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10:44 a.m. - June 02, 2005
So What Do I Do Anyway?
People ask me all the time, “So what do you do at the College?” And when I reply that I am the Director of Advancement Services, the next question is, “What the heck is that?”

And when I tell them – I can see their eyes glaze over and little pockets of drool start forming at the corners of their mouth, because not only do I have to tell what I do but I have to explain some of the operations involved, and try not to load up on Advancement-jargon. Well, it’s not glamorous or exciting, and YOU did ask, bucky, so it’s your own dang fault if I’m boring you.

I’ve never had a job that was easily explainable in a short phrase or even sentence. My job descriptions have taken long sentences and sometimes paragraphs to explain to someone. I don’t know if it’s the jobs that I’ve sought out – or if these kinds of jobs just found me.

I first started working at a local printing plant as a Customer Service Representative – which was a total misnomer because it involved working with the customer and sales to engineer complex jobs through the plant. You needed to have a lot of knowledge about the process in the plant, good schmoozing skills, and the ability to be calm under pressure. Yeah, a perfect job for a 22-year old right out of College. (At least I could schmooze).

Then I became an Operations Manager for a small entrepreneurial publishing firm, and the duties I did for that company took a while to explain that I pert near did everything but collect the money for that company. Operations manager was just a generic term for “he’s a lapdog lackey that will do anything we ask of him.” But hey, they put me through Business School, so I can’t complain much.

After that, I moved to become a Project Manager at a publishing company’s warehouse. Now that’s a term that’s loaded with specifics, eh? Basically my project evolved into becoming a financial analyst for the distribution operation. That I could explain to people – I worked on the budgets, the expenses, planned the headcount numbers, and dealt with freight issues. Of course, when I settled into a groove my job changed because of an ownership change in the company, and they told me “you only have to deal with the freight, BUT YOU STILL GET PAID THE SAME!”

Of course you know what that meant. Geez, don’t be so subtle next time, would ya!

So then I became a Project Manager for an established catalog publishing firm. Project Manager made sense, since each customer’s catalog was a project in itself. A long, tedious, grueling, poke-your-eyes-out-like-Oedipus project, but a project nonetheless. It’s great to work somewhere where all of your customers are either frustrated or angry with you, and the people who are putting together the catalogs are frustrated and angry about you telling them that the customers are frustrated and angry. At that company, we drank a lot.

Of course, that long-standing company changed ownership within six months of my arrival and the new owners made some radical changes. I moved upstairs to become the Data Integrity Manager – basically they needed someone to fix the damn database and act as a buffer so the people dealing with the customers and the production people wouldn’t kill each other. So they tried to kill me instead.

But I liked the job, believe it or not. I tried to fix the database and set up an archive system that was foolproof, well, almost foolproof. However, I saw everyone was leaving, and I jumped ship as well. Besides, I needed to make sure my liver was going to be intact, because we always had going away parties for everyone that left and they were weekly occurrences that started at 4:30 and lasted until everyone at the party was sloppy drunk and crying because “we love you and don’t want you to leave” even if you didn’t say 10 words to the person in a week.

So I went back to work for my alma mater as Director of Advancement Services. I just tell people know that I run the back office of the Development side – making sure that gifts are being processed, financial reports are compiled, people are being thanked, and the database is in working order. Keep it simple and not delve into the intricacies of prospect management or moves management or the exciting time that is finding lost alumni.

But when I go to my conferences and am with my own kind it’s refreshing to meet and network with people who are as geeked up as I am about what I do. The user group for the software company has over 2,000 attendees (The QB says that many data geeks in one room would scare him to death). Not everyone works in Advancement – many are programmers (the serious geeks!) or work at other offices on campuses everywhere.

And they know how to party – well, at least for one night! The annual “Be True To Your School Party” is legendary – but what ever goes on there, stays there. (Right?)

Then there are my Advancement Services Conferences, where the numbers are less (usually about 100) but these folks are as geeked up as I am about what they are doing. I had a great time in Vancouver with a bunch of kindred spirits. In this job, you have to be a multi-tasker and be able to coordinate several projects at once.

At these conferences I’ve met wonderful people like AJ, City Mouse and the Candidate. These people are passionate at what they do – they share information and support each other and want all others in the field to succeed and do good work. It’s so different, because there is no ‘competition’ amongst data geeks in higher education. It’s not like Wabash is going to steal alumni away from Temple or Vanderbilt. "Listen, buddy, I can make you a deal on becoming a graduate of our school. You get this shiny degree, for just a small donation!"

But it’s still not an easy job to explain. And I may just stop trying. I like my friends but hate the drooling.


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