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Lindauer and BWF Team Up to Take a Close Look at Advancement Services

In 2020, Lindauer partnered with BWF, a leading fundraising consulting firm, to conduct an annual industry survey for professionals in the advancement services field for aasp, the Association of Advancement Services Professionals.

This is the fourth year BWF has conducted a survey of this sector with aasp, but the first time the company partnered with Lindauer, a collaboration that led this year’s survey in a few interesting new directions. For the first time, fundraisers were invited to participate and questions included outlooks on career development and professional development. More than 3,000 individuals responded, the largest number of respondents ever for this survey.

Lindauer CEO Deb Taft, BWF Decision Science Coordinator Kelsey Crouch Dodson, and aasp board member and survey advisor Terry Callaghan, Associate Vice President for Information Technology, Records & Gift Processing, at Rutgers University, presented the survey results at the 2020 aasp Summit, October 19-22, 2020. More than 1,000 people attended the virtual summit with more than 600 attending this keynote session.

Some Key Findings

#1 Fundraisers and Advancement Services Perspectives Continue to Differ

While both gift officers and advancement services professionals agreed that commitment to mission keeps them engaged in their organizations, their sense of how best to work together diverges from there. While huge gains have been made over two decades with gift officers and operations team members understanding the important differences in their roles and intersections, the 2020 survey revealed that there is still work to be done – in understanding, in respecting, and in strengthening the work team members must accomplish together.

The most potent example of this diversion was seen in the responses of fundraisers asked to rank the top opportunity for advancement services professionals. Fundraisers responded: a better understanding of gift officers. Yet when advancement services professionals were asked to rank the importance of their skills from most to least, they responded that the skill least likely to lead to their success was working with gift officers.

Similarly, when fundraisers were asked whether advancement services professionals in their shops had relevant industry skills to do their jobs, fundraisers responded overwhelmingly that they did not know. Meanwhile, those in advancement services tended to rate their own skills notably high amongst their peers.

BWF’s Dodson advocates that advancement services professionals need to do a much better job of communicating their value to fundraisers.

“We need to help fundraisers understand what we do, see the impact in the industry that we are making, and also help them make that connection,” she said. “For me, this is a storytelling and communication gap, other than a skills gap at this point.”

The panel agreed that leaders, managers and advancement colleagues should seize opportunities to strengthen alignment between fundraisers and advancement services team members through information sharing, relationship-building, and appointing cross-functional project teams.

#2 New Technologies Demand Skilled Team Members and High Communication

The future is now in many advancement shops as analytics, business intelligence and artificial intelligence continue to take center stage. The demand for both fundraisers and advancement services leaders not just to share data, but to interpret and communicate its meaning effectively, is vital. The integration of AI in advancement programs has also been increasing, and with it the need to understand, ethically apply and optimize the use of AI in different contexts. While this 2020 survey was in market just as the COVID-19 pandemic spread globally, increased remote work and engagement are hastening the adoption of AI.

Fundraisers and advancement services colleagues, again, have different perspectives on the value of these technologies and skill sets. Gift officers typically charged with interpreting and taking action on the data with non-technical colleagues, volunteers and donors — believe that business intelligence is a top opportunity for advancement services. Advancement services professionals meanwhile look to analytics first, followed by business intelligence as the skills they need to develop.

The panelists noted that advancement and nonprofit leaders have a clear opportunity to strengthen business intelligence and communication skills among advancement services professionals on their teams, while helping fundraisers strengthen their understanding of analytics and AI.

#3 Retaining Talented Advancement Services is a Challenge

The survey explored several areas of job satisfaction, asking what factors made professionals feel good about their current job as well as what prompted making a job change. The most frequently cited reason why advancement services professionals change positions is to pursue other opportunities, followed by a work culture that is viewed as not being supportive or not diverse. Executive leadership—even more so than management and managers—was also cited as a driver for making a job shift.

What stood out amongst the responses was that advancement services professionals attributed lack of career growth at their current positions for why they would make a change, or why they made a recent change: 35% left their last job in order to pursue other opportunities. Uncertain or not clearly defined growth tracks drives many in this field to pursue new challenges and opportunities in other organizations.

Taft said this reflects the growing maturity of the advancement services profession. Previous surveys have shown that advancement service professionals leave their jobs because of poor leadership or challenging work environments. That the vast majority now say it’s to advance their careers shows positive growth in the field and more opportunities, she argued.

“There are also times where we’ve let someone move on because we cannot offer them growth, and they’ve come home again,” she continued. “As much as you want to retain people, there are times that you let someone go to grow their skills. And they later come back.”

All three panelists also saw urged managers to see opportunity in these findings, to think about how they can offer team members the chance to learn new skills by allowing them to participate in projects either in their own organization or outside of it, with peer organizations, or shadowing others in the advancement division (such as gift officers) to enhance their professional development. Enabling team members to grow in new directions may be especially critical in this time when hiring freezes keep new people from joining an organization but critical work still needs to get done.

“If we don’t have advancement opportunities in our organizations, particularly under the current environment, how can we let employees engage in conversations and with projects either within the organization or outside of it, to offer other challenges and ways to strengthen skills and grow in new directions?” asked Taft.

Callaghan agreed: “Sometimes the glass isn’t always half empty. Sometimes it really is half full.”

So What Now?

“This is just the beginning,” said Callaghan, who advised that advancement services professionals reflect on the survey as use it as a “conversation starter” and to set some goals for themselves, their career development, their teams and their organizations.

“Go back to your organization and say, ‘Hey, this is what I learned. AI and BI are becoming really important fields; how can I develop my skills in that? It also, looks like communication and having a good working relationship between fundraisers and advancement services is really important; what can I do to enhance that in our organization?’”

And aasp can continue to play an industry-leading role in creating professional networks; access to leaders; and mentorship, apprenticeship and learning opportunities. Dodson, Taft and Callaghan all agreed that the 2020 survey revealed how far the profession had come, as well as some exciting pathways forward.

To view a PDF of the survey results, click here: 2020 aasp Career and Talent Survey Results.

Article written by Terri Rutter, Lindauer Senior Consultant.

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