Trends in Advancement

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Interview with Diane N. MacGillivray, Senior Vice president for University Advancement, Northeastern University

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Interview Transcript

Cynthia Woolbright: Focusing then, Diane, on trends and challenges in advancement, talk a little bit about what you see as the three major trends that are approaching us in the advancement field over the next five-to-ten years?

Diane MacGillivray: First I would say that there will be a continuing shift from what we might describe as a donor culture, or a pure-giving culture, where people are happy to make a gift and have an institution use it in any way that the institution sees fit to what I would describe as more of an investor culture where accountability and outcome, what we might also call a return on investment, is going to be expected.

I think that we have seen that happen, to a fairly significant extent, with major gift donors and certainly principal gift donors over the past five years, maybe even longer than that, but I’m seeing it more and more even with donors to the annual side. People who make smaller gifts want to know what their money is being used for and how they can measure outcomes.

So, I think that that’s going to be an ongoing trend in advancement, and I think that our challenge as advancement professionals will be to find ways to be responsive, to be accountable, but to manage mutually those kinds of expectations because clearly we’re not going to be in a position to account for every penny that the institution spends.

I think another one—and again this is not necessarily profound or new—but ongoing internationalization of our work. I think those of us—at least at the level of working with institutions of higher ed college and universities—we’re taking more and more international students, and more and more our domestic alumni are working overseas.

So I think we will have to continue to dive deeply into what it means to be raising money in different cultures and understanding how this next generation of donors will continue to shape what fundraising looks like, what philanthropy looks like, because it will not continue to look the same way it has in the United States over the last 100 years. But the extent to which we can really understand that as a profession will be the extent to which we have success in the future.

And then, the third one and this I am noticing more and more with our donors, but especially when we think about growing our pipeline of donors—is that with more diverse donors and with greater what I would call customization of goods and services in the marketplace we are going to be required to have a more and more individualized, personalized experience for our donors.

We’re going to need to be prepared to deal with that, and, I guess what I mean by that is that the days of the scripted phone call or the single-message mass mailing are becoming rapidly less effective, we’re going to have to keep up with that trend, I think, if we’re going to be relevant to our donors. So, those are three major trends that I see facing us going forward.

Cynthia Woolbright: Well, those are certainly going to be challenging for us. I’m very intrigued about what you say in terms of the individual and personal, and how we might deal with that how that begins to be translated because certainly we’re not going to be in a position to hire lots more people, but how we work more effectively to do that will be very important.

Diane MacGillivray I think that’s exactly right and that’s going to speak to, I think, a question that you have coming up.

Cynthia Woolbright: Let’s go ahead and jump to that question how do you envision changes in staffing and functions over the next several years?

Diane MacGillivray: That is exactly the thing that I’ve been thinking of in terms of the kinds of people and the kinds of skills that we’ll need. We are going to have to find ways to manage larger numbers of relationships in a very personalized kind of way, and to find people who can understand how to do that effectively. We think about fundraisers who manage principal gift relationships and about how those gift officers have fairly small portfolios because of the amount of time that they need to develop those relationships.

And then all the way down on the other end of the spectrum are our annual giving operations, which are intended to touch lots and lots of people, but in a way that while perhaps targeted, is not yet individualized. We’re going to have to find people who can creatively and flexibly and in innovative ways, begin to narrow that gap between the two approaches. Does that mean that I’m talking about people who are social media experts or big data exports? I am not sure, but I think that is going to be the key characteristic of a successful advancement operation in the future.

It will be interesting and I think that we have some interesting lessons to take from industries that are already doing this and I don’t know that we as a profession are focused on that as much as maybe we’ll need to be.

Cynthia Woolbright: Do you have some industries in mind?

Diane MacGillivray: Well, even in what are now becoming almost traditional social media, Facebook or Twitter, you’re already getting customized messages back to you,

I just became aware of a new customized magazine that you can do online. It’s called Flipboard and it will draw from the things that your friends like, or the Instagram or Pinterest photos that you look at, and will create a customized newsfeed or magazine for you. Well, if people get used to having their relationships with media, with retail, et cetera, organized in that way, I think they’re going to have the same kind of expectations of us.

They’ll assume that we know them, we know their likes, we know what kinds of things would interest them because that’s the way they’re used to encountering all kinds of other things in their daily lives. That’s what I mean when I talk about customization or personalization and takingrelationship management to the next level and in …

Cynthia Woolbright: So, when you think about the challenges that you face on a regular basis today, what are those challenges? What keeps you up at night?

Diane MacGillivray: I’m probably going to sound like so many of my colleagues—and this, again, won’t be new—but I would say that it is talent, talent, talent. There just never seem to be enough experienced and successful fundraisers to go around for all of the wonderful and worthy nonprofits who need that kind of skill and talent. That is one of the major challenges that we will continue to face.

We know that the nonprofit world is a major and critical sector in our economy. We know that so many important things rely on our ability to tap into private source giving, and we just don’t have enough people who think about entering the advancement profession. A lot of us think about this, and talk about how we might build more direct career pipelines; but I don’t know that any of us is actually doing it systematically or consistently.

