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5 Ways to Nurture New Talent
5 Ways to Nurture New Talent

Advice from advancement’s newest and brightest about how to keep them thriving

By Tara Laskowski


Brittney Jackson Brown, a 2016 CASE advancement intern placed at Vanderbilt University, says she was not aware of advancement as a career path until getting direct exposure to it during her internship. “There is a genuine sense of joy that people have about their jobs in development,” she says. “It really is inspirational to see.” (Photo: Joe Howell)

How many times have you heard this: "I didn't plan on a career in advancement—I just fell into it"? Despite a growing need for fundraisers, recruiters are struggling to find talent. "The development profession is still a well-kept secret—and something we need to change," CASE President Sue Cunningham said during a recent CASE program. Degree programs in advancement remain rare (although notable ones include the U.K.'s University of Chichester's charity development degree and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University), and the field is frequently misunderstood.

"Advancement, especially development, is often viewed as a sales profession," says Zachary Smith, a senior partner and deputy managing director at the recruiting firm Witt/Kieffer. "Most people only see advancement professionals schmoozing donors at coffees, lunches, dinners, and events. They don't see the work that takes place in between."

So how can institutions attract talented graduates to the field—and how can they keep them there? Read on for ways to grow and retain your team's newest advancement professionals.

1. Spark their interest when they are students

Student philanthropy groups. Phonathons. Summer internships. Class gifts. Many institutions use student advancement programs to build awareness and help turn students into active alumni. These groups are also excellent portals to the profession: A bright, passionate student in your ambassador program could be a future marketing guru or frontline gift officer.

Developing your own talent might be an antidote to lackluster resumes. In a 2013 national CompassPoint study, more than half of nonprofit executives reported that their recent hiring process for development directors didn't attract enough candidates with the right mix of skills and experience. Robust student philanthropy programs that include internships, fellowships, and philanthropy days—such as those offered at the University of Iowa, University of Missouri, and University College London—allow undergraduates to explore the different areas of advancement. For institutions lacking the resources to create their own programs, CASE has developed trainings in Asia, the U.K., and the U.S. to prepare and place advancement prospects.

At the University of Iowa Foundation, the Student Philanthropy Group—a team of more than 30 trained students—has represented the institution and foundation at events since 2009. The events include foundation board meetings, groundbreakings, and activities before home football games. Phil's Day, held in the spring, educates the community about philanthropy's impact. In the past few years, the foundation has added a summer development internship program. The university also offers academic certificate programs in nonprofit management and fundraising and philanthropy communication to give prospective advancement professionals the skills they need to succeed.

Education doesn't stop once students graduate. At the University of Iowa Foundation, a former board member's gift supports a Williams Fellow, a yearlong, salaried position. The fellow spends time in every department, from fundraising to gift processing, and works closely with the Student Philanthropy Group.

"These initiatives are intended to be a broad and comprehensive effort across campus," says Lynette Marshall, the foundation's CEO and president. "Our programs are focused on creating a culture of philanthropy and training and exposing young people to the profession of advancement."

It's working. All eight Williams Fellows have gone on to philanthropy careers or graduate school. Four joined the Iowa Foundation as gift officers.

"We're looking to fill the major gift officer pipeline," Marshall says. "That's the place that's not yet recognized as a path. We hear from a lot of young people that they never knew about gift officers, but once they find out about it, it's what they want to do."

A personal connection can also draw students to the field. Phil Mendez was placed at New Hampshire's Dartmouth College through the summer 2016 CASE Advancement Internship Program. He says his first exposure to the work of fundraisers came after receiving a housing scholarship from the Southern Scholarship Foundation, which allows him to live rent-free while attending Florida State University, where he is currently a senior. The scholarship foundation's main office is down the street from where he lives. "I walked past them every day," he says. "Finally, one day, I stopped in and asked, ‘What's going on here? How do you guys do all the things that you do?' I learned about advancement by seeing someone do it well."

2. Empower new employees with projects and leadership opportu­nities

Once you've found new talent, it's important to keep them energized. Give new employees specific goals and projects they can own.

"I still remember the day I made my first ask [for a gift]," says Carlos García, director of institutional relations at CETYS Universidad in Mexico. García sought support for the first stage of a science and technology building, and the donor decided to fund the entire project. "I got goose bumps," he says. "It became clear to me at that moment that it wasn't about the money, the campaign, my own personal goals—it was all about the students. Every time I see the impact of the gifts on institutions, I know why I love my job."

Young people are attracted to advancement because they can see the effect their work has on the institution. Though they might not manage a robust alumni volunteer program or close a major gift within the first few years of their career, they will want to understand how every task, no matter how small, is contributing to that impact.

"Young professionals are looking for challenges and opportunities to learn. They want to establish themselves, make a mark, find ways to be recognized," says Shabina Bahl, director of development at the James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland.

When Bahl recruits a new employee, she looks for the two C's: creativity and curiosity. With those traits, advancement professionals exude and spark excitement for their college, university, or organization. It's easy to spot people who are passionate about their organization's mission, Bahl says. One of her recent junior associate hires, for example, eagerly seeks out ways to learn on the job. "He reads five more books for every one that I recommend to him," she says. "He's engaged, aware, and curious, and it shows."

Since 2009, the CASE Europe Educational Fundraising Graduate Trainee Scheme has placed more than 60 people in training positions at institutions in the U.K. and Ireland. Niamh O'Mahony trained at Trinity College Dublin, where she worked with the library's associate director to develop a five-year communications and fundraising strategy. "It was exciting to be in on a project's startup phase," she says.

