Using Your Advancement Office

By Ryan Smolko posted 09-04-2018 07:26


Here at Muhlenberg College, a small private liberal arts college of 2,300 students, our career center sits under advancement. This division includes development, donor relations, corporate foundation and government relations, advancement services, alumni affairs, annual giving, and leadership gifts.  When I mention this at events it often brings a variety of responses from “Wow….that’s interesting,” to “Really, your team must constantly be asking people for money.” Over the past three years of this structure we’ve found common ground that has enabled us to help students, and the college as a whole in powerful new ways. If you don’t have a strong relationship with your advancement office, the beginning of a new fiscal year is a great time to reach out and get the conversation started. Here are a few tips based on my experience to create a mutually beneficial relationship: 

  1. Think strategically: When beginning to explore the world of development, it’s important to do your homework and look at what fundraising priorities are/have been, if they’ve recently completed, are in the midst or are about to launch a capital campaign, and how they’ve engaged alumni programmatically. When the career center at Muhlenberg College was moved from academic affairs to advancement we began understanding how the fundraising priorities for the college allowed us to identify unique opportunities to intersect our work and leverage more resources for student outcomes. 
  2. Start where the wins can come easily: Your institution’s gift officers are the front line with most VIP-level alumni. Being a small liberal arts institution, we face an uphill battle when it comes to attracting employers through traditional recruiting. We work closely with gift officers to create events such as our career road trip series that interfaces students and alumni in major cities and has led to powerful outcomes in opportunity and marketing. It is a program that gives gift officers easy ways to build rapport with their prospects in a meaningful way. We also worked with our director of corporate, foundation and government relations to apply for a one time grant through the Alden Trust to upgrade our office space and create a Career Center lab. 
  3. Build trust: This is the most important aspect. If the communication isn’t on point between career center staff and those in senior positions in development, you won’t be able to work closely with past and potential major alumni donors. We have access to advancement’s CRM where all interaction with alumni is recorded. We also report out during our division-wide meetings on major events and consult regularly with senior leadership and gift officers before communication with alumni for programs. 
  4. Build a human link: Before we were moved from academic affairs to advancement, the college created a position in the alumni affairs department centered around alumni/student connections. The person sat in alumni affairs but attended career center staff meetings and took referrals from center staff when working with students looking to network with specific alumni. This led to better connections and experiences for students and allowed alumni affairs and advancement as a whole to tell a better story. 
Muhlenberg College Career Center

Get started: One thing I always tell colleagues when they ask about how our reporting structure works is we’re the only student-focused office in the division. It creates a linkage across our departments to move the needle in ways other institutions can’t with multiple student-facing offices competing for the same piece of the pie.




09-04-2018 09:02

Great suggestions! We are seeing so much success with this not just directly tied to offering roles, but also in driving more authentic mentoring. Furthermore, development offices appreciate the fact that this drives more engagement and positively impacts giving.