4 ways to navigate unrealistic expectations placed on advancement leaders

By Zachary A. Smith, PhD
May 5th, 2016


Expert gives advice for the campus advancement leader in today’s era of unrealistic expectations.

We all like to say that our jobs are pressure cookers. I am quite certain that today’s higher education advancement leader and development leader speak the truth when they say it. Advancement work has never been for the faint of heart, but at least in the old days there were more long lunches involved.

The ratcheting of fundraising pressure in recent years has coincided with budget shortfalls and other financial challenges on campus. Most institutions will say that they don’t use advancement and development to fill budget holes, but certainly some do at the expense of programs and initiatives that deserve advancement’s attention and funding.

University governing boards often look to their institution’s CEO and advancement leader to quickly find alternative funding sources in an era of declining state support combined with increased calls to keep tuition flat. These short-term pressures often supersede long-term relationship building and strategy that should serve as the core of any successful fundraising program. In many ways, this bottom-line focused environment in advancement is reminiscent of another collegiate industry that is quick to dismiss its leaders who don’t show immediate results: big-time intercollegiate athletics.

Career advancement professionals should anticipate these issues and seek out jobs and commitments that are suitable for their career growth and contentment. In an active market that currently favors the candidate and challenges the employer, advancement professionals may get multiple job offers that seem attractive and good for their upward mobility but are not necessarily in their best long-term interests. (I highly recommend “How to Handle Advancement Job Opportunities (and Create Good Career Karma),” by my colleague Dennis Barden.)

Anyone looking for a long, healthy career in advancement and development must understand the often-unrealistic expectations placed upon the advancement leader today, and work to keep those expectations in check and in line with their own.

(Next page:  4 considerations for today’s advancement leader)

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