The last 10 weeks have seen a dizzying array of change, and it’s certainly affecting all of us. Most advancement services offices are adapting to some form of work from home arrangement. But how many have set their teams up for a self-service work environment?

We’re glad to hear that most advancement teams have at least stabilized into work from home arrangements, though gift administration still remains tricky. An informal poll of about 100 professionals in the industry suggests that one or two team members handle in-person checks via campus or hospital mail services. Other than that, entry has transitioned to a remote process, in some cases, with an influx of online giving—especially in healthcare. Advancement hospital teams are affected, too. Some are being asked to mobile for in-hospital, non-medical support roles. These really are incredible times.

The success of rest of the WFH arrangement is usually determined by 1) the team’s culture, 2) the database in use, and 3) the clarity and efficiency of processes. You know the old “we have always done it that way” mentality? Well, it’s been upended. And we’re seeing really innovative ways of streamlining advancement services thanks to COVID-19 (a silver lining if you will?).

So, two months into this mess, the next layer of opportunity is self-service. Now that your WFH arrangement demands more of end users, how well have you been able to get all of your users online and on board to do their jobs via self-service functions? What I mean by “self-service” is simply the ability for your team members to do their work on their own by using the data, forms, reports, and processes that help them do their jobs. This requires clear, well-documented tools and a trusting environment to allow exploration while mitigating risk.

In reality, our consumer lives have increasingly become self-service oriented. When was the last time you went inside a bank? Or a video store? On contrary, our work environments are often a patchwork of clunky support requests, delegation defects, and slight confusion about what to do next. To top it off, many offices established a “drop by Ed’s desk” type of approach to getting what they need, or jumping the line with a request, or remembering where that file was… but now Ed is socially distant. While Slack and Teams does help, not enough of us have operationalized these tools into our day-to-day. So what should advancement services be doing to cater to a self-service work environment?


The answers to delivering great self-service vary by organization, department, person, and situation. The experience changes hourly for those who are home-schooling their kids or wrangling toddlers who would otherwise be in daycare. Despite the significant variability, there are some clear steps to take here. These five considerations will help establish a self-service WFH arrangement and will pay long-term dividends.

1. Delegation and Distribution. Never has the power of delegation and distribution of effort been more evident than now. With no office structure to (mis)guide* us, knowing who does which task is sometimes murky. And, who can do which task may need to be adjusted. Broaden those security roles. Increase access to reporting tools. And, yes, trust (but verify) the work, which coincides with my second point.

2. Training. Training, training, training! Many of us are realizing that our training curricula has boiled down to too few power users and a lot of people who rely on “Barb to run that report” for them. This should change. Today. The first step is to re-shape and re-conduct training. This means you need shared definitions and documentation. You need materials and video to support the team. Touch base with each WFH team member to make sure they know what they should and could be doing.

3. Simplicity. Streamlining your processes is happening by federal edict right now. We are scrambling to adjust because we are in WFH situations. This is a real opportunity, though, to question every “you’ve always done it that way” process. If your processes have more acronyms than a United Nations department search website, seek to clarify language and acronyms. If you have a process that requires many forms and many clicks, look at what you can do to make it easier. If you use coding that no one really understands, make it more clear. If you have too many cooks in the kitchen, now is a time to re-think those roles and steps. And, as you simplify, communicate clearly, concisely, and consistently. Don’t barrage your team with materials, but ensure they have the job aids to support self-service work.

4. Guardrails. Great self-service environments require careful guardrails. The easiest of these is to confirm with all involved that, under no circumstances, will anyone present self-service work outside of the organization/unit without involving the requisite authority, controls, and review. Board-level numbers for the quarterly meeting need to work through a process, but let the team slice-and-dice the numbers for their own purposes all day long. The age-old “my query has duplicates” is a teachable moment so long as it doesn’t serve as a mailing list. Give the team room to try and test things out, but make sure that the experiments stay in the lab.

5. Metrics and Prioritization. Data is called “the new oil” and a WFH environment requires it to run. Detailing team members’ expected metrics and allowing them to self-service their accomplishments will yield measurable results, including greater morale. This data then becomes evidence that work-from-home works. Managers become more facile with the arrangement, and good managers start to see ways to leverage the WFH reality beyond the current set of work. But, none of this is possible without dealing with points 1-4. And simply reusing the old measures (if there were any) is not always the best approach. Leaders should be re-thinking what we really need to accomplish and how we can see these accomplishments in the data we gather.

The outcome for many self-service efforts is a symbiotic improvement to these same five areas. Teams delegate more, and in turn members get more seasoned; training sticks better, therefore people self-select training more often; processes improvements are made; and priorities are the focus of the whole team. The “TPS report-style” emphasis on bureaucratic, anachronistic office requirements may be a coincidental casualty in all of this. The ability for talented team members to live where they want may be a great benefit of this. What is most clear, though, is that our organizations can optimize their WFH arrangement via better self-service. Not just to weather this storm, but to establish a new arrangement that persists and prevails long after this pandemic subsides.

*The “(mis)guided” comment is an homage to the very funny movie, Office Space, that mocks the typical office cubicle culture with its constant reference to “TPS reports.” There is truth in that fictitious movie and we would do well to avoid the failings evident at Initech.

Chris is President of Strategic Services at Zuri Group. His areas of expertise include fundraising strategy and systems, staff and resource management, database management, business intelligence and data reporting, database conversion projects, gift and data processing, and technology needs.

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