The relationship between strategy and fundraising in higher education : toward a new theoretical model




Sedlár, Jaromír

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Fundraising is a multi-billion phenomenon in American higher education. However, despite its crucial importance, it remains one of the least studied aspects of higher education. When it is studied, the studies focus heavily on donor motivation and similar tactical issues – as opposed to studying fundraising as a strategic phenomenon, a phenomenon that impacts the academic enterprise as a whole. Considering the gap between the importance of fundraising on one hand and the stagnating discussion about it in the academic literature on the other hand, there is a clear need to contribute fresh insights and generate new debates in academic research on the subject. This study seeks to do so in two ways. First, it proposes a theory-driven answer to the question of why do universities need fundraising. The proposed answer is the conceptual framework of dynamic capabilities. By introducing this new framework that treats fundraising as a strategic phenomenon, the study strengthens the foundations of the research and extends it beyond its traditional focus on donor motivation and related issues. Moreover, it connects the research to voluminous literature in the discipline of strategic management, opening up more opportunities for interdisciplinary research. Second, the study presents the findings of an exploratory qualitative study of a potential relationship between fundraising and strategy in higher education. The probe investigated three cases of major gifts to three academic institutions: a research university, an emerging research university, and a health institution. The empirical findings and the contributions resulting from them could serve as a launching pad for more empirical research in the area. Following the maxim that nothing is as useful as good theory, the study also aims to inform and inspire fundraising practitioners to consider the study’s theoretical underpinnings and empirical findings in their strategic decisions and actions. Finally, the significance of this study may go beyond fundraising. At its basic level, this is a study of the character of strategy in higher education, and of how (if at all) do academic institutions turn strategy into action. The conceptual framework and empirical findings reported in this paper may inform future research in this area.


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