‘Advancement’ was very much the word of the week at the recent CASE Europe Conference. For those unable to join us in Brussels, sessions debated the merits of an integrated approach, discussed how to manage integration, and shared successes on how we can all work better together.
In bringing together fundraising, alumni relations, marketing, and communications professionals, one thing was clear: Advancement means different things to different people. There also seemed to be a concern from non-fundraising colleagues that the term ‘Advancement’ is merely a Trojan horse for fundraising to exert a greater influence over other elements of external relations.
As someone who has worn many ‘hats’ in the Higher Education sector, I think it is important that fundraisers listen to the fears of our colleagues and take the lead in demonstrating how our interest in integration is about more than money.
We all know that money talks, and this may explain why fundraising can often seem like the loudest child in the family. But let’s be honest. If it were only about the money, there are easier ways to make a quick buck than philanthropy. Universities could sell off prime assets in City Centres, prioritise lucrative conference bookings over student needs, and cut back on research areas that don’t align with the latest government priorities.
Yet we choose to pursue philanthropy to truly advance the vision, mission, and raison d’être of our institutions. Unlike the options listed above, our work does not detract or compete with the core business of our Universities, but rather empowers them to achieve their potential. In their purest forms, our Universities exist to pursue knowledge, and philanthropy facilitates this pursuit through direct funding of scholarships and research, but also through building relationships with donors who can open doors, share skills, and provide opportunities.
Now let me be clear: I am not for one second stating that the bottom line is not important. My early days in regular giving instilled in me an almost obsessive tracking of new funds secured, income received, and solicitations made. But these figures need to be viewed as a means to an end, and that end is about so much more than money.
Just as the shiny, new technology platform is seen as the mechanism and not the output in alumni relations, the money we raise is simply another mechanism through which we are nurturing the next generation of leaders. And as long as all routes lead to the same goal, combining the various tools of development, alumni relations, marketing, and communications professionals can only provide a stronger foundation through which we can all advance our educational institutions.
P.S. I agree that the term ‘Advancement’ risks connotations of being yet another corporate ‘buzzword’ or Americanism. Get in touch should you ever think up a better collective noun, as I do believe Sir Eric Thomas has promised a bottle of his finest wine to the person who can successfully propose an alternative which is able to truly reflect the amazing impact of our work.
– Victoria Barthram, Senior Consultant