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Member Profile: Charles Diab

Charles Diab

Before he came to advancement, Charles Diab spent two decades as a senior leader for commercial organizations. What makes working in higher education rewarding? 

Building relationships, he says. 

"It's the relationships: helping kind, generous people discover new ways to spread their support and create their legacies," says Diab, executive director of advancement and alumni affairs at the American University of Sharjah in United Arab Emirates. Diab is on the planning committee for and is speaking at CASE's 2019 Advancement Conference in Middle East.

Here, he shares more about his career journey and the advice he'd pass along to newcomers in development.

How did you find your way to advancement and your current institution?
I had been working in the commercial sector my full career, including 25 years as the senior executive heading multinational organizations from manufacturing of consumer goods to specialized financial services.

A friend of mine asked me for strategic advice on marketing, fundraising and student recruitment for a for-profit, private university. I became hooked. The first time the chancellor suggested I head advancement, I asked what advancement was! A brief stop lasted five years. I then accepted an offer to head advancement and alumni affairs at the American University of Sharjah, an independent not-for-profit university last year.

What's the best part of your job?
Without question, it is the relationships. Building the relationships, developing the friendships, helping kind, generous people discover new ways to spread their support and create their legacies. I love helping the university spread awareness of donors' vast accomplishments, and finding the means to expand the reaches of their academic success through the support of philanthropists. It's great to know that the outcome of our efforts will eventually enhance the wide web of lives for so many people.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention meeting fellow colleagues at CASE conferences and workshops. What an amazing industry of professionals.

What's one work achievement that you're particularly proud of?
My answer may seem cliché but meeting a young, impressionable scholarship or financial aid recipient as a freshman and then seeing them at graduation. Knowing that part of the student's success came from a donor that our department may have prospected, cultivated, achieved support from and then witnessing the gratitude by the graduate to their donor—that's amazing.

What's a professional lesson you'd pass along to professionals just starting out in advancement?
Listen, listen and listen again. Listen and learn from your team leaders and managers. Listen and understand from your prospective donors, as they will always provide clues about their interests and willingness to donate. Cross-collaborate with everyone at the university, from academics to discover what they are researching, to facility management professionals to find out what is needed around campus. Be a sponge for knowledge about the happenings at your university. Networking is your lifeline, so enjoy it!

What do you see as a key challenge facing educational institutions today?
Technology. It has the ability to spread our human population to all ends of the earth, and no longer do people need to band together to expand their knowledge and gain education. Today's technology enables the world to succeed in learning without the barriers of distance. Through distance learning, students can obtain degrees without spending physical time on campus.

But while technology is beneficial, face-to-face contact and relationship-building skills are diminishing. University "bricks and mortar" will no longer be a necessity, which means that we in higher education have to discover new teaching pedagogies to adapt. But what about the losses to student experiences, campus life, independence, social interactions, alumni loyalty and affiliation and networks?

How has CASE membership influenced your career?
CASE is extremely important to every young/new ambitious person striving to build a career in advancement as well as mature professionals in the industry throughout their career. CASE offers both groups the opportunity to learn.

Advancement professionals work in an environment that is always changing—be it in fundraising rules, regulations, laws and ethics to the newest and most efficient techniques for marketing and communications, social media and videos to engaging alumni populations that may never even step foot on campus. The CASE community has always lived up to its acronym: Copy And Share Everything!

This article is from the January 2019 BriefCASE issue.