Institutional Cross-Training: Enhancing Cultivation

By Amy Etheridge

As competition for charitable dollars, institutional reputation, public attention and donor time increases, advancement offices need top-quality training to represent your institution at its best and compete for funds.

Cross-training is an effective way to ensure your staff and board are ready to cultivate prospective donors. While each person is well-versed in their specialty area or area of personal interest - be it the school of business or a specific research area such as oncology - enhancing their knowledge of the institution as a whole will broaden their skills in recruiting donors.

The 2007 CASE Campaign Report found across institutions that fewer than 30% of all campaign donations are made by alumni. This statistic reveals the need for rigorous education of staff and board to connect with individuals, foundations and corporations that account for the remaining 70% of donations to a campaign.

How does one engage a prospective donor that may have little or no connection to your institution? Show the prospect the best your institution has to offer by first showing your best to staff and volunteers.

Staff improves their understanding of the whole institution when they are encouraged to seek out other departments or schools to broaden knowledge. Through seeing other areas of the institution at work and having substantive conversations with leaders in other areas, staff is able to build their commitment to the institution's mission and goals.

With this found and experienced knowledge, develop a fact sheet for cross-training other staff and volunteers who are involved in the cultivation and solicitation of constituents. Here are three key features to include in your cross-training:

  1. Institutional Background
    • General knowledge of institutional history, accredited agencies, current mission and strategic plan for the future
    • Listing of top three competitive or aspiratory institutions (tied to goals in strategic plan)
    • Summary of current financials and costs (tuition, research investments, etc.)
  2. Constituency Demographics
    • Total number, gender, geography, income, and age of students, alumni, parents, patients and other relevant constituencies
    • Top five concentrations - geographically; enrollment by academic majors and professional programs; student (graduation and employment rates, etc.) or patient (functional gains and status three-months post discharge, etc.) outcomes
  3. Recent Publicity & Branding Identity
    • Overview of institutional distinction, key rankings and messages, including current publications for all audiences that call for action
    • Recent awards and notable alumni, professors, researchers, physicians
    • Frequently asked questions on recent issues at your institution

By providing cross-training opportunities and including the points above, new and seasoned employees and volunteers alike will create a team that is proficient and has a breadth of understanding of all matters associated with the institution. This enhancement to your advancement office, and beyond, builds confidence in the public's eye for both the institution and its leaders and encourages integration, collaboration and accountability. In addition, staff and volunteers will have greater confidence in pursuing institutional goals and will have increased satisfaction in a job well done.

Amy Etheridge is president of Giving Leadership Opportunity (GLO), a professional resource for personal, customized nonprofit and business consulting services. GLO is committed to creating growth opportunities for organizations as they seek to achieve their missions and fulfill their community promise. Amy may be reached at or 919.521.5776.

Capability Company helps find, recruit, and hire the best top administrative team members for nonprofits, institutions of higher learning, and hospitals. To find out more about our services and to see if we can help you, visit

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