The Advancement Director’s Schedule

In light of the articles on Advancement over the past couple of weeks, I thought this would be a good time to share some thoughts about your work schedule as an advancement director, offering a framework for a daily plan, and not just a yearly one as the new school year gets underway. Remember that advancement is a system – you can’t just focus on marketing, then move to enrollment once all the marketing’s been done, then move to development once all the enrollment’s been done. That’s linear thinking, and it’s one reason why our schools are failing today, since progress (or regression, for that matter) in one area will have an effect in another. All of the elements of Advancement (Asset Management, Retention, Marketing, Enrollment and Development) are in play all the time, so if you’re responsible for all those things, that’s a lot of balls you have to juggle…and don’t let any of them drop.

And yes, they even need to be juggled during the summer.  While your school may “shut down” for the month of July (which simply accelerates the demise of the school, and will figure prominently in the years to come), Advancement can’t stop, since, quite literally, if advancement stops, stagnation results.  By the way, if you’d like to know why you can’t “take July off” anymore, send an email to admin@schooladvancement.com with the words Open in July in the subject line.

Even if you’re not in charge of finance (what I like to call Asset Management), you still have to work with the person who is, precisely because tuition and financial aid play a role in the success of advancement. While you may not be directly responsible for successful tuition collection and financial aid allocation, it is important to be aware of these matters, since both can have a significant impact on enrollment and retention. I remember speaking with one school whose parish business manager collected 100% of tuition by the completion of the school year. That was the goal, and a goal that was met every year.  When I first encountered the school, it was newly built, with room for 400 students, wired for technology, and air-conditioned for comfort.  Indeed, it was (and still is) a remarkable building.  Unfortunately, enrollment kept declining at the school from year to year, despite all the school’s efforts at marketing (with no enrollment nor development director).  Interestingly, one of my best friends during my college days and his family enrolled their children there, only to disenroll them because they received phone call after phone call after phone call from the business manager, and did not appreciate being dogged month after month, year after year. Sure, this person met the goal they had set, but it negatively impacted retention and enrollment, and therefore, the enrollment expectations. Why enrollment?  Because parents talk to parents, and those parents who left the school because they didn’t want to be hassled may have talked to families that were considering enrolling their children. Indeed, the systemic effects can be profound.

Before getting into the schedule itself, I must mention that I believe I’m on the right track when other professionals and publications validate the ideas presented in these articles.  More about that later…please read on.

Here’s a proposed schedule for your consideration. Mind you, you may have to work evenings and weekends on a specific task (like working with an alum at a sporting event to set the stage for a major gift ask, or coordinating a gala dinner/auction event and emceeing the evening’s festivities), but on a typical Monday through Friday, consider a schedule like this:

7:30 – 9:00 Element 1
9:00- 10:30 Element 2
10:30 – 11:00 BREAK
11:00 – 12:30 Element 3
12:30 – 2:00 LUNCH
2:00 – 3:30 Element 4
3:30- 5:00 Element 5

While contiguously, that’s a 9.5 hour day, it allows for 7.5 of work…and your lunch may be shorter than an hour and a half, or could be a “working lunch.” Also, feel free to rearrange your schedule as your day dictates. You might have to drive an hour to meet with a potential donor for an hour…and that’s fine. And you’re always going to have some type of on-site meeting, since the majority of the advancement director’s work should take place outside the walls of the school. This structure at least provides a framework to maintain to keep the “systemicism” of advancement top of mind.

Note that the schedule also does not say Enrollment or Development at a particular time of day. You customize it based on your needs. With that in mind, here’s an example of what a Monday and Tuesday could look like:

MONDAY –
7:30 – 9:00 Development
9:00 – 10:30 Retention
10:30 – 11:00 BREAK (Get some tea and return office phone calls)
11:00 – 12:30 Marketing
12:30 – 2:00 LUNCH (with Diocesan Development Director)
2:00 – 3:30 Enrollment
3:30- 5:00 Asset Management

TUESDAY –
7:30 – 9:00 Asset Management (continued from yesterday)
9:00 – 10:30 Enrollment
10:30 – 12:00 Marketing – meeting with committee
12:00 – 1:30 LUNCH
1:30 – 3:00 Development
3:00- 4:30 Retention
4:30 – 5:00 BREAK (actually, go home early to attend child’s music recital)

Keep your meetings during the workday to an hour and a half maximum to manage your time and respect the time of the people you’re meeting with. You might also double up time periods during one day of the week for a lengthy project, but just make sure you don’t ignore the Advancement Element that you put on hold to create a three-hour long block of time.

