Advancement Services: How to Achieve with a Small Shop

This post is excerpted from “Development Services: How to Achieve Impact and Success with a Small Shop,” posted by CASE Europe on Medium.

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With a relatively new advancement services function, the small team at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, has improved the overall success of fundraising and alumni activity at the university. Tom Jirat, advancement services manager there, tells us how.

CASE: How is the alumni and development function structured at your institution?

Tom Jirat: The alumni & development function at the University of Salford is divided in three component teams: alumni engagement & regular giving; development; and advancement services. I manage the advancement services team, with a portfolio covering:

  • information and data management;
  • systems, including user training and support;
  • reporting and analytics;
  • prospect research and pipeline management;
  • gift and financial administration; and
  • donor engagement and stewardship—somewhat unusual for an operations team in the U.K.

We are quite a small alumni and development operation at Salford — only thirteen and a half strong. Advancement services comprises myself, a donor engagement officer and an advancement services officer. We also benefit from a finance officer who reports centrally but is assigned to us and is very much an advancement professional and a fundamental part of what we do.

How has a devoted development or advancement services team impacted the work and activities of the development team overall?

As a small- to medium-sized operation, we’ve experienced growth in the visibility of advancement services over the last few years. It took some time to define the parameters of what this new operations team would cover, but we have now reached a stage where our specialties are very clear.

We’ve had some great successes over the last two years, both as an operations team and as a directorate more broadly. Highlights include the redevelopment of our coding system to cover all fundraising and engagement activity, establishing a donor engagement program and increasing our visibility across the institution to facilitate information flow. The team has also developed and refined a number of processes to help activities across alumni engagement and development run smoothly. More broadly, the advancement services team has helped the university secure a handful of six-figure gifts and build some fantastic relationships with key individuals and corporations for the benefit of the university.

As a whole, since 2012, the alumni & development function has continually managed to increase the quality of the services available to our graduates and supporters, while driving the university’s fundraising and engagement agendas. We put a lot of our success down to the structure we have in place and how the teams which make up our operation complement each other and work together.

What are the benefits of attending events such as the CASE Europe Development Services Conference? What are your top tips for getting the most out of the experience?

As an attendee of every CASE Europe Development Services Conference since its inauguration in 2013, it’s been fantastic to see the conference more than double in size in three years. It’s always great to see established connections, meet new ones and pick up ideas to take back to Salford. I’ve always found people at CASE conferences (and in the profession more broadly) to be really friendly and open to sharing ideas and best practice. I’ve met some brilliant and inspirational people over the years and am still in regular touch with those I met at my first CASE event in 2012.

The first piece of advice I would give to anyone attending the Development Services Conference is probably quite obvious: network. The sessions are always brilliant but beyond what you’ll hear from the speakers, this conference provides the biggest gathering of people in similar roles to you in Europe. It’s vital to make the most of this opportunity to tap into the knowledge and ideas of people in the field. Second, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Development services and CASE more broadly are very supportive communities. It’s almost guaranteed if you’ve got a problem or issue someone will have either encountered it before or be encountering it now—talk to them about it. Even if you can’t get a perfect solution on the day, there’s a high probability you’ll get some information or advice that will make the problem easier to solve.

What are the key challenges for development service professionals?

Development and advancement services are going to need to be at the forefront as institutions tackle the changes which are affecting and will continue to affect the alumni and development profession within U.K. higher education as a whole.

Here in the U.K., a review of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations has resulted in institutions now being unable to call graduates registered with the Telephone Preference Service without their prior consent. This has made fundraising activity much more difficult. Working out how to tackle the implementation of the Fundraising Preference Service by the new Fundraising Regulator, plus the impending changes to data protection regulation due in spring 2018, are huge challenges that advancement services professionals are currently facing.

One of the most satisfying elements of advancement services—which, ironically, is also one of its biggest challenges—is leveraging available resources to improve processes and systems. My team and I are continually thinking of creative new ways to improve our information management, of finding records to clean, or ways to optimize processes. Often the challenge is establishing what we can do—and do well—with the resources we have and what will make the biggest impact. Defining what you can and can’t cover (resources-wise) is faced by a lot of start-ups or small development operations teams.

What is the future for development and advancement services?

A really exciting aspect of development operations is its inextricable link to technology, which in itself is so hard to predict. I think as a profession we need to remain responsive and agile in responding to the latest technological developments, while also being proactive. This sums up development operations in general.

Despite the challenges the sector faces, I think it’s a great time to be a development operations professional. The Ross-CASE survey shows that the higher education development profession has grown enormously over the past decade and continues to do so.

As fundraising and alumni engagement programs grow, so will the need for individuals who can provide the support services to help such programs function and maximize their impact. With this in mind, I can only anticipate development operations continuing to grow as a profession. Allied to this, graduate numbers held on alumni databases are increasing each year too. This heralds the need for increasingly intelligent segmentation, smooth processes, and effective information management—all staples of an effective services unit.

In the face of challenges, I think it’s important to remember that no university, college or school is alone. Both as individual institutions and as a sector we need to remain positive about our work and the impact it has on society.

Tom Jirat is advancement services manager at the University of Salford. He’s speaking on a panel at the CASE Europe Development Services Conference in Leeds, England, Oct. 5-6, 2016.  

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