By Lori Stirling, Sr. Vice President of Advancement Strategy

Affinaquest’s Senior Vice President for Advancement Strategy, Lori Stirling, recalls how a chance encounter on an airplane forced her to recognize that, like many of us, she may not have been the “A” student she thought she was when it comes to technology. That eye-opening experience led to a deeper understanding of how technology is changing as well as four critical technology skills advancement professionals should be training for today.

Last year, I was on the happy end of an upgrade to first class. Frequent travelers know how enjoyable that bump in status can be, but I never could have predicted how this particular experience would go.

On the airplane, the gentlemen seated next to me was working on a presentation. Inadvertently, the headline of one slide caught my eye: ‘4 Skills Everyone Must Master in the Next 10 Years to be Relevant at Work’.

How could I not start a conversation with him?

My seatmate explained that he was an analyst for Forbes and on his way to speak at a conference. He asked me if I would be interested in taking his ‘test’ on technology skills. I agreed, thinking to myself, “Heck yeah, I’m going to get an ‘A’ today.”

We started with digital literacy. Considering what I do for a living, I felt fairly confident that I could ace it. And I did, until he asked how I would use blockchain in my industry. After sputtering for a minute, he told me “I’ll give you a ‘B’ for digital literacy.”

If I’m honest, it felt a little bit like a pity B. I was determined to make up for the rocky start as we moved through the remaining topics: data literacy, digital threat awareness, and collaboration. But when he asked if I had talked without unmuting my microphone on a recent Zoom call, I finally admitted that I was indeed a B-level student.

I sat on this story for months, not really wanting to acknowledge my own less-than-stellar performance in a topic that I felt I should have aced. However, I began to wonder: if I am a B student, would our advancement colleagues and the teams we’re supporting make the grade?

This experience reminded just how important consistent, ongoing training is for professionals in any industry, but especially advancement. Technology is rapidly evolving, and advancement departments can’t afford to ignore it. Those that are able to adapt and grow their skills will succeed, while those that cannot will fall behind.

Increased training should be a priority of every advancement professional, both for themselves and for the members of their team. Inspired by my fellow passenger, below are four skills to invest in, and why every advancement department and professional needs them to succeed.

4 Tech Skills for Advancement to Invest In

1. Digital Literacy

Digital literacy refers to having the skills necessary to navigate technology to our advantage. I’ve worked in data technology my whole career. Even so, when my seatmate asked if I knew how to leverage blockchain technology, or a colleague explained the nuances of social media use, I realized I don’t have all the answers.

As an individual, you don’t need to be competent in every technology. You should, however, be aware of the technologies that are most beneficial to your work in advancement.

You may think, “Our team knows how to use all kinds of technologies!” – and while that is often true, an important part of digital literacy is asking yourself what technology could better serve your needs. This may include some technologies that you’re not currently aware of.

Fundraising for higher education gets more difficult every year, as campus needs grow and donor behaviors shift. Technology can help advancement overcome those challenges, but only if you understand what’s available and how to utilize it effectively.

As a starting point, I recommend examining how deeply you truly understand your current technologies. Sometimes you can find increased efficiencies in your existing tech stack, saving you critical resources without any additional investments.

It’s also helpful to identify your own technological weaknesses as well as those that exist on your advancement team. If those skill gaps are limiting your work, make efforts to train or expand the team as necessary.

2. Data Literacy

These days, everyone uses data in some way, but that doesn’t mean you are data literate! The key is how you use it. Data literacy is the ability to glean actionable insights from data. Data literate advancement departments build their strategies on a strong foundation of meaningful insights.

Data literacy relies heavily on critical thinking. In the real world, we employ critical thinking every day to make decisions, whether it’s determining where to eat dinner or analyzing the news media we consume.

Consider this: how often do you question the information you find on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social or traditional media outlets? Can you spot the false claims, inconsistencies in messaging, and even the deepfakes, or do you take it at face value? This is critical thinking applied to the media you consume.

Applying critical thinking to data is similar, and it’s essential for a data-literate professional. With critical thinking, you can better spot both patterns and inconsistencies in vast data landscapes. This, in turn, allows you to derive more accurate insights from the data, leading to more effective action.

3. Digital Awareness

Being online is inherently dangerous, a fact we ignore at our peril. Having witnessed large data breaches in the advancement industry, I’ve become increasingly focused on the importance of data security over time.

Like many people, I practice basic data safety by keeping my devices locked, having a tight network inside my house, using a VPN when I travel, and never using another network unless I know it’s one I can trust. Like most people, though, I constantly use technology, and the line between my professional and personal digital life is blurry.

On that enlightening airplane ride, my seatmate asked if I’d ever checked my bank balance from my company-issued laptop or ordered food from my smartphone while connected to the company network. He advised me to Google myself, explaining that if the results spanned more than one page, my digital footprint is likely far bigger than I realize.

When he brought up digital addiction, I was quick to protest. Not me, of course. The only question he had to ask to disillusion me was, ‘Do you read your personal or work emails before you crawl out of bed?’

Digital addiction is ubiquitous, and the constant use of technology exposes us to any number of risks, from identity theft to a decline in mental health. In advancement, these risks go beyond ourselves; when we are regularly engaging with sensitive donor and alumni data, our personal and professional activity puts their information at risk too.

Mitigating this risk is essential, as a small crack in your security can result in a flood of compromised data. All advancement staff should be aware of the basics of personal and professional data security. Implementing security roles, running regular security audits, and using tools that have been proven secure are equally important.

4. Collaboration Competency

Collaboration tools are the tools we use to work together. This includes video conferencing (Zoom, Teams); project managers (Jira, Asana); and communications (Outlook; Slack). In the context of the hours and hours spent online over the last few years, most of us would consider ourselves professionals in this realm—I certainly did.

However, the widespread use of these tools is still relatively new. Think about how many times our use of collaboration tools goes awry: have you ever accidentally been muted while talking? Had connectivity issues that stopped you from joining a meeting? Sent a message to the wrong person?

Once these missteps have been brought to your attention, you may begin to notice you do it more often than you think. In fact, it’s become an accepted part of our communications to wait for someone to come off mute or connect their headphones. However, growing our skills in this area allows our digital collaboration to be far more efficient and effective.

Digital literacy also comes into play here; think about how many collaboration tools your team is using. If you’re only collaborating through one channel, for example, you may be missing significant opportunities to increase your team’s efficiency and creativity. Too many channels, however, and important messages can be lost in the mix.


As advancement professionals, we owe it to ourselves, our departments, and our staff to push our digital skills and competencies forward with consistent training. In a drastically changing world, these are the skillsets that will allow us not to simply adapt, but to thrive in a constantly changing industry.

At Affinaquest, we are continuously working to promote these skills among our own team, ensuring that our industry-leading advancement CRM remains at the forefront of evolving technology. To learn more about our team and our industry-leading solutions for advancement, contact us to request a meeting with our advancement experts.

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