Advancement Services: Small Solutions Can Fix a Big Problem

By John Taylor

Quite often, I am hired to go in and “fix” an Advancement Services department. Usually, the fundraising office brings me in, with the suggestion the Advancement Services unit is broken.

What I find is it is not the department that is broken, but how the organization has (or has not!) allocated resources, and made use of that department. In addition, it’s not always about spending too little money on the “back office,” but about not elevating the stature of Advancement Services to being the level of the fundraising/development department.

Throughout Alexander Haas’ work with our higher education clients, we have come across the following common problems, aligned with the department’s need to “fix” something:

1. Advancement Services has been scattered to the wind – effectively spread throughout the organization. When the gift processing function is over in Finance, or gift processing and bio are completely different departments, efficiency falters. A single Advancement Services unit will encompass all of the Advancement support functions. Ideally, the department should house:

  • Gift Processing
  • Biographical Data Entry/Integrity
  • Information Technology
  • Prospect Research and Management
  • Development Communications
  • Donor Relations and Stewardship
  • Events and/or Divisional Finance & HR

2. The leader of Advancement Services does not report to the VP/Chancellor for Advancement – nor does he or she have the same title as the other senior direct reports to that office. Advancement Services, while not out “front” raising money, shares an equally important role in Advancement, and the leaders need to be at the table with all of the other direct reports.

3. The Advancement Services organization has a “We’ve always done it that way” attitude. When I conduct a review, it is amazing the extent to which unnecessary functions are layered on top of each other. Examples of these practices include but aren’t limited to: Manual incoming check/gift logs; photocopying of checks; limiting bio data updates to only one group; batching gifts based on the type or size of gift, or the department receiving the gift; entering “gift dates” based on postmarks; etc. Continuing to follow “old school” ways of doing things is counterproductive, and staff stuck in the past should be provided professional development opportunities, to help them learn – and embrace – modern cost and time saving technologies.

4. Not letting the system work for you, but working for the system. It is imperative the IT shop be within Advancement Services – if you don’t have access to technology staff for help, then there should be funding every 2-3 years to bring in a technology assist to fine-tune the system. This way, you will be up-to-date, and knowledgeable, about ways to improve your efficiency and internal organization.

If your organization can help you address these common problems, what is “broken” can be fixed in a shorter period, often for much less money! In addition to these solutions I’ve listed, the Association of Advancement Services Professionals hosts an educational summit each year – a great way to gain ideas, and meet others in the profession. Click here for registration information for Summit 2013.