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3 traits of the most successful advancement offices—and how to put them into practice

May 28, 2019

How should colleges and universities invest their scarce dollars in advancement? Here’s how the best advancement offices get the most bang for their buck.

I often hear from presidents that with growing revenue pressure, meeting with donors and attending fundraising events has never been more important. But it’s no longer enough to show up and shake hands. Presidents need to make sure that the advancement office has the budget and staff to meet ambitious goals.

How should colleges and universities invest their scarce dollars in advancement? To find out, EAB researchers benchmarked 150+ advancement offices at schools large and small. What they found were clear differences between high-ROI and low-ROI advancement offices. Here’s how the best advancement offices get the most bang for their buck:

1. They focus on major gifts, not just mega-gifts

Despite the headline-grabbing appeal of multi-million-dollar donations, EAB’s research found that what matters more is the number of overall gifts at every tier over $25K. Major gift officers at high-ROI advancement offices close almost 11 major gifts each year, compared to 7 major gifts at low-ROI advancement offices.

2. They staff up

It’s not surprising that the advancement offices with the most FTEs also raise the most funds. But what’s interesting is that as advancement offices get bigger, they also get more efficient—it’s the opposite of administrative bloat. As EAB’s advancement expert Jeff Martin puts it, “Every marginal dollar spent brings in more than the one before.”

It’s important to point out that where advancement offices add staff makes the difference. Small institutions benefit most from adding staff in prospect research and analytics, which helps make the most of scarce advancement resources. Large institutions benefit most from more marketing and communications staff, who can scale personalized outreach and gift proposals to large populations of alumni.

3. They invest in support services

It’s true that high-ROI advancement offices do have more major gift officers, but these don’t come at the expense of strategic support. Institutions willing to invest in things like prospect research, analytics, gift processing and financial reporting see outsized returns. On average, high-ROI advancement offices have 2.5 support services FTEs compared to 1.4 FTEs at low-ROI advancement offices.


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