The Seven Principles of Advancement Leadership

I recently had the pleasure of orienting a new chief advancement officer who is coming to the position from another field. It provided me the opportunity to think about which principles were most important to impart. I landed on these seven.

Success is not measured by one-year results but by the volume of donors retained over time
Fundraising is something we do with donors, not to them
Don’t ask donors to give; show them how they can make a difference
Acquire and retain advancement staff the same way you acquire and retain donors
Effective advancement is based on objective observations of philanthropic behavior not wishful thinking
The most effective advancement operations are the most collaborative
Advancement leaders don’t run an office, they build a culture

Two of the seven, I thought, warranted more explanation. The first item is #4, acquiring and retaining advancement staff. I cited the Lippincott analyses of effective brands in the “Human Era,” which pointed out that companies with the strongest brands treated employees and customers the same. I thought that was particularly applicable to advancement. In the acquisition and retention of both donors and advancement staff, it is of great importance to:

Look for the most purpose-driven
Explore how their motivation aligns with institutional direction
Demonstrate where and how they can make a difference
Not alleviate your anxiety by placing false expectations of them
Not sacrifice partnership building for gift getting
Nurture what drives them
Steward their contributions and deepen professional relationships with honest dialogue

I felt the second item that warranted further explanation is #7, building a culture, not just running an office. Some of the ways that can be achieved are enumerated below.

Advancement Leaders Don’t Run an Office, They Build a Culture

Here are 10 ways advancement leaders build a culture. They:

Develop a statement of advancement principles with the CEO and share it with the board and executive team
Explain the conditions under which sustained fundraising success is achieved, and reward those who help create those conditions
Teach the importance of developing donors as partners and the power of listening in doing so
Report not only on funds donated in the past year but explain how many of the largest gifts were years in the making
Share the names and stories of the most loyal donors so they will be known by all within the organization
Share inspiring stories of donor selflessness citing the most generous within their means
Emphasize that stewardship is an institutional ethic and strategic function, not just an office in advancement
Explain how everyone in the organization is an advancement officer
Provide meaningful and empowering roles for volunteers, keeping them as well informed and as well trained as staff
Kindly correct simplistic or reductive statements about advancement, no matter who utters them


Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020. 


Related Resources:

Webinar: 4-Step Process for “Reimagining Fundraising Operations”
Here’s what I learned about leadership in 2019. I hope it helps you!
Here’s What Supporters “Buy” When They Donate to Charity
This is the #1 driver of fundraiser turnover




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