Business Acumen: Your Secret Sauce for Successful Advancement Leadership
The institutions we work for are increasingly sophisticated and complex financial organizations. Advancement programs operating within this context require leaders with strong business and financial acumen. