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Advancing the culture of philanthropy on campus by engaging employee support

July 29, 2022

Emily VanderWoude, CFRE

Director of Leadership Giving, Hood College

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

Many higher education institutions struggle with employee giving through faculty and staff giving campaigns. One third of colleges or universities don’t even ask their employees to give, and nearly half have no formal volunteers or structures to assist with efforts in garnering philanthropic support.

With almost $53 billion in private funds donated to higher education in 2021, this effort is critical support beyond a college’s or university’s alumni base. By engaging faculty and staff in philanthropy, institutions strengthen their ranking potential, grant awards, as well as sustain strong fundraising and improve overall financial health.

Thereby, what strategies are best in enhancing the culture of philanthropy on campus through employee engagement?

By creating a philanthropy task force, as I did at Hood College, where campus leaders-i.e. academic department chairs, directors of academic support areas, student life staff, faculty senate/staff council leadership, etc.-are able to express ideas and thoughts on where philanthropy will best support them and their areas, four main themes emerge and strategies within each are specified.

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Philanthropy is best when embedded into all areas of campus life, including when ideas formulate from within, filtering those up to leadership or decision makers.

One strategy is creating “campus philanthropy ambassadors”. These should be non-advancement employees specifically tasked with assisting in encouraging employees to give or participate in a campaign. As well, the community as a whole should hear the good news when goals are achieved and be reminded frequently of these successes. Strong marketing and clear communication across campus continues to embed the idea of philanthropy to everyone and reinforces it.


While most employees should understand the importance of an unrestricted annual fund, if an employee has the ability to give to other areas of need, participation will increase. One of these areas that resonates with many employees is helping students beyond scholarship financial aid, i.e. miscellaneous fees, internship costs, or transportation challenges.

One focused way to do this is to create an endowed student support fund for non-scholarship financial needs of students. This allows the entire employee population to give where they are most connected, including directly helping students.


With the Great Resignation, many employees are stretched thin at their jobs. Additionally, they are also busy with multiple roles on campus, including leadership posts and volunteering at campus-wide events. These and long-tenured employees are the individuals most likely to participate in philanthropy. It is vital to celebrate these people, to recognize them in significant ways for their service, beyond the traditional “kudos” or “thank you!”

A recommendation is to create a recognition program for employees’ time, beyond their job description. Perhaps a special pin or gift when a set number of volunteer hours is reached for the staff or faculty’s time in assisting with campus activities or initiatives. As well, allow more creative ways to recognize philanthropy within current employee giving programs, every year on campus. This should encourage staff and faculty to stay involved and continue to give.


Similar to community, it is imperative everyone on the campus is actively engaged in philanthropy. Including the non-fundraising on-campus staff in philanthropy will increase knowledge and involvement, while helping them to understand the fundraising process. Asking a faculty member to accompany a major gift officer to visit with an alumni or donor will let them see fundraising in action, making them more likely to give themselves!

Most of all, employees want to feel like they have a voice and their ideas to be heard. By creating conduits for ideas to filter throughout, internal buy-in increases. Having regular conversations, celebrations, events, or meetings about philanthropy will only further grow campus-wide understanding about the importance of giving. Engagement is crucial to ensuring projects are funded, goals are met, and big dreams are coming true for the entire campus community.

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Emily VanderWoude and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in spring 2022

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