4 Keys to Building a Stronger Advancement Team

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We often talk about improving the success of annual giving programs in the context of external tactics. As important as the programs you execute are the strategies you use internally to ensure that your colleagues understand your work, see themselves in your success, and view you as keys to their own success.

Building your program’s internal brand is critical to building morale for your team, setting the stage for future investments, and ensuring a consistent, comprehensive, and impactful external brand.

Integrated and Successful Teams Share These Characteristics

Annual giving programs intersect with every part of advancement. Successful programs require the investment and support of each department.

Here are just a few examples of how successful annual giving programs depend on their colleagues:

  • Advancement services colleagues provide timely and accurate lists to support the program’s direct marketing activities, and they generate the reports needed to track the program’s performance over time.
  • The marketing and communications team develops compelling and meaningful content and design for direct marketing campaigns—from print to online, and they manage against aggressive and frequent timelines to ensure the successful execution of the direct marketing calendar.
  • Alumni relations helps deliver consistent messaging to key audiences, such as young alumni and students to help create a comprehensive experience for alumni, parents, and friends, and they can help you identify opportunities for stewardship and recognition within the current slate of events.
  • Development staff can execute ask strategies that incorporate annual giving and support integrated programs by sharing information regarding college-based activities and communications.

First Steps

Getting there doesn’t happen overnight. You need to lay a strong foundation that helps your colleagues understand the impact of their partnership. Here are four things that you can do to set the stage for success coming into a new fiscal year:

  1. Implement a comprehensive planning process that includes all of your key partners. As you work with your team to develop plans for the upcoming year, consider how each of your priorities requires the support of your colleagues. Invite them to the table early, share your objectives, get their feedback, and finalize a plan of action for the year.
  2. Develop a dashboard report that is shared with key partners and institutional leadership on a regular basis. Build a simple dashboard report that shows progress toward goals for your area and share it with colleagues on a monthly basis. This type of reporting raises the profile of the program and helps partners understand the importance of the work they are doing to support annual giving.
  3. When you are sharing results, ensure that you are guiding the narrative. In the absence of a narrative, people will develop their own—especially when looking at data. A critical component of successful internal marketing is to be sure that you are telling the story of the data and results. To some extent, you should always be able to answer the question, “Why?” When sharing results, if you’re up, explain why (same applies when you’re results are down).
  4. Celebrate your successes. These aren’t just the successes of your immediate team but also of those who helped you reach your milestones. During your monthly dashboard communications, thank advancement services for the quick turnaround on a report or alumni relations for handing out donor ribbons at the last big regional event. This is part of building your narrative and building buy-in.

When you’re able to successfully accomplish these steps, you will be setting the stage for future successes—from stronger team morale to a front-row seat when requesting additional resources.

By not building this type of internal presence, you risk institutional indifference and an inconsistency in integration of advancement efforts that can be perceived by your institution’s alumni, parents, and friends.