5 Things Successful Advancement Pros Don’t Do

Over the years, I have worked with, provided counsel to, or simply observed thousands of advancement officers.  The good ones stand out, mostly because they behave in ways that less effective advancement officers don’t.  For instance, the best advancement officers ask more questions.  They listen more.  And they genuinely like learning about people more.  To put it succinctly, they are more engaging.

However, there also are things that the best advancement officers don’t do that under-performing gift officers do more regularly.  Below is a list of 5 seemingly small (but I would suggest significant) things that the very best advancement officers do not do much, if at all.  The most effective gift officers don’t:

  1. Check Their Phones Incessantly – you simply don’t see them engaging with their phones that much. They keep their phones in a pocket and focus on the people around them.  They will check their phones in the restroom or in other places out of sight, but when they are with people face-to-face, they keep their phones hidden.
  2. Dress Too Casual – this is not to say that the best advancement officers always wear suits and ties – they don’t, of course. However, you almost never see the best advancement officers underdressed for the occasion.  Instead, they almost always are dressed just a notch above the socially-suggested and mostly unwritten code.
  3. Talk Religion, Politics, or Other Combustible Topics – the best advancement officers are like chameleons on the big issues of life. Yes, they have opinions just like everyone else.  But they recognize that it is more important to find out the opinions of donors than it is to communicate their own opinions.
  4. Arrive Late or Leave Early – for all of us, time is our most precious asset. Unlike money, once it is gone, you can never get it back.  The best advancement officers make it a habit to be on time and to stay for as long as the occasion suggests.  In these ways, they convey a sense that other people’s time is honored and important to them.  To ensure that they can arrive on time (or early) and not have to leave early, the best advancement officers pay careful attention to their schedules and rarely get over-booked.  They appear busy, but not harried.
  5. Fill An Awkward Silence – it can be uncomfortable to ask a question (or ask the question) and wait.  The silence can be deafening.  But the best advancement professionals get comfortable with that silence and allow others to respond.  From my experience, this practice is important not so much because of the “whoever speaks first loses” concept (by the way, I didn’t know we were in a competition with our donors).  Instead, giving others the time needed to respond thoughtfully is simply a practice of good manners.

I can’t say that removing these behaviors from one’s professional life will result in immediate advancement success.  I can, however, state with a high degree of certainty that regularly behaving in these ways will reduce significantly a gift officer’s effectiveness.

Success in our work is related directly to how authentically we honor people and what they value most.  That’s what the best advancement officers understand.


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