Centralized, Decentralized, and Compartmentalized

One way to describe the organization of advancement shops is the point at which they sit along the “centralized – decentralized” continuum.  “Centralized” shops are ones that provide advancement services to the institution they serve through one or several offices that report to one positional leader.  These shops are typically recognized as a “division of advancement” or some such name and they serve as the site for the planning, coordination, and implementation of all advancement-related efforts for that institution.

On the other side of the continuum, fully “decentralized” shops are those that have advancement services assigned and reporting to different functional areas of the institution.  For instance, each college of a university may have its own advancement function.

There is no “right” way to approach advancement centralization.  The complexity, history, culture, and needs of each institution as well as how donors relate to that institution should suggest how best to organize the advancement function.  However, one drawback of the decentralized model – however it is implemented – is the notion of compartmentalization.  Too often a decentralized shop becomes a compartmentalized one.

Just because an institution employs a decentralized advancement model does not mean that advancement efforts should be compartmentalized.  Even though reporting structures may vary for each advancement office in a decentralized model, the offices should still seek integration of their work.  For instance, integrated Prospect Management Team meetings should be held monthly so that leadership-level donors are encouraged to give their best possible gifts in support of the whole enterprise.  And marketing should be integrated across the enterprise so that brand elements are affirmed and communicated clearly to all constituencies.

To be both decentralized and integrated takes leaders with a long-view.  It means that staff evaluations need to affirm coordination and working across silos.  It means recognizing that our donors respond best when we approach them with a single comprehensive proposal, instead of multiple disjointed and uncoordinated solicitations.  It means that leaders need to have an ego for the entire enterprise that is at least as big than the ego they have for their individual areas.

At your institution, it may make exceptionally good sense for advancement functions to be decentralized.  But it never makes good sense for advancement functions to be compartmentalized.


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