Advancement: a way of thinking about organisational sustainability

By Lizel Shepherd, Programme Coordinator, Advancement Training and Support

This article was originally published in the 2016 Inyathel Annual Report.

"Advancement is a multi-layered approach to engaging the external environment and encourages organisations to work in an integrated way to attract the resources optimal for sustainability

Advancement: a way of thinking about organisational sustainability

A one-worded question was very prominent at the very beginning: Advancement? And one question is very prominent now: Are you still doing Advancement? What and still: two simple words, loaded questions. As much as the word and the practice of Advancement as an entry point to sustainability has gained traction amongst non-profits and institutions, the questions of what and still are relevant ones, not just for the organisations we work with but also for us as an organisation cognisant of where we are in our organisational life cycle.

So, what is Advancement again? It is a multi-layered approach to engaging the external environment and encourages organisations to work in an integrated way to attract the resources optimal for sustainability. It’s about strategic positioning for investment and requires organisations to think of resourcing beyond reactively responding to calls for proposals; Advancement, therefore, is not a euphemism for fundraising. The Advancement approach looks at various areas of work and functionality, such as Governance; Leadership; Strategy and Planning; Building Relationships; Human Capacity; Voice; Visibility; Monitoring and Evaluation; Financial Management; and Fundraising Tools. It is how these areas of organisational capacity and activity interact and engage each other in an integrated way that leads to effective relationship building with key stakeholders. More than the sum of its ten elements, Advancement is a way of thinking about organisational sustainability.

One of the biggest challenges in applying the Advancement approach is achieving the balance between immediate objectives and longer-term sustainability goals. Issues around working in parallel – completing strategies and plans in tandem with existing deliverables – persist; this is the case for organisations new to and familiar with Advancement.

Positioning of the Advancement approach is therefore not to have organisations abandon existing processes that are working, but finding ways to enhance and strengthen existing approaches, and to fi nd ways to incorporate holistic thinking and the elements of Advancement not yet infused in the organisation. It’s not about changing the nature of organisations, rather finding the ways in which they can rethink their approach to sustainability. It is also about encouraging organisations to be mindful of their cases for support and to revisit it for relevance – looking to see whether the missions remain relevant. Advancement is a long-term approach and given the complex nature of peoplecentred entities, it takes time for organisations to move away from operating at their default and looking to fi nd optimally integrated ways of working.

Given the persistent challenge faced by individuals, communities, cities, societies – locally and globally – and the responses borne out of this, e.g. the setting up of new organisations, organisational renewal, revised mandates, and the like – Inyathelo still uses, encourages and interrogates the Advancement approach. We use it as an entry point to growing capacity for the entities that provide responses in persistently challenging times. Furthermore the approach remains central to the delivery of our work, whether through advisory meetings, peer engagement, sharing resources or learning events. As we step into the future, we remain committed to strengthening organisations through the provision of relevant content and resources and the opportunity to engage.