Cynthia Woolbright: I know some of the organizations have developed their own human talent as a part of their organizations in terms of identification, recruitment and I think a lot of them are finding that they really do need to grow their own as one of the ways, not the only way, but as one of the ways to develop that talent.

Diane MacGillivray: Right and I think for me, it’s not only growing our own, but getting more people with diverse backgrounds, skill sets…

Consider it so we can grow our own and that goes back to some of the trends that I think I see. I think we’ll need people with diverse cultures maybe from places where the culture of philanthropy is different from our own; people with different kinds of skill sets we might not traditionally have thought of, but might be very effective in thinking about relationship management.

Cynthia Woolbright: So, when you think about your own board of trustees and the role they play in raising philanthropic support, tell me about their current role and what you see evolving over the next five-to-ten years.

Diane MacGillivray: Well, the role of the board is crucial and I think that the board represents not just leadership, but are the key stakeholders in the institution. And therefore, the signal they send in terms of whether or not they are also key investors is noticed. It makes a difference. It sends the signal about, the health, well-being, vision and future of the institution. So, we work a lot with the board so that they understand that role is one that’s important because they are the ones who know the university not just in its current form, but in its direction and its future.

The ongoing education of the board in terms of making sure that there’s great alignment between all of the board members, between the management team, between those players and the advancement professionals who are then taking those messages out to other potential supporters, is one that our board is understanding in a deeper and more significant way all the time.

So, it’s not just about, “You’re a trustee, therefore you need to make a gift,” but it’s, “You’re a trustee. If you’re a believer and an investor in the institution, you really need to invest in something that matters to you, to the institution,” institutions that have boards that lead in this way are going to rely on those boards because they are the ones who provide the stability and continuitythat carries on from administration-to-administration.

Cynthia Woolbright: When you think of your alumni at Northeastern University, what role or functions do you see alumni serving, and is that changing?

Diane MacGillivray: Alumni are the most important stewards of the university, bar none. Sometimes I tell students when I’m trying to explain what it is I do and why it matters that, this will be their institution forever. You can’t really divorce your alma mater.

So, the vibrancy and the well-being of your university continues to matter because it’s a part of you, your history, and who you are. Stewardship is incredibly important and the nature of that stewardship can range from being a major donor to a significant volunteer, or it could be being a positive advocate for the institution or when it comes to thinking about hiring a new graduate. So, the scope is enormous of what it means to have a role or to be involved. I think those universities that will thrive and do well in the future will be those that have strong engagement and strong stewardship from their alums.

I also think that as our tuitions rise and the debate about the value of education continues to go on they’re going to expect more out of us after they leave in terms of services, networking opportunities, continuing education, whatever that is. The partnership between the institution and its alumni in that active kind of role will be one that will become more important in the future, as well.

So, there are a lot of interesting challenges as far as the institution and its alumni relationships, it’s a time for a lot of reshaping and creativity and innovation in terms of how that continues to be a mutually-beneficial engagement and relationship.

Cynthia Woolbright: Innovation and ability to be flexible and to think in new ways continues to be a challenge.

Diane MacGillivray: Yes. I think that’s absolutely right and that is perhaps one of the most exciting things that we have ahead of us, but I know at least for my organization, we haven’t spent the time yet to really think in a deep way about how we’ll need to shape our thinking to meet those needs because of course, we’re so busy just trying to hit the metrics that we need to make…

…quarter-to-quarter and by the end of the fiscal year, that to take the time out to disrupt our own industry and, you know, you hear a lot about this, you know, disruptive innovations or creative disruptions.

That’s where we need to think a lot about how disruptive technologies can be put to use in service of our institutions, in service of creating a new kind of philanthropist.

Cynthia Woolbright: Well, I thank you so much for your time.

Diane MacGillivray: All right. Thanks, Cynthia.


DNM headshot

Diane N. MacGillivray is senior vice president for University Advancement at Northeastern University, overseeing a broad range of efforts including advancement communications; advancement services; alumni relations; development; interdisciplinary initiatives; governing board relations and development, and special projects. Under MacGillivray’s leadership, University Advancement works closely with the deans of Northeastern’s nine schools and colleges as well as athletics and university libraries to develop and execute fundraising strategies, including planning, implementing and overseeing the university’s historic $1 billion campaign. She is also a key advisor in the operation and development of Northeastern’s governing board entities.

Prior to joining Northeastern in 2007, MacGillivray was senior associate dean for Advancement in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California (USC).  There Diane directed USC’s $400 million Tradition & Innovation fundraising initiative.  She also oversaw the development of its annual giving society; parents program; seven regional and thematic boards; and an international fundraising effort.  In addition, she established endowment funding for USC’s Korean Studies Institute and Institute for Armenian Studies, and led the integration of the Shoah Foundation’s fundraising operation when it moved to USC in 2005.

MacGillivray holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s in 19th century British history from USC.


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The Woolbright Group’s services include counsel in strategic planning, board development, leadership and team building, capacity building, training in effective fundraising and solicitation skills, and more. For more information, please contact us.

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