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About the Conference

Since 2012, the Strategic Initiatives Conference has brought together fundraising professionals from some of the world's top institutions in order to share, learn and grow in our ability to lead fundraising for strategic initiatives (SI). A gathering of about a dozen colleagues at Northwestern University in 2012 has grown into annual event of over 60 fundraising professionals tasked with raising transformative gifts for centers, institutes and top institutional priorities at elite research institutions in the US, UK and Canada. Through word-of-mouth promotion, the Strategic Initiatives Conference has hosted over 100 unique attendees from 26 institutions in the US, UK and Canada. It has inspired ideas and strategies that have been used to secure transformational gifts at top institutions and grown the careers of many attendees.

Host Institutions

The Strategic Initiatives Conference has been hosted by Northwestern (2012, 2019), University of Michigan (2013), Stanford University (2014), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2015), Johns Hopkins University (2016), Duke University (2017) and University of Oregon (2018). UC Berkeley was slated to host in 2020 (postponed due to COVID-19) and is scheduled to host in 2021.


Conference attendance is by invitation only.  Attendees typically represent AAU Member Institutions or prestigious independent research institutes and centers.


Strategic Initiatives Conference programming is organized, designed and delivered by the SIGAP community and, in years past, has included university presidents, provosts, trustees, vice presidents and transformational SI donors.  The SIGAP Programming Committee develops topics for conference sessions and an RFP (request for proposals) is distributed to the SIGAP community in order to source, vet and approve presentations that best align with the topics identified for that year's conference.  Sessions are typically delivered in one of three formats:

  • Case Study: Highlighting lessons learned from success or challenges that can suggest applicable “dos/don’ts” to attendees.

  • Peer-Consulting Session: Focused on open-ended issues that the presenter will submit to the group for feedback and advice to facilitate a dialogue in aid of a creative solution.

  • Data-Driven Session: Presenting objective metrics applied to strategies, trends or models relevant to SI fundraising.

Topics covered in past conferences include: planning and launching initiatives, development staffing for strategic initiatives, prospect identification and outreach, specialized donor stewardship, and more. Programming is aimed to appeal to experienced fundraisers who may be new to initiative-based fundraising, seasoned fundraisers seeking new ideas and perspectives, and advancement leaders overseeing these specialized fundraising efforts and associated staff.


Attendees of the Strategic Initiatives Conference return year after year due to the culture of inclusion, peer-learning, open dialogue, and trust that has become the hallmark of the conference.  There is a strong adherence to discretion and an understanding that when discussing institutional dynamics "what is said here, stays here."  However, "stealing" of good ideas is allowed and encouraged, and attendees frequently continue discussions via networking during and after the conference.

History of the Strategic Initiatives Conference

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