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President’s Perspective: What We Do and Why We Do It
President’s Perspective: What We Do and Why We Do It

Ours is a noble profession—and a mystery to those outside advancement

By John Lippincott

At CASE América Latina's recent Congreso in Mexico City, I was chatting with a presenter who is an American of Mexican descent. When I thanked him for his participation in the conference, he said he was pleased to help CASE serve educational institutions in Latin America. And part of the reason, he explained, was because it might help his relatives in Mexico understand just what he does for a living.

The conversation was a reminder that our profession is not well understood, even in countries where the educational advancement profession has a long history. There are, of course, many reasons for this. Until quite recently, there were no university degree programs specifically designed to prepare people in our field. Very few of us followed our parents into this career (although a growing cadre of second-generation advancement professionals exists in the United States). And as we all know, our work is rarely celebrated in popular media—no advancement superheroes on the big screen, no advancement sitcoms on the small screen.

Most of us arrived at our careers in educational advancement through some circuitous route, some chance meeting, or some avocational interest. Often the attraction was the institution more than the profession. That is, we wanted to work for a school, a college, or a university in a meaningful capacity, and we found the right opportunity within the advancement office.

Whatever the initial impetus, once we entered the field, we tended to stay. While CASE has not gathered any hard data on persistence within the advancement profession, the stories of those who leave the field to pursue other careers are relatively rare. Certainly the CASE members with whom I interact worldwide seem pleased with their career choices, even when they are not fully satisfied with their current jobs.

What's my line?

How, then, do we explain to family and friends, even to seat mates on an airplane, our work as educational advancement officers? How do we encourage others, especially those from diverse backgrounds, to enter this field, where demand for committed and capable professionals continues to outstrip the supply?

Part of the challenge is language. Terms like advancement and development have little currency outside the profession and are inherently ambiguous. Another obstacle is public misperception. The fields of alumni relations, fundraising, marketing, and public relations are poorly understood at best and may be considered unseemly at worst.

How might we overcome these challenges and help others understand what we do and why we do it? While it may be tempting to imagine a worldwide media campaign to advance the field of advancement, the cost alone of a concerted and sustained effort mitigates against that approach.

Even setting cost aside, there is a better approach. Within the CASE membership, we have a global network of more than 70,000 informed, dedicated, and articulate advocates for the profession. Who better to explain our work and the wonderful career opportunities within this field? We also interact with tens of millions of alumni, donors, students, institutional colleagues, and others who appreciate our profession.

We have the voices; what we need is a message for those voices to deliver. The message needs to be simple, compelling, and sincere. It needs to resonate with people around the globe who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. So what is that message?

A message that matters

With regard to what we do, I humbly suggest the following: We turn possibilities into realities at schools, colleges, and universities. And we do that by forging connections between the visions of our institutions and the passions of our donors, the dedication of our alumni, the aspirations of our students, and the ambitions of our communities.

We are ambassadors, matchmakers, bridge builders, and translators. We bring the wider world into our institutions, and we bring our institutions out into the wider world. In so doing, we not only engender much-needed external support—moral, political, and financial—we also guide internal developments that are socially responsive and responsible.

And why do we do it? I can speak only for myself, although I suspect many of my colleagues would offer a similar response. I have dedicated my career to advancing education because I believe I am making a positive contribution to the human condition. During more than 40 years in this profession, I have never wavered in that belief nor regretted my choice of career. On the contrary, my conviction regarding the importance of this profession and my appreciation for its rewards have only grown during those four decades.

I encourage you to spend some time reflecting with your colleagues on what we do and why we do it. I urge you to find ways to share your answers with family, friends, and seat mates on airplanes. Above all, I hope you discover that your answers, like mine, become even more compelling the longer you pursue this noble profession.

About the Author John Lippincott John Lippincott

John Lippincott served as president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education from 2004 through 2015.




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