Higher education development officers' use of affinity-seeking strategies in soliciting contributions
Edwards, Chuck C.
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The shortage of financial resources is a compelling circumstance for today's public colleges and universities leaving most universities and colleges increasingly reliant on private contributions from individuals, corporations, and foundations. Because of this enhanced reliance on private philanthropy, the activities employed by the office of institutional advancement or development, and subsequently its officers, have become crucial functions of the higher education administration (Lowenstein, 1997). Unfortunately, current literature has explored only two parts of the equation, the donors and their characteristics and the institution and its attributes, while virtually ignoring the third piece of the puzzle, the development officer. This dissertation is the first in-depth examination of the communicative strategies employed by development officers as they interact with potential donors. In 1984, Bell and Daly systematically defined 25 affinity-seeking strategies by which "individuals attempt to get others to like and to feel positive toward them" (p. 91). That affinity-seeking construct was utilized in this study. This study sought to fill a current gap in the literature and to supply a practical framework of specific communicative strategies that could be effectively utilized by development professionals and administrators as they solicit funds, train new employees, and recruit future leaders in the profession. Answers were sought to five specific research questions: (1) What affinity-seeking strategies are used by development officers as they seek contributions at a post- secondary institution of higher education? (2) Does the gender of the development officer affect the types of affinity-seeking strategies used by a development officer? (3) Does a development officer's years of experience affect the types of affinity-seeking strategies used in solicitations? (4) Which affinity-seeking strategies are reported as most effective by development officers as they seek initial donations? and (5) Which affinity-seeking strategies are reported as most effective by development officers as they seek subsequent donations? A multi-stage cluster sampling technique (Babbie, 1990) was implemented in this study to systematically select a final participant pool of 21 schools from 17 states. All of the institutions were classified in 2000 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as either a Doctoral/Research University-Extensive, or a Doctoral/Research University-Intensive university. The final number of development officers included in this study was 148. A survey method was employed for this study. All participants were asked to reply to three different questionnaires designed to measure the behaviors and attitudes development officers have regarding their use of affinity-seeking strategies (Bell & Daly, 1984) in certain workplace situations. These behaviors and attitudes were measured using a seven-point, Likert-type scale. Evidence was found to address all of the research questions, but the findings suggest a core of 10-12 specific strategies that were consistently measured to be effective in contribution solicitation, as well as several other strategies that were consistently reported as ineffective, or at least effective in only certain situations. Overall, the study indicates a group of specific communicative skills, such as conversational rule keeping, listening, and nonverbal immediacy building that are particularly important to development officers seeking donations that should be emphasized, enhanced, and developed by recruitment and training personnel. By better understanding the use of affinity seeking strategies, development officers can learn to be more effective and higher education can more efficiently accomplish developmental goals.