards or other university leadership positions. Since it’s a decentralized organization, prospective members are nominated by the deans and advancement officers from each of the university’s schools and units. At the same time, there are no set giving requirements for members. Instead, gift expectations are determined on a case-by-case basis and left up to the schools and units that nominated them.

Once on board, members are put through a rigorous “curriculum” to teach them about the inner-workings of the university. This deep dive into university management includes two on-campus meetings, two optional webinars, and one seminar event in a major city each year. Activities are coordinated around university board meetings since trustees are often invited to participate. Member meetings might include an update from the university’s president and/or other university leadership, an overview of key institutional functions (e.g., finance, enrollment, academic programs, advancement) and a chance to hear from important groups (e.g., a student panel, discussions with deans).

The Johns Hopkins Fellows program is supported by one full-time dedicated staff person who works in partnership with officers from across the university to ensure that the recruitment and engagement of each and every member are carefully and thoughtfully orchestrated. While this small group of young leaders may not necessarily be critical to the university’s major gift fundraising efforts today, it will most certainly be a key element in the success of campaigns that the university undertakes in the future.

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