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Donna Caputo
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Avoiding the "Order Taker" Trap


Advancement Services exists to support the advancement professionals at an organization. The fact is that the Advancement Services team does things that others in the organization don’t have the skills to do. It’s impossible to make end users understand all the technical steps required to generate a list, keep donor records up to date, make sure the prospect pipeline is accurate, and generate all the reports the Development team dreams up.

Truth is, everyone wants what they want when they want it. All data is critical and needed ASAP, and time is of the essence. But honestly, end users don’t always realize they are asking Advancement Services to jump through hoops when they ask for something and say they need it “now." If Advancement Services isn’t front and center in the planning for how the organization is going to raise funds, communicate with donors, and measure success, they can become glorified order takers.

Some Advancement Services teams find themselves constantly missing deadlines. Why?

  • End users make requests at the absolute last minute.
  • Requests in the queue have to be shoved to the bottom of the list because of the emergencies.
  • No one knows the request is coming, so the Advancement Services team can’t prepare for it by, for example, building standardized outputs or setting up data to capture some new requirements.
  • Requests are missing information, but Advancement Services doesn’t know that because they are not involved in the specifications.
  • When Advancement Services delivers the request, the user makes changes and needs immediate turnaround.

How do you break this cycle?

Communication, planning, inclusion, and advance notice are four keys.

  • Plan and communicate schedules for all projects requiring lists or report development.
  • Coordinate schedules across departments to minimize overlap.
  • Identify and include stakeholders in planning activities.
  • Require advance notice and monitor the “emergency” requests.

Moving away from “order-taking” into functioning as a fine-tuned support operation can require time and effort, but it is possible to change an organization’s culture. Investing in creating smooth operations will pay off in focused work and better analysis, to the benefit of your organization’s mission.