Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

October 19, 2017

Academic & Student Affairs advancement: A shared vision and collective impact

Tomitha Blake
Other universities are just starting to rethink how best to organize their work to capture donor interest around affinity and experiences. We’re already doing it.”

­—Tomitha Blake, associate vice provost for Academic & Student Affairs Advancement

Four and a half years ago, the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, Student Life, Undergraduate Academic Affairs, the Graduate School — and, now, Enrollment Management — came together to develop a shared vision to transform the student experience with goals to advance and promote student access, diversity and engagement across the University. Then-Provost Ana Mari Cauce asked now-Provost Jerry Baldasty to serve as the first senior vice provost for Academic & Student Affairs, responsible for the coordination of this effort across the units.

These units operate independently; however, the UW’s capital campaign offered the opportunity to rethink advancement staffing and functions. Reorganizing as a shared service meant the units could increase fundraising and impact the student experience more than any one unit could alone without additional resources.

The challenge: To increase support for student success by better coordinating existing resources

Previously, advancement officers in each of the units worked independently with smaller portfolios of opportunity. It was not unusual for two officers to reach out to the same donor to fund similar programs. Donors interested in access, student success and diversity across the University were presented smaller proposals from single units, rather than larger, cross-functional and transformational proposals focused on a shared vision. Advancement resources were spread thinly across competing priorities and boutique programs.

Denzil Suite
Student Life is actively working on shared service opportunities with programs and services as one of our key committees charged through our strategic planning process. The success of ASA Advancement with shared services provides an excellent example for us to examine.”

—Denzil J. Suite, vice president for Student Life

The solution: A cross-functional team that supersizes service

The new shared-service model maintains the co-location of advancement officers
within the units while adding a matrixed reporting structure. This means that advancement officers have dual reporting lines: one to the unit leader, and the other to ASA Advancement. In this model, officers’ work intersects with the work of colleagues housed in other ASA units, and the cross-functional organization spurs collaboration and resource pooling. What is unique is that ASA Advancement goals, not just reporting lines, span the units — allowing officers to focus on both the particular funding opportunities based in each unit, as well as transformational ideas that cut across units.

Reorganizing the team revealed opportunities for scalable funding opportunities in areas such as leadership and careers, mentoring and advising, and access and diversity. In short, donors can now imagine their investments impacting student success throughout the University. The process of developing related fundable opportunities has brought together colleagues to collaborate in new ways that support the shared vision of unit leaders.

Benefits: “Growing the pie” with donor-centric coordination, consistency and professional growth

Working as an interconnected team has increased donor support. Before the shift to a shared model, fundraising of the five units totaled approximately $7 – 11 million per year. Now, it is currently close to $17 – 20 million annually in this campaign.

Parent and Family Weekend

ASA advancement launched the new Parent & Family Programs to build a community of support for a group not previously reached. Photo courtesy of Parent & Family Programs.

Developing a shared vision helped the unit leaders focus on transforming the UW student experience. The vice presidents and deans are prioritizing programs and initiatives that drive key student learning outcomes, impact the student experience at scale and spark the passion of investors.

This shared service model places the UW ahead of the curve regarding donor behavior. Trends in philanthropy indicate an increased focus on the student experience in a holistic way and on affinity — the specific groups, clubs and experiences donors were passionate about as students. Working together, ASA advancement officers can quickly respond to donors’ affinity and deepen their connection to the whole university.

The creation of a clear, shared vision allows officers from all units to speak passionately and effectively about UW priorities — which has benefited each unit’s communications efforts, as well. Communications directors now collaborate on strategies, messaging and content that support the student experience and the value of diversity.

Centralizing stewardship for each unit has also led to a more standardized, streamlined process for acknowledgements — and ASA Advancement has integrated these efforts into comprehensive donor engagement strategies for each unit. From the donor’s perspective, the ASA message is now timely, consistent and demonstrates the impact of their support through student stories.

In addition, the shared advancement team structure results in higher fundraiser performance. It also encourages mentoring, as more experienced fundraisers guide and advise newer ones. The broader base of expertise and interests naturally expands the skills of all team members, with a strong emphasis on meaningful metrics and collaboration.

Lessons learned:

  • Donors aren’t the only audience, and change is hard. Shifting to this model meant helping staff and leaders understand that advancement is most successful when we focus efforts on a few vision-aligned priorities, and demonstrate the impact on students and their experiences — rather than addressing budget shortfalls or focusing on emerging projects that are beyond the scope of our current resources and strategy.
  • A shared vision relies on buy-in. While the ASA Advancement model is structured with formal reporting lines, it depends on a broad network of collaborations that are more fluid. Developing a compelling vision and strong networks with staff members inspires those outside the reporting lines to work together. The informal networking to build trust is a continuous process. It requires constant refreshing both of the vision itself and the buy-in achieved through a sense of shared ownership and respect.
  • Being nimble is a must to serve a rapidly evolving philanthropic environment. Reassess and innovate constantly to ensure the team’s organization, services and focus meet the complex needs of the units and the challenges facing higher education more broadly.