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If You Don't Know What You're Looking For, You Won't Know When You've Found It

Searching for a great Chief Advancement Officer? Maybe you already have one, but need a Chief Operating Officer for Advancement. Or maybe it’s vice versa. It’s a rare person who can handle both jobs at once.

So what do you need? A fundraiser or a manager? That’s always the big question. In an ideal world you’ll find one individual who can do both jobs with great skill. But most of us don’t live in an ideal world. Perhaps you need both. In larger shops and even in medium sized shops, you should consider the need to have the equivalent of a COO: a person who is going to pay attention to the data; a person who tracks donor relations/stewardship issues; events; the Annual Giving program; prospect management; and whether or not your leadership gifts officers are actually making calls on prospects with potential.

Often the internal functions fall primarily to an Advancement Services Director. That may be only part of the solution to managing the inside of a complex Advancement operation. A clearly defined #2 for the office is often a necessity. Someone who can fill in for the CAO when he/she is traveling. Someone who can tell the “boss” what he/she doesn’t want to hear – but needs to know. Someone who can keep the trains on the right track. The more I see, the more I’m convinced that with the pressures on today’s Chief Advancement Officers to produce and work closely with the president and board on strategy – the #2 position is an imperative. And it shouldn’t be just a data person. It should be an experienced development officer – who’s been in the field and understands how advancement works – but for whatever reason – doesn’t want to be the top dog or clearly isn’t ready. A loyalist, but a straight shooter. Someone who knows how to manage the egos below and above him/her.

If that’s what the #2 person does, then what is the Job of the Chief Advancement Officer?

A CAO needs a very rare skill set: S/he needs to be comfortable with wealthy and sophisticated donors and prospects; loyal, effective, focused, and tactically agile in a supporting role to the CEO when they make prospect visits together; able to map strategy for the Advancement program and chart a course for its success there, while understanding the institutional big picture. I would argue that one of the people the Chief Advancement Officer needs to work closely with is the Chief Academic Officer – Provost, Dean, whatever the title. These two should know each other and collaborate collegially on fundraising priorities and strategy. If a Chief Advancement Officer doesn’t understand the academic program, how can she or he explain it to others? By the same token, Chief Academic Officers need to understand the types of programs that will appeal to donors. Good ones can be surprisingly effective at making calls if properly trained. Too often that doesn’t happen.

An effective Chief Advancement Officer needs to understand that it’s not just a question of working well with the CEO and board. Managing across the institution – working closely with CFOs, Admissions, Student Affairs, Athletics - matters too. The Chief Advancement Officer needs to understand the big picture of the institution – not just Advancement. It’s critical to explaining priorities to donors. That’s why having a strong #2 is important! These are two big jobs, not one.

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