Frame a new talent's work in the context of a larger plan, Marshall says. Outlining the goals and mission and giving employees work targeted to those goals is vital. "Help new people focus on the right things," she says. "Are we setting them up to be successful? Giving them the right prospect lists? Training them how to be most effective? I'm not sure we've got that secret sauce down yet."

In summer 2016, CASE launched an advancement internship program that sent 46 college students to 32 institutions across the U.S. for eight weeks of intense learning. Each intern worked with their host institution to complete a specific project during their time there. In addition, CASE implemented an online professional development curriculum, covering everything from alumni relations metrics to campaign planning. CASE also provided a two-day training session in Washington, D.C., and free registration for the CASE Conference for Student Advancement.

At the University of Pittsburgh, intern Stephen Ucheomumu helped the alumni relations team discover how students network and stay connected via social media channels. At Dartmouth, Mendez's project involved researching effective stewardship and recognition ideas.

Brittney Jackson Brown, who interned in Vanderbilt University's advancement office, investigated how other institutions steward legacy donors and keep the communication open about their future gift. "When I saw the CASE [internship] announcement, I still had no idea what development was or what CASE was," Brown admits. After immersing herself in the Tennessee institution's planned giving work and receiving training from CASE, she decided to pursue a career in the field. "The work is interesting," she says. "People are passionate about what they do, and the opportunity to work with people and give back to the community is appealing."

3. Give them mentors

Emily Wheeler, senior philanthropy manager at University College London, was a telethon caller and supervisor as a student at the University of Bristol. In her final year, her boss encouraged her to apply to the CASE Europe Graduate Trainee Scheme. As she completed the scheme and eventually pursued an advancement career, she kept in touch with her former boss and mentor. "I hugely value his advice," she says. "We catch up regularly when he's in London, but I also email and call him when I need advice on specific projects."

Many new advance­ment professionals say that asking questions and advice of someone they trust is key to career success. Wheeler took that to heart. Along with friend and fellow CASE graduate Robert Wayman, she started an alumni network of CASE graduates to share ideas and career opportunities and host in-person workshops. Her efforts landed her the 2016 CASE Europe Iain More Award for outstanding achievement of an emerging development professional. "Having someone to learn from has been so useful to me that I wanted others to benefit from it too," Wheeler says.

Mentors should challenge themselves to have even greater roles in a new professional's success, says Rob Henry, CASE vice president of education. "Everyone needs a mentor," he says, "but even more than that, they need sponsorship." Sponsors are mentors who take action. Advising someone to join a board is great, Henry says, but it's even more powerful to say, "The board I'm on has an opening I'd like you to fill."

No matter what position you're in, extend opportunities and invitations to help newcomers. "Young people look at leadership as something other people do," Bahl says. "It's not about a job title, or your age, or how long you've been in business. Anyone can be a leader."

4. Provide networking opportu­nities

Kainen Bell interned at the University of Washington to learn how the institution works with its corporate partners. During his eight weeks, Bell's team members gave him advice and arranged for him to meet with corporate foundations at major companies such as Google and Starbucks. He visited a local nonprofit that the Wells Fargo Foundation considered funding. "There were so many opportunities to learn," he says. "I couldn't believe how generous people were."

Networking opportun­ities can also highlight previously unknown career paths. Kenon Man started his career in music performance, and his theater experience and arts management coursework exposed him to communications and marketing professionals. Through this network, he built the skills and experience that led him to his position as the international marketing, recruitment, and intelligence manager at the U.K.'s Swansea University. "Having access to a small network has been extremely useful," he says, "especially when I need to discuss developing ‘soft' skills such as leadership and management techniques."

At the CASE June 2016 internship training in Washington, D.C., interns networked with each other and learned how to work a room-and to always write thank you notes. "I've now got this amazing cohort that will go on to institutions all over the United States," Bell says. "If I ever need advice, I can tap into that. That's very valuable."

5. Listen to their needs

Nurturing requires patience and forethought. A new employee will make mistakes but should be encouraged to try different things, even if they don't always work out.

"We shouldn't be afraid of failure—it's how you learn," says Bahl from Johns Hopkins. She believes managers should create safe learning environments where employees can ask questions and receive constructive feedback. "As a manager, your time is challenged. At the same time, a new person is under pressure to deliver results," which can create an overly directive, rather than open-ended, management style, Bahl says. She suggests scheduling open office hours each week for employees to stop by with questions-and sticking to those hours. Bahl is deliberate about checking in face-to-face with her team members each week, "even if it's not about work," she says. Five minutes of chatting about weekend plans or asking how they're doing can go a long way toward building relationships with employees, even when the team is traveling a lot or teleworking.

Managers should also help new employees create a career plan, CASE's Henry says. "A good manager should know what skill sets are necessary for each stage of the career and should help provide the right training and opportunities to develop those skills." Both the manager and the employee share responsibility in mapping that success. Professional development, Henry says, takes many forms—conferences and webinars, books, online resources, campus career centers, and your institution's human resources department.

Leaders also need to be role models. Can you adapt to different situations? Do you think on your feet? Alumni and donors are never predictable, and good managers will show newer talent how to cope when the unexpected arises—from a missing name tag for a VIP attendee to the electricity going out at your gala. "If you can keep calm and show your team you've got strong emotional intelligence, you will provide a great learning experience for them," Bahl says.

Managers need to prioritize innovation as well. "Push us to grow," advises Bell, who interned at the University of Washington. "Be open to change if we have new ways of doing things, and let us see if they are successful."

About the Author Tara Laskowski

Tara Laskowski is a former senior editor for Currents.




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