Publications & Products
Stay Curious and Focused: Key Advice for Advancement Shops

Development shops can support their institutions by maintaining a steady focus on their mission and an eagerness to learn new things, according to the executive director of one community college foundation.

Frances Squire, executive director of West Hills Community College District Foundation in Fresno, California, retires this summer after a long, illustrious career.

But when she moved into the field of advancement from journalism and communications in 2001, Squire says it was like entering a "brand new world." While skills she developed as an editor and public information officer proved useful, she says working for a foundation inspired her to rely on her inherent curiosity.

"You have to constantly learn new things. That includes attending conferences, webinars or reading blogs," she says. "I've learned something new from every job I've had."

Squire also notes that while you may not spot advancement trends as quickly as colleagues at other institutions, do look out for them, as some may form your program for years to come.

"For example, no one [in foundations] was really talking about data 10 years ago," she explains. "Now everyone I talk to is starting to do things like donor search and testing with data and those tools are becoming more sophisticated so you need to learn how to use them."

While setting a goal for continual learning, Squire emphasizes that learning time management and staying focused were also vital to the success of her team and mission.

"I have this expectation of myself and try to decide—am I focused? I have a Post-it note on my desk that says, ‘Three calls per day.' I am reminded every day I need to be in contact three times, hopefully more than that," she explains.

In addition to the above, Squire offers the following lessons learned:

  • Always be a positive presence. "I'm part of a team. I don't always get my way but I'm going to adapt to that team and be a part of it," she says.
  • Say thank you often and in many ways. "I send thank you cards. Even if we get a small gift, I try to send one. I also make lots of phone calls," she adds. 
  • Develop your staff and always look for new opportunities to help them grow professionally. "Don't be afraid to invest time and energy to develop staff. If you have someone who is not performing, remedy that situation," she advises.
  • Be the last person to sit down in a room when you attend an event. "I go to events regularly [and] I'm always the last person to sit down, because I get to know people and hear their stories," she says.

This article is from the May 2017 BriefCASE issue of BriefCASE.

Please share your questions and comments with Pam Russell via email at or by telephone at +1-202-478-5680.