I got a call last week from the Advancement Services manager at a small college asking for help. She’s trying to make the case for investing in Advancement Services at a college that seems to only want to invest in fundraisers. She had already found my post on the Ingredients of a High Performing Advancement Services Shop, my discussion summary, Top Issues Affecting Advancement Services (which led to an article in the October 2007 issue of CASE Currents called “Going Fourth: What every fundraiser should know about advancement services” by Jennifer Salopek), and the Advancement Services articles and presentations at SupportingAdvancement.com. I also pointed her to CASE’s book Advancement Services: A Foundation for Fund Raising, and CASE’s Handbook of Institutional Advancement, which includes a chapter on Advancement Services, as well as the Association of Advancement Services Professionals.
Advancement Services should be the foundation supporting the rest of Advancement. For me the case for investing in Advancement Services comes down to three factors: efficiency, support for Advancement (fundraising, member relations, alumni relations, stewardship, finance, communications, government relations–whatever comprises Advancement at your institution), and support for constituents (donors, prospects, alumni, members, parents, the public). The return on that investment (and the next gift) comes when Advancement Services sends out timely, accurate, and clear receipts; the system they maintain keeps accurate records on donors and gifts; the system reminds Development Officers of their next planned contact; the system helps identify new prospects; the system produces reports that accurately track progress and support forecasting; the system enhances (and doesn’t get in the way of) communications between the institution and its constituents; and systems run reliably, so staff and constituents have access when they need it.
Efficiency seems simple enough: if you don’t have the right resources (people, tools, training, procedures) you will waste time and money. It will take you too long to do everything, you’ll be too rushed to do the job right the first time, and you’ll spend a lot of time fixing mistakes. Complaints from internal and external audiences will be frequent, perhaps the norm (until people get so fed up they no longer bother to complain and simply work around you). You’ll spend all your time fighting fires and won’t be able to get to anything that’s not an emergency. (This is not to imply that throwing more staff or money at the problem will necessarily solve it– leadership, management, and prioritization are also critical.)
Support for Advancement
Supporting colleagues also seems reasonably straightforward. Advancement Services needs to have the resources and training to provide good customer service. It needs to get data into and out of the database in a timely manner, produce accurate reports, respond to requests, anticipate needs, keep up with changing technologies and policies, and all the other things I mentioned in Ingredients of a High Performing Advancement Services Shop.
Support for Constituents
Supporting constituents may not leap to mind as part of Advancement Service’s role, but it’s critically important. In his presentation Advancement Services – The Advancement Cornerstone?, John Taylor cites statistics from a 1999 study by TARP Research. Among other things, TARP found that:
- Twice as many people are told about a bad experience as are told about a good one.
- One unhappy customer will tell ten others. Thirteen percent of them will tell at least twenty other people.
In his blog post on evaluating fundraising programs, Measuring Success The Buffett Way, Jason McNeil asks What measures might Warren Buffett use to evaluate development effectiveness? He suggests several, including donor retention. Donor retention can definitely be affected–positively and negatively–by Advancement Services.
- Do donors get timely, accurate receipts and thank-you letters?
- Are they listed properly in the honor roll and other publications?
- Are constituents’ names spelled correctly on the correspondence they receive?
- When constituents request changes (e.g., to spelling, phone numbers, or addresses), are they made promptly and accurately?
- Are constituents on the mailing lists they’ve asked to be on? Are they removed from those they don’t want?
It’s not within Advancement Services’s power to guarantee that donors will continue to give or that constituents will be satisfied and supportive, but Advancement Services can definitely drive them away.
The program for a recent show at Berkeley Repertory Theatre described their facilities department using words that are perfect for much of what Advancement Services does: “to help you forget about what happens behind the scenes.” In general, Advancement Services should be invisible to constituents. Behind the scenes, however, they should be leading the way to ensure that operations run smoothly and that policies, procedures, technologies, and training support the institution.
Thanks to Charlie Hunsaker for his input on this post.