A New University or College Trustee’s Guide to the 3 W’s of Stewardship

3 Ws of Stewardship

Welcome to your new adventure. You may have been invited into this crucial governance role as a steadying force, a change agent or a contributor of your expertise. No matter your role, get ready to play it by focusing on the 3 W’s of stewardship: Wisdom, Wealth and Work.

Begin your journey by immersing yourself in the college. Review its mission, history, strategic plan, master plan, status of accreditations, SWOT analysis, competitive benchmarks, key operating plans, financial statements, budget, university magazines and organizational culture. Meet all the cabinet members and know their key priorities. Meet all other trustees and know the committees they serve.

The 3 W’s of stewardship – wisdom, wealth and work – underpin the twelve things you’ll need to know to steer the college to health and prosperity:

1. Know Revenue Sources and Financials: What is our revenue breakdown? Are we a tuition-dependent college? Are we research funded? What is the extent of our corporate and foundation funding? What percentage of our revenue is supported by our athletics?

What is the health of our financials? How much debt are we carrying? What are our largest categories of expenses? How fast are they growing?

2. Know Enrollment Numbers: What stories do our enrollment data and trends tell? Which population is the bedrock of our student body: undergraduate, graduate, adult, online, international, or doctorate? What headwinds and tailwinds are we experiencing in enrollment?

3. Know Student Success Metrics: What is our data on crucial student success and outcomes measures? “A happy student who completes the program is often the best recruiter for a school” adds Scott Gallagher, former Vice President at William Woods University.

“What is our first-year persistence rate and is it increasing or declining – for both regular and neediest students?” asks Michael Larkin of Holy Cross College of Notre Dame who has served in leadership positions at numerous reputable Catholic institutions.

What investments are we making to achieve these outcomes?

4. Know External Relationships: What is the state of our corporate, governmental, accreditation and community relations? What is the state of our alumni relations across generations of alumni?

5. Know College Stature: Are we a college of consequence? If so, how? Do we have influential peer and corporate advisory boards? Who sits on our advisory boards? What kinds of corporations, non-profits and civic organizations are knocking down our doors to recruit our graduates?   What’s the measure of our thought leadership? Do we dominate Google page one in areas of our competitive strength?

6. Know Academic Excellence: What are our signature academic programs? What other programs could join the ranks of our signature programs in the near future? Which academic programs are thriving and which are struggling? Do we dominate Google page one for our signature programs?

How many areas of expertise and fields are we top 5 in?

7. Know The College Brand and Marketing: Do I know our institutional brand and sub-brands? What are their promises, values, positions, brand lines, and ideals?

What percentage of revenue is the college investing in marketing? How does that compare with cross-app peers? Most non-profit colleges and universities are investing between 2% and 5% of their total revenue on marketing, when they ought to be investing at least 10%. In comparison, most for-profit colleges are investing almost 20% of their total revenue on marketing.

8. Know Endowment and Your Role in Fundraising: What is the size of the college war chest that is helping attract and retain the most talented students and faculty, improve student experience and modernize our facilities?

What is our alumni giving rate, trended over the last decade? Have we cultivated a culture of giving amongst our alumni? Are our capital campaigns goals primarily realized by a few major donors or a combination of major, minor and a broader community of alumni donors?

A favorite question of Jim Langley of Langley Innovations is: What is our rate of donor attrition and how does it compare to similar institutions?

“In the next capital campaign, am I ready to play the role of a strategist, visionary, a donor and an ambassador who brings others to the donor fold?” adds Kathy Groves who is a senior leader at William Woods University.

9. Know Technology Infrastructure: Do I know our institutional technology strategy? What percentage of our budget is the college investing in technology infrastructure? In our digital age, any college investing less than 10% of its budget on technology infrastructure is in danger of getting left behind.

10. Know Athletics: Do I know our institutional athletics strategy? Are we a NAIA, Division I, II or III athletics institution? What percentage of our undergraduates are athletes? How do the athletes perform academically? What impact are athletes having on the school spirit and a culture of achievement amongst the rest of the students?

11. Know Societal Trends: What key higher education, demographic, societal trends and micro-trends are affecting us? What opportunities are they creating? Remember the future is already here and it’s sitting on the periphery – and the periphery of today is the red hot center of tomorrow.

12. Know The Type of Board and Your Role: Am I joining an operating board, a philanthropic board, an activist board, a diverse board, or a collaborative board? What is the highest good I can bring to the institution? What expertise will I bring to the board and its committees?

Becoming a college trustee might be the pinnacle of your career. It will require you to be selflessly devoted to the wellbeing and success of the institution. You’ll have to master the sacred arts of deep listening and asking a few good questions. You will be expected to advocate for the college, share your wisdom by telling stories, recruit donors, build new bridges and a whole lot more.

If these steps are outlined in the onboarding process offered by the college, you are in good hands.

By Abu Noaman. Abu is the CEO of Elliance, a human-centered higher education strategy, branding and marketing agency that has been helping colleges and universities grow enrollment, endowment and reputation for the past 30 years. His upbringing in the Korakorums  (with the highest concentration of 25K+ peaks in the world) instilled a worldview for doing few extraordinary things well rather than lots of mediocre things. He loves search engine algorithms as much as Jung, problem solving as much as art, and the visible as much as the invisible. 

You can connect with Abu on LinkedIn or contact him here.