Decision Science, Talent & Training

In 2020, BWF partnered with aasp and Lindauer Global to capture important career and talent themes within advancement services. While aasp has a long history of industry surveys, the 2020 survey is unique in two important ways:

  1. Emphasis on emerging skills, talent management, career progression, and visioning Advancement Services roles over the next decade. While many career surveys speak from the position of the employer, outlining meta trends and sector characteristics, this survey was designed to speak to the individual advancement services career.
  2. We expanded our reach: fundraisers and other philanthropic professionals were invited to participate for the first time, providing unique insight into talent demands from peers and leaders outside advancement services.

Deb Taft (CEO at Lindauer), Kelsey Crouch-Dodson (Senior Decision Science Coordinator at BWF), and Terry Callaghan (aasp board member and survey advisor and Associate Vice President for Information Technology, Records & Gift Processing at Rutgers University), presented the survey results at the 2020 aasp Summit in October. More than 1,000 people attended the virtual summit with more than 600 attending this keynote session.

Key Findings

Differing Perspectives Among Fundraisers and Advancement Services
While there have been great strides integrating the work of gift officers and operations team members over the past decade, the 2020 survey revealed that there is still a journey ahead.

The most significant example of divergent perspectives was seen when fundraisers were asked to rank the top opportunity for advancement services professionals. They responded: a better understanding of gift officers. When advancement services professionals were asked the same question, they ranked working with gift officers as the least likely skill to lead to their success.

We also observed divergence when fundraisers were asked whether advancement services professionals in their shops had relevant industry skills to do their jobs. Fundraisers responded overwhelmingly that they did not know. Meanwhile, those in advancement services tended to rate their own skills as very aligned to achieve their future career goals.

These two findings, along with many others, highlight that communication between advancement services professionals and their peers remains an area of opportunity.

Which Comes First: Business Intelligence or Artificial Intelligence?
Analytics, business intelligence, and artificial intelligence continue to take center stage for fundraising shops everywhere. Not only is there a demand for both fundraisers and advancement services leaders to share data; interpreting it and communicating its meaning and impact on business effectively is essential.

There are differences among fundraisers and advancement services colleagues on the value of distinct, but complementary skill sets. Gift officers, who typically are consumers of data, believe that business intelligence is a top opportunity for advancement services. Meanwhile advancement services professionals look to analytics first, then business intelligence as the skills they need to develop.

Advancement leaders have an opportunity to strengthen both business intelligence and communication skills among advancement services professionals on their teams, while helping fundraisers gain a better understanding of analytics and AI.

Retaining Talented Advancement Services is a Challenge
The 2020 survey explored several areas of job satisfaction, asking about top employment benefits advancement services professionals value the most as well as what prompted them to leave their last position. The most frequently cited reason why they changed positions is to pursue other opportunities, followed by poor leadership and work culture.

What stands out amongst the responses was that the expressed lack of career growth at their current organizations: employers are not meeting the needs of advancement services staff, and a significant driver for the high staff turnover we see in the field. 35% of respondents left their last job in order to pursue other opportunities. Uncertain or not clearly defined growth tracks drives many in this field to pursue new challenges and opportunities in other organizations.

While leaders may have limitations to creating new positions, there are opportunities to offer their team members the chance to learn new skills. This can be done by allowing them to participate in projects either in their own organization or outside of it, with peer organizations or shadowing others in the fundraising office (such as gift officers), to enhance their professional development. Enabling team members to grow in new directions may be especially vital in this time when hiring freezes keep new people from joining an organization but critical work still needs to get done.