I've been thinking about what it takes to run a great Advancement Services operation (aka Development Services, Development Operations, Development Systems, the fundraising infrastructure, the back office).  While outsiders sometimes view Advancement Services as data entry staff, there's a lot more to it.  (I wrote about the frustrations of Advancement Services professionals in Top Issues Affecting Advancement Services).  These are the people who need to determine whether a contribution can be counted as a gift, which fund it should go to, who is the legal donor, whether it's tax deductible and who gets tax credit, whether accepting it violates any federal, state,or organization rules, who should be notified of the gift's arrival, etc.  They are the curators of the institution's memory about who gave, when, how much, and for what.  They need to make sure that the data they enter is accurate and timely.  And Advancement Services staff are often responsible for turning data into information that can be used to create and refine strategies, identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward donors, and tell the organization whether it is meeting its goals.

Here are the factors I think contribute to a high-functioning operation.  They are not usually found in a single person (although in a small shop they might have to be); ideally it's a team effort.  (If your organization has one person with all of these skills, it should do its best to keep them happy.) 

Let me know what you think, and whether I'm missing anything.

  • Collect and enter data accurately and efficiently.
  • Understand and use automation appropriately.
  • Understand the business they and their colleagues are in (fundraising, communications, membership, finance/accounting, events management, governmental relations, public relations) so they can make good decisions, plan ahead, and provide good service.
  • Understand all the touch points in relations with constituents so they can help build a 360 degree view of relationships and interactions.
  • Understand the laws governing their work (IRS, FEC, HIPAA, FERPA).
  • Understand their organization's policies and procedures.
  • Understand the capabilities of the software and hardware they work with.
  • Develop and maintain detailed procedure manuals.
  • Be able to train colleagues on business processes, policies, regulations, software, and hardware.
  • Understand how data flows into and out of the system(s) they use.
  • Keep up with new developments in technology (e.g., databases, mobile devices, new media).
  • Provide great customer service.  Be responsive, proactive, anticipate needs, keep customers informed of timelines and issues.
  • Provide quality control so systems take in accurate data and produce accurate reports.
  • Understand the strategic vision for their organization so they can capture the right data and develop the right reports.
  • Help colleagues understand system capabilities and what data is available so they can request appropriate reports.
  • Manage projects, budgets, and people.
  • Communicate effectively internally (to A.S. staff, fundraisers, and other colleagues) and externally (fielding inquiries and resolving problems for donors and prospective donors).
  • Market the department's services.
  • Play well with others.
Modified 1/13/10 with input from Rob Saunders and Valerie Lambert.