One last thing – don’t give up your break! You may find that rather than a half-hour break, you’d like two 15-minute power breaks, creating something like this:

7:30 – 9:00 Element 1
9:00- 10:30 Element 2
10:30 – 10:45 BREAK
10:45 – 12:15 Element 3
12:15 – 1:45 LUNCH
1:45 – 3:15 Element 4
3:15 – 3:30 BREAK
3:30- 5:00 Element 5

Every child in your school has a schedule, and they are learning every day. Perhaps the reason we may find Advancement overwhelming is that we don’t have the same discipline that the students in the school do. Even Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3) . Granted, the context is completely different, but the average “life-expectancy” of a development director or an advancement director at an institution is 18 months because it’s “All energy, all the time!”  That short amount of time doesn’t bode well for an institution, since it takes 3 to 5 years for Development to have a major impact – especially after a change in Advancement leadership!

Why? Because, in many cases, when the Advancement Director leaves, all the relationships go with that individual, and the new person must begin relationship building all over again.

As for the validation from professional and published sources regarding this concept, Greg McKeown, a writer for the Harvard Business Review, published a book titled, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.”  It’s on last week’s list of “Required Summer Reading” options.  There were 6 concepts which stood out:

– Focus: What’s Important Now;

– Subtract: Bring Forth More By Removing Obstacles;

– Progress: Creating Small Wins;

– Uncommit: Win Big By Cutting Your Losses; and

– Buffer: The Unfair Advantage

In the chapter titled “Flow: The Genius of Routine,” I’d like to quote a paragraph that gives validity to this article’s content:

Jack Dorsey, the cofounder of Twitter and founder of Square, has an interesting approach to his weekly routine.  He has divided his week up into themes.  Monday is for management meetings and “running the company” work.  Tuesday is for product development. Wednesday is for marketing, communications and growth.  Thursday is for developers and partnerships.  Friday is for the company and its culture.  This routine helps to provide calmness amid the chaos of a high-growth start-up.  It enables him to focus his energy on a single theme each day instead of being pulled into everything.  He adheres to this routine each week, no exceptions, and over time, people learn this about him and can organize meetings and requests around it. (p.212)

If this approach appeals to you, focus on a different element of advancement every day.  Maybe change the days assigned to the elements for the following week based on the scheduled appointments you have.  The overarching principle is that since advancement is a system, and requires systems thinking, you also must find a system that works for you.  Simply putting out fires hour-to-hour and day-to-day, and being expected to say “Yes” to everything the comes across your desk is a great way to burn yourself out.  Further, being expected to be in the building at all times will also burn the advancement director out.  Advancement has a good chance of becoming the “catch all” position, and may receive assignments when an idea doesn’t really fit within a current job description.  If the job description says, “Other duties as assigned,” that’s a good sign that you may end up as the “trash can” for projects that just sap your time and do not produce the results you’re expected to achieve.

The book also suggests what to do on Saturday and Sunday in other sections.  Saturday is for family.  Shut the phone and iPad off, and connect with your family, call your mother, have a date with your spouse.  Sunday is for yourself.  Rest.  Worship.  Mow the lawn (that sounds like a chore, but it’s alone time where you can listen to music or even pray for those who need to be remembered.  A set of noise-cancelling headphones helps tremendously).

If we want advancement to be a rewarding experience, we have to be open to potential, plant seeds, nurture them, cultivate them, and prepare to be amazed since our God is a God of surprise. Maintain a disciplined approach to ensure that “All things work together for the good of them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2017