Working with University Giving for Funding Opportunities

February 18, 2018

Daniel L. Gadke & Kasee K. Stratton; Mississippi State University

A part of an academic’s role is to find and secure funding. The ability to acquire funding may often play a large role in a scholar’s ability to earn tenure and promotions; however, many academics struggle with acquiring funding throughout their careers. Von Hippel and Von Hippel (2015) reported primary investigators put approximately 116 hours into each proposal and co-primary investigators account for approximately 55 hours in, with only about 3 to 20% of proposals being awarded across many agencies (e.g., IES, NIH, NSF). This is a great deal of time and effort for a low rate of return. With recurring news of federal budget cuts, limited funds, and programs drying up, it is unlikely we will see an upswing in the number of grants funded in the near future.

Aside from the competitive nature of the granting world, many early career faculty have difficulty acquiring mentorship on the topic, despite the importance of establishing a track record of funding early in their careers. Fortunately, there are other avenues of funding available outside major scientific granting bodies. Here, we are going to explore one of those avenues: working with your university or college’s department of giving.

University Giving 

All universities have a mechanism for soliciting funds, whether that be from private donors interested in a cause, corporations, or alumni. This mechanism may be called different things depending on the university you work for. Here, at Mississippi State, it is referred to as the Mississippi State University (MSU) Foundation (; at my alma mater, Illinois State University, it is University Advancement (  Elsewhere, it may be referred to as development, stewardship, endowments, or donor relations offices. Often, universities have a representative from this mechanism whose role is to work with your college to acquire funds.

Given your place of employment, there are a number of ways you may be able to work with your university’s advancement unit to find funds to support your program, students, career, research, etc. Examples may include, scholarships, gifts-in-kind, or establishing a fund where monetary funds and donations can be placed. At MSU, this is referred to as an advancement fund. Let’s consider some important points and examples for working with your university’s advancement mechanism:

Understanding giving at your university. Before doing anything, meet with a representative from your university’s giving unit. Given there is so much variance across universities, it is important to understand how the unit is able to provide support to you and your program. In some cases, there may need to be a minimum fund/donation amount (e.g., $5,000) to start, in others you might be given an account number and can start finding funding sources at a later time, and at some universities this may not even be a possibility. Here at MSU, any faculty member with an initiative can start an advancement fund and solicit donations start asking their family members to make charitable donations to if they want. Regardless, understanding this mechanism is essential to moving forward. Fortunately, one of my faculty mentors was fluent in working university giving and passed little nuggets of wisdom down to me. My first week on the job, I reached out to learn more about our College of Education’s giving representative.

Educating your giving unit on school psychology. School psychology can be a confusing world for many; however, most of the things school psychologists do are attractive to donors, private giving entities, etc. Helping kids with academics, behavior concerns, various disabilities, trauma, working with English language learners, and so on; school psychologists are problem solvers who improve outcomes for children and their families in any number of ways. The representative is going to need to understand this and what it is you are doing to make that impact. Universities are regularly looking for ways to promote themselves, approach donors, and receive good PR. This could include highlighting your lab on autism, trauma, or school climate.

What can university giving help with. University giving units can help in a variety of ways. Many may have ideas of private donors or foundations that may be interested in your work. They can also help coordinate fundraising and giving efforts. They might be able to coordinate a calling day or mailings to alumni from your program or college to let them know about the opportunity to support an initiative. If you run a fundraiser (e.g., a 5K walk/run, sale, etc.) they can promote and help with fund collection. On big university and nationwide giving days (e.g., Giving Tuesday; November 27, 2018), they can promote your campaign on a large scale as one of universities options of ways to give. Coordinating these events through your giving unit helps ensure all donors are also provided with appropriate tax paperwork. They can help write to organizations or corporations who have giving units, who may be interested in giving to you. For example, we wrote to a local steel mill with a foundation about the services we provide to children and were awarded $50,000. University units of giving are motivated to provide support for a number of reasons, one is they often get a cut of funds raised; here is it 5% off the top for any amount.

Mississippi State has created a video to promote donations to our clinic, and created a commercial that was put out on the SEC network along with an entire campaign to promote one of our research labs on CHARGE Syndrome.

How to pursue funds. There are a number of ways you can pursue funds to place in a university giving account. At MSU, we have done this a number of ways. First, consider simple fundraisers. We have 5Ks, t-shirt sales, work with local business to have days when portions of sales go to the fund. We have worked with student organizations to help coordinate these events, which has been wildly successful. Our universities Panhellenic Council does a great deal of fundraising for our Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic/School Psychology Service Center. Secondly, most large corporations have foundation branches that focus on giving to local initiatives and causes. Consider targeting these. As mentioned before, we wrote a small (i.e., 5 page) proposal of what we do to a local steel mill and received what will hopefully turn into reoccurring funds. Third, we have worked with actual state Foundations to receive funds. Finally, we’ve worked to attract private donors who are interested in supporting your work. While it took several years for us to get momentum and learn how to best cultivate a relationship with our MSU Foundation, in the last 6 months we have received around $200,000 in gifts from fundraising, corporate, and private donors, which require little front end effort and are often reoccurring.

What can these funds be used for? This is an important question to ask your university giving arm, as it may vary. Here, there are little  estrictions on the use of the funds as long as they are supporting ourinitiative in some capacity; however, donors may restrict their use (e.g., have to use to pay for a graduate assistant). We have used funds to support students as graduate assistants, cover research materials, cover clinic and program overhead, cover the cost of travel for program related activities. Recently, we were even given funds to renovate a space on our campus to expand our clinical training. Given much of our research is tied to our clinical work, having a thriving training clinic only enhances our opportunities for research. Perhaps most importantly, these funds are protected by your university’s giving unit; our department head, dean, provost, etc. cannot touch the funds for any reason, only the account holder (i.e., you!).

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