Talk the Talk: A Field Guide to Speaking Advancement Services

In the deep recesses of your fundraising operation, you’ll find advancement services. I’ve said before that fundraisers who are willing to venture into the world of databases, reporting, and analytics can benefit from new insights and increased efficiencies.

However, sometimes advancement services can be mystifying and intimidating to those unfamiliar with data and technology.

Consider this a field guide to interacting with advancement services professionals, meant to help us get the most out of our time together.


First, ask what data can do for you…

Advancement services is neck deep in data. We see trends, patterns, and gaps in data that others don’t get to see. So, ask us questions. Ask us LOTS of questions. We can sift through data in order to affirm or deny your assumptions.

But first, you must be willing to ask the questions. Bring your curiosity, and don’t be afraid to bounce your ideas off of us. Prying is not a bad thing.

Just be aware that that we may not have the means or the data to confirm or deny your requests. Want to know the giving tendencies of left-footed kickers with IQs over 140? Sorry. You’re out of luck.

…and what you can do for data.

We rely on gift officers to be our eyes and ears in the field. After all, you’re right there with the primary source of data—our alumni, friends, and donors. Think of your visits with constituents as opportunities to:

  • Collect new information, such as giving interests and sources of affinity. Does a faculty member come up in conversation frequently? That’s a valuable piece of data. Bring it to us!
  • Verify existing data, such as wealth capacity and inclination, contact information, employment details, and much more. This helps us assess the data collection sources that we use. (For example, maybe we’ll learn that we haven’t been collecting accurate email addresses in a timely manner. Time to find a new email append vendor.)
  • Point alumni to opportunities to engage with our school. Asking constituents to follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter gives us so many more opportunities to learn more about—and connect with—donors.
  • Lead us to important data that doesn’t already exist in our central database. Is there information that we should be recording or measuring but haven’t been? Keep in mind that advancement services is looking for information that’s valuable, not just interesting. We don’t like trivial data. But if you can use a certain piece of data to cultivate a relationship, it’s worth adding into the system.

What you want is important. Why you want it is critical.

Advancement services wants to help you achieve your goals. It’s easy to tell us that you need a report of all LYBUNTs, but more importantly, why do you want that report? What are you going to do with it?

Not only can that additional information save us some time (if you tell us it’s a mailing, we’ll know to exclude people who don’t want to receive mail or who don’t have valid addresses—saving us the step of revising the report after the fact), but we can also provide recommendations of other fields to include with the report.

It’s an added bonus if you pose your requests in plain English. We know you want to be awesome like us and use technical terms, but it’s way less confusing if you just tell us what you need in everyday language.

“The Query 404’d on CN.PFYR1.JOINTCRED and now my deck is bricked. I’m cached.”

No. No one talks like that.

“The report you ran isn’t showing last year giving and my computer stopped running. I’m done trying to fix it.”

English. Better.


Help us help you to end inefficiency.

Advancement services loves shortcuts and efficiency. Are you stuck copying and pasting zip codes into an Excel spreadsheet? STOP. Ask us for help. We can use technology and other tools to cut those repetitive, unnecessary steps out of your life so you can focus on the most important aspects of your job.

Share your successes (and failures) with us.

Feedback counts for a lot with advancement services. Did a report give you a particularly great insight? Let us know. With feedback, we can hone in on what you find helpful and what data we should distribute or replicate in other reports. While we’re not frontline fundraisers, we share with you the overall goal of improving students’ lives. Our job is to make you more effective, so let us know if we do that.

High-fives are appreciated. But hugs… well…


Maybe not. Ask first before the hugs.

Let’s make plans.

Some tasks and requests seem really easy. However, querying the database and collecting and cleaning data can be very difficult and time-consuming. Setting up automation saves a lot of time in the long run, but only if planned out thoughtfully.

This is why it’s important to notify advancement services of the needs of your program ahead of time. Working with data almost always requires revisions and incremental changes to produce the desired result. Giving us extra time to do so will pay off big time.

Remember, the idea of advancement services is to use technology to make fundraising efforts easier, more successful, and more insightful. Your success is our success.

Check out Matt’s “6 Steps to Implementing Data Science at Any Organization.”

Matt Gullatta is the Director of Advancement Services at Ashland University. Since becoming an Advancement Services professional in 2007, Matt has made it a personal mission to make data accessible, reliable, and fun! You can find Matt on Twitter, likely chasing down Big Data and Analytics trends or posting animated GIFs.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments