Size Matters

The size of your advancement team matters.  On the positive side, there typically is a relationship between the number of team members and the amount of money raised.  The more folks, the more money is raised, on average.  Makes sense.

But there are other issues tied to size.  For instance, there is a relationship between the size of your shop and the types of hurdles you face in being effective and efficient.  Different sized shops face different hurdles. Below are my thoughts on the primary hurdles advancement leaders face based on shop size and how you can respond:

  1. Small shops (10 people or less) – You wear many hats.  In fact, you probably wear too many hats.  Your primary concern is figuring out what not to do.  It is easy for smaller shops to fill the calendar with events, mailings, committee meetings, etc.  And while team members at smaller shops typically work diligently and hard on all these activities, the central questions remains:  “Are we raising more money for our institution or just being busy?”   To raise more money, smaller shops must focus and prioritize their advancement efforts based on a set of effectiveness principles.  In other words, lose some of the hats.  To establish your priorities, remember the “ONE” thing.  “ONE” stands for:  Out of the office on visits with donors and prospects;  eNgage volunteers meaningfully in the work of your institution; Events that cultivate and express gratitude.  When you build the advancement calendar in that prioritized order, you will raise more money and will steer clear of burn-out.
  2. Medium shops (11-35 people) – While smaller shops face an effectiveness question, mid-sized shops face an efficiency question. At this size, advancement leaders begin to hear the dreaded statement, “I’m not sure what those people in advancement do.”  In many instances, the institution’s leadership and/or board members request quantitative return on investment data that shows that the advancement team is operating efficiently.  The term “benchmarks” becomes common.  A primary concern at this level, then, is being able to communicate effectively a strong return on investment to both institutional leaders as well as key donors.  One way to respond to this concern is to craft a set of key dashboard indicators that can be produced easily.  Dashboard indicators could include trend data on:  The number of $1,000+ donors annually;  The number of visits divided by the number of gift officers;  The percentage of successful major gift solicitations or proposals;  The  number of new planned giving society members;  A global measure of advancement program efficiency expressed as the annual dollars committed divided by the annual advancement budget.
  3. Larger shops (36 people or more) – While you raise large amounts of money, your shop can be viewed as “machine-esque.”  Your primary concern is flattening your organizational structure and reducing the culture of hierarchy and bureaucracy so that staff members feel more like team members and your constituents feel special.  With so many people, it is easy for both team members and donors to feel lost in the shuffle. The key response to this concern is heightened communication.   Communication, especially in the form of information-sharing up and down the reporting structure and across the various advancement functions, is of vital importance.  To enhance communication, advancement leaders should incorporate communication metrics as part of performance evaluations.  For example, are your annual fund staff evaluated on the number of new major donor prospects they cultivate for the major gift program?

Advancement leaders of shops of all sizes are dedicated, thoughtful, and skilled.  By better understanding how shop size impacts our efforts, we can focus on the key components of our work that enable our teams to be more effective and efficient.


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