Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fund Raising vs. Development vs. Advancement

I encounter the occasional skeptic who says, “Ah, ‘advancement.’ That’s just a euphemism for fund raising, isn’t it?” My answer is, “Not really. Fund raising is an important outcome of advancement, not a synonym for it. Advancement describes everything a philanthropically-driven institution does to strategically align its mission with those who possess similar values, concerns and aspirations and those inclined to give their time, talent and treasure to worthy institutions or causes.” If my skeptic is still listening, I might add, “Advancement is about finding common cause, then building a sense of community around that cause, then determining how that cause can be advanced to yield tangible, sustainable improvements in the lives of those we have chosen to serve. Then the advancement operation would seek to secure the necessary resources to realize common goals. When secured, it would commit itself to seeing the project through to completion, to making sure that the institution lived up to its promises and that all stakeholders were informed from beginning to end.”

At that point my skeptic may say, “That’s what I thought; it’s about fund raising.” While stifling my Irish exasperation over the seemingly limited bandwidth of my questioner, I might semi-calmly reply, “If I were a fund raiser, I would be here for the sole purpose of asking for money. My organization would have already decided what it needed money for and would have deployed me to make the case and make ‘the ask.’ If I were a development officer, on the other hand, I wouldn’t just come and ask; I would try to increase and deepen your interest in my institution over time. I might find ways to engage you, to get you to see what we do close up. When I saw your interest increase and your passion rise, I would ask for your support. But as an advancement officer, I seek to understand how the unique assets of my organization relate to the evolving needs of society. I try to work within and without to anticipate those needs, to build coalitions of experts and philanthropists around ways of creating solutions for emerging needs, even before they fully manifest themselves. As an advancement officer, I don’t just say, “please give,” I say, “Our research suggests that you have passion for something that my organization does well and wants to do even better in the future. As we look to the future, we see an opportunity to better serve and wonder if you might be willing to hear our interpretation of what the world needs to see if we agree and, if not, if we can learn from your point of view. We want to benefit from your expertise and experience, to see if we can come to similar conclusions and, if so, how we can work together to bring about those necessary changes.”

At that point, my skeptic may be sufficiently stunned by the stream of words that just poured out of the front of my head, or sufficiently concerned by the throbbing Celtic intensity in my eyes to say, “So give me an example.” I would reply, “Okay, I will, but I’d like you tell me what you see as an important cause or a great issue of our day, something that you would see as generally worthy of your philanthropic consideration.” That might cause him to think for a while and give me time to figure out what I’m going to say next.

Imagine if after a few moments, he says, “I worry most about the environment but I don’t really see a way to make a difference.”

“Okay,” say I, “if I were a fund raiser, I would approach you with a prospectus or maybe even a four-color brochure describing what my institution is doing about the environment. In the vast majority of cases, I as the fund raiser would not have been involved in the shaping of the content of that prospectus or the planning of that environmental initiative. I would be deployed after the planning was complete to secure funds for a project. The scope, scale and time lines for that project would have already been decided. I would approach you to say, in effect, ‘We have decided what is important to do and we would like you to support us.’

“If I were a development officer,” I would go on to say, “the same set of facts would apply but I would be wise enough to know that the more abrupt I am in asking for support, the more likely you are to say “no” or to give a gift well below your financial potential.. As a development officer, I might ask you to come and meet some of the principals of our environmental initiative or attend an event at which the initiative would be discussed in greater detail. I might ask you to sit on an advisory board or offer other ways you could be more deeply engaged in my institution. I would take the necessary time to help you better understand exactly what we hoped to achieve through this environmental initiative, to feel more comfortable with the leadership and more appreciative of the breadth of talent that we had at our disposal. I’d work with you to answer all your questions and to respond to all your concerns and objections. When I saw that you have moved from a general interest in the initiative to having a deep appreciation for it, I would ask for you to make a major commitment to it.”

“But as an advancement officer, I would have come to you just as my institution was beginning to consider what it might do to improve the environment. I would have interviewed you and other ‘thought leaders’ or ‘civic leaders.’ I would have asked how our particular institutional strengths might map against your specific concerns or the needs of this particular municipality or region. I would have asked you what would be most useful for my institution to deliver and to whom. I would have carried your thoughts and ideas back to our environmental experts and worked with them to craft an initiative that aligned their capabilities with your needs. We would have then drafted a white paper outlining what we might accomplish together. I would share that draft with you to make sure that we had listened and incorporated the suggestions of others. If you thought we were still on track, we would then take the initiative to the next level of planning. We would work with you throughout so that when we returned to ask for your support, you would have watched and participated in the evolution of the project, you would have understood the trade-offs that we made and how we put the budget together. You would see yourself and the perspective of other community leaders in the initiative and you would not feel ambushed when we asked for your support. You would know where you could make a difference. Our approach would resonate with the deep cultural roots of American philanthropy. It would begin not with what my institution wanted for itself but what “we the people” need to accomplish to achieve a greater social good. And because we worked together from the outset and worked our way together through the issue, the solution and the struggle to achieve would be ours as well. I would not have just advanced the mission of my institution; we would have advanced a project of mutual concern and mutual benefit.”

This is how philanthropists want to work with organizations they fund. Those that best understand and best deliver will enjoy the best results – and the most rewarding experiences along the way.


Jonathan said...

I found this a very helpful elucidation. Until I read it, I assumed that "advancement" was merely the latest euphemism.

Cara said...

I've been looking for a way to explain to my board the difference between the three terms. Thank you for clearly defining them!