Fundraising Principles For The New Universe: Bench Depth

The nature of fundraising has changed.  Thus far, I have proposed two principles (Income Stream Diversity and Database Depth), which, if implemented regularly and effectively, will provide your institution with an approach that leads to transformational outcomes.

The third principle for fundraising in The New Universe is Bench Depth.

Bench Depth refers to the capacity of the advancement program to grow future advancement leaders from within.  Why is “growing your own,” important?  There are a number of reasons why this makes sense – here are three:

  1. People who rise up through the ranks have a special appreciation for the institution and are more likely to be “true believers” in the distinctiveness of the institution.
  2. People who stay with institutions for longer periods of time have opportunities to build stronger, more productive relationships with donors.  The development process takes time and if an institution can evidence continuity of advancement staff members, it can better position itself to build longer-term, productive donor relationships.
  3. Hiring, keeping, and growing leaders from within is far less costly over time for the institution.  The inside candidate typically doesn’t need 6-9 months to get a feel for the place (and figure out where the bathrooms are).  Instead, inside candidates typically hit the ground running far more quickly.

How do we develop Bench Depth?

First, current leaders have to embrace the notion that a large part of their work is to identify and nurture leadership skills in others.  We talk a lot about stewardship in advancement.  An important component of stewardship is the care for the long-term prospects of the institution’s advancement program.  As leaders, we should steward those in our care, taking an interest in their development and encouraging and helping their professional growth.

Second, we should create opportunities for others to accept more responsibility.  Identifying leadership opportunities and then encouraging (or placing) individuals squarely into those opportunities is the goal.

Finally, to develop Bench Depth means that we should be prepared to understand and respond to individual needs and goals.  Pay satisfaction is a component of job satisfaction but not necessarily the most important component.  Yes, we must make financial allowance in order to keep our best and brightest team members.  But just as importantly, studies have shown that variables such as job autonomy and individualized recognition are powerful keys to keeping team members happy and effective.

Bench Depth will continue to grow in importance in the years ahead.  Building stronger relationships with donors deeper in the pipeline (e.g., Database Depth), suggests that we must also build stronger Bench Depth.  Smart advancement leaders know that the relationships with donors are important, but the relationships with the members of the advancement team are vital.


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