Allocating Your Advancement Shop’s Resources

Many college and university advancement shops are facing increased constraints on their resources (not only budgetary resources, but staff and time) while also facing increased demand from stakeholders across the institution, who often clamor for central advancement resources, then object when they don't receive them or receive fewer than they deem necessary for their efforts. The resulting disappointment can slow progress on key priorities or even lead to donor "hoarding." In this climate, it is critical that advancement leaders establish specific protocols for allocating central advancement resources and articulate those protocols clearly to internal stakeholders.

For advice on how to approach the issue, we reached out to Jim Langley, founder and president of Langley Innovations, and past vice president of advancement at Georgetown University.

Priorities and Protocols

"The needs of claimants will always be far greater than the ability of the advancement shop to respond. If you try to be all things to all people, you will be overwhelmed, and will invite a cycle of mutual disillusionment. One of the great skills of successful advancement leaders is to develop protocols that allow them to address and manage internal expectations."
Jim Langley, Langley Innovations

"In an ideal world," Langley muses, "when we think about how a shop can handle requests coming its way, we would have institutional priorities that are presidentially accepted or announced, and are the result of an inclusive planning process. This gives the fundraising operation the wherewithal to assess each request and determine where it makes the most sense to invest. While this situation often occurs during a campaign, priorities are rarely as clear outside of a campaign. Absent those priorities, we need to start developing protocols -- sets of criteria by which advancement leaders can determine from among a number of claimants which ones they can best serve."

Establishing Criteria for Strategic Allocation of Resources

The most basic protocol is a waiting list, in which a shop, like a restaurant, takes requests in the sequence in which they arrive. "This is an absurd way to dedicate resources," Langley remarks, "but it is clear and it is better than no protocol. It is far preferable to saying 'yes' to every claimant."

The better approach, Langley suggests, is to arrive at a protocol that balances the prominence of a unit within the institution and the donors' propensity to give.

For example, a shop could consider the relative size of a unit that is requesting funds. If at a particular institution nearly 40 percent of the student body is studying engineering, and the largest portion of faculty and internal resources are dedicated to one discipline within the school of engineering (say, systems engineering), then the shop can develop an explicit protocol that aligns investment of advancement resources (staff and time) with these internal realities.

However, this approach by itself will not ensure the greatest return on the investment of advancement resources. The shop also needs to look to the philanthropic market and map the aspirations of the academic unit against external interest. Langley notes that there are various ways to map propensity to give. You can chart it by interest in various disciplines (systems engineering versus computer science), or by particular categories of interest such as financial aid or faculty support. You can also look at where your graduates are being hired, which sectors are booming in your local economy, and what causes your alumni are currently giving to.

"When the development office is deluged with requests and every department seems to need something, then advancement leaders need to look at efficacy. They need to look at which dollar is easiest to raise."
Jim Langley, Langley Innovations

Perhaps systems engineering is producing some brilliant work, but the alumni and business community have more interest in computer science. "In this case," Langley suggests, "approach your provost and your president. Make this case. If the development office can devote the preponderance of your effort to where the external market is most apt to give, and if the provost can direct other resources -- tuition revenues, grants, etc. -- to systems engineering, then you will use your time and resources to maximum effect by going after the hottest market. Ask them to allow you to secure the most viable sources of support. The more dollars you can raise and the more you can alleviate pressure on the budget, the more your president and provost can then redirect dollars to other institutional priorities."

Or -- to use the old example that it is easier to raise funds for financial aid than for capital projects -- the more funds the shop can raise for financial aid, the easier it becomes for the institution can redirect some of the non-philanthropic resources it currently expends on financial aid toward capital projects or other needs.

"What's needed is a high-level conversation between the chief advancement officer and the chief academic officer. You need to convey clearly that the philanthropic market does not split the same way the institution's internal budget does -- 3 percent to the library, 5 percent to this particular department, etc. Educate your leadership about where the real opportunities are."
Jim Langley, Langley Innovations

Also Communicate With Your Department-Level Stakeholders

Langley offers several pieces of advice for outreach and communication to your institution's department heads, once you have developed a protocol for handling requests for advancement resources.

First, be transparent about your shop's constraints. Other departments on campus are also facing constraints on their staff and other resources. Explain that your shop faces similar limitations. Document and share:

  • The total number of requests you have
  • Your total staff, how they are currently allocated, what your resources are already obligated to
  • The impact that a given reallocation will have on the shop's ability to raise funds for the institution

Second, find more creative ways to serve your internal constituents with the limited resources you have. Rather than acceding to the new request or placing it as number 23 on the waiting list, Langley advises offering department heads degrees of service, based on a quick assessment of your resources and their needs. For example, you could offer to coach a faculty member who is seeking a grant. You could offer to help by having your staff edit the draft of a foundation proposal the faculty member writes.

Transparency and creativity in partnering with other departments will go a long way toward fostering a sense of shared enterprise between your shop and other offices.