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5 top priorities for advancement leaders in 2023

May 15, 2023 , By Edward Issertell, Senior Analyst, Research Development

In April 2023, EAB surveyed chief advancement officers across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom asking them to identify the most pressing issues for their advancement shops. The 95+ respondents included leaders at both public and private institutions, whose student counts ranged from less than 2,000 to more than 50,000. Below are the five top priorities for advancement leaders that emerged from EAB’s data analysis.

Priority #1: Enhancing collaboration with deans and academic leaders to meet campaign goals

Strong collaboration between fundraisers and academic partners is essential to meeting campaign goals and supporting ambitious institutional strategic plans. Over 64% of survey participants consider working with deans and academic leaders a very important issue that they’re grappling with right now. Notably, 89% of partners outside of the U.S. listed this as a very important issue.

In recent years, the emergence of the donor investor has amplified the importance of these relationships as these individuals have higher expectations than ever in terms of impact, ideas, and personal connections. Advancement staff cannot meet these expectations without relying on academic partners to help identify compelling funding opportunities and build relationships with interested donors.

Priority #2: Retaining high-performing staff in a tight labor market

In the midst of one of the worst labor challenges in recent history, advancement offices experienced 14% vacancy levels on average in 2022. As a result, advancement leaders are prioritizing retention efforts to keep talent in this tough labor market. In our survey, 87% of respondents rated retaining talent in a tough labor market as very or somewhat important.

EAB’s recent research on the advancement talent crisis found that salary, flexible work, burnout, professional growth, and equity and inclusion all influence top talent’s decision to leave. Explore EAB’s Employee Recruitment and Retention Resource Center to find tools to attract and retain top talent in today’s hyper-competitive market.

Priority #3: Refocusing on the middle of the giving pyramid to rebuild the major gift pipeline

Across the last few years, the emphasis on mega campaigns and transformational gifts has led many advancement leaders to underinvest in pipeline donors. This inattention towards the middle of the giving pyramid threatens future major gift efforts and has created a sustainability crisis in higher education fundraising.

Chief advancement officers are increasingly confronting the reality of this crisis. 64% of survey respondents indicated that they’re trying to figure out how to rejuvenate these existing relationships, which have been put on the back burner or neglected in recent years. In particular, private institutions are most likely to feel this crisis with 97% of respondents from these institutions listing this topic as a priority for their advancement shop.

Data from EAB’s Advancement Investment and Performance Initiative provides additional evidence and insight into this trend as our analysis found that the percentage of dollars coming from the middle of the giving pyramid (i.e., gifts between $1,000 and $25,000) dropped six percent at private institutions between 2017 and 2022.

Priority #4: Investing in new engagement strategies for non-alumni

As ultra-high-net-worth individuals have begun behaving less like loyalty driven alumni philanthropists and more like donor investors, advancement leaders have started to expand their reach and prioritize engagement with non-alumni. Half of survey respondents listed fundraising from parents, friends, corporations, and foundations as a very important issue right now.

Advancement leaders realize they have an opportunity to capture a whole new group of donors if they successfully differentiate themselves in the current market. For example, engagement staff at Butler University ditched the “alumni” part of their charter and replaced it with “community.” Advancement staff now focus on creating meaningful engagement with anyone who could be a major gift donor to the university, irrespective of their alumni status.

Join Our Roundtables on Organizational Design in Advancement

Priority #5: Exploring segmented cultivation strategies for different generations (Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z)

Nearly 97% of chief advancement officers indicated that generational cultivation strategies are either very important or somewhat important to them right now. Leaders realize that the characteristics of each generation need to be understood before building effective cultivation strategies for these donors.

Over the past decade, millennial and Gen X alumni in their 30s and 40s have been considered the greatest unrealized opportunity for higher education advancement. This group represents the largest alumni cohort, and they are just a few years away from peak earning potential. Additionally, the emergence of Gen Z has forced advancement leaders to reconsider their traditional cultivation strategies.

5 Attributes Defining Gen Z’s Relationship With Advancement

Edward Issertell

Edward Issertell

Edward Issertell is a senior analyst working with the Advancement Advisory Services team. He conducts best practice research related to higher education fundraising and alumni relations. In Edward's time researching advancement, he has conducted research on organizational design in advancement and engagement of generation Z. Edward has also supported the execution of EAB's advancement benchmarking service. Before he moved to the advancement team, Edward spent time with the professional and adult education team researching marketing and recruitment. In his free time, Edward enjoys running, watching sports, and spending time with friends.

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