Advancement services come of age

John Taylor
John Taylor

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. – In 1987, when he became director of gift records at Duke University in Durham, John Taylor found a handful of offices like his that supported the university’s fundraising efforts were scattered throughout the campus, loosely connected with one another, if at all, and treated simply as “back-office” operations.

“There were little pigeon holes throughout the university doing little bits and pieces of what is now recognized as ‘advancement services,” says Taylor.

Today, as associate vice chancellor for advancement services at N.C. State University in Raleigh, he heads a staff of roughly 20 full-time and part-time employees who handle and help coordinate alumni and donor records, donor relations, prospect management, prospect research and information services for the entire university.

He also owns and runs FundSvcs, an international list serve he founded in 1993 for advancement-services professionals that has over 2,400 subscribers.

And he is president of the Association of Advancement Services Professionals, a professional organization he founded in 2007 that has nearly 400 dues-paying members and this October will host its third annual conference in Chicago.

Advancement services, Taylor says, “is a much more highly regarded profession than it has ever been.”

That is a far cry from the state of the profession when he started working at Duke.

A former officer in the Navy and banker, Taylor wanted to work in the development field because of his exposure to it from his father, Ted Taylor, who had served as president of the Kresge Foundation in Michigan for nearly 20 years.

But lacking development experience, he joined Duke in 1986 as manager of university payrolls, then moved a year later to the gift-records job.

In the late 80s, he began talking with colleagues at other schools who worked in areas such as gift-processing, demographic updating of data, and information-technology services that supported the advancement function.

“We recognized there was a need to bring all these units together in one department, one organization,” he says.

So in 1990, Taylor, Ann House at the University of Miami, and Sandra Kidd, then at Emory University and now a consultant with Alexander Haas Martin in Atlanta, created a conference on advancement services sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE, and held in Coral Gables, Fla.

They also spearheaded, in California, the first-ever track on advancement services at a CASE district conference.

And in 1991, Taylor wrote the first article on the profession of advancement services ever published in CASE Currents, the organization’s journal.

The article, entitled “Divine Assistance: A Centralized Financial Services Department Can Be A Heavenly Help To Fundraising,” talked about the importance of providing better support for fundraising by bringing together advancement-services functions that typically were scattered, Taylor says.

And in the mid-1990s, he says, CASE asked him to reconstitute one of its summer institute program and focus it on advancement services.

After several years, the summer institute was drawing 135 advancement-services professionals.

Today, while no two are alike, advancement-services offices are common operations at colleges and universities throughout the U.S., Taylor says.

“We offer one-stop shopping for all the supporting functions,” he says of the profession.

The profession also has won respect in the form of compensation that reflects its value, he says.

“It is a much more highly-regarded profession than it has ever been,” he says.

Salary studies conducted by CASE, for example, show a “meteoric rise in compensation levels for advancement-services folks from next to the bottom to next to the top” within the overall advancement field, he says.

At N.C. State, the advancement-services office provides services such as a single donor database for the university, as well as reporting tools for fundraising staff, standardized receipts and pledge reminders.

Last year, the office helped establish policies and standards for accepting gifts throughout the university, and it is just launching new standards for entering into the university’s database the names of donors and prospective donors to be used in mailings, and the salutations they prefer.

And working with the General Administration of the 17-campus University of North Carolina system, Taylor advises smaller campuses on strengthening their advancement-services functions.

In the face of increasing competition for donor dollars, and a deluge of regulations about charitable giving and acceptance of gifts, Taylor says, advancement-services professionals “make it possible for fundraisers to raise funds, and we help keep institutions out of trouble.”

The Philanthropy Journal is a program of the Institute for Nonprofits at N.C. State University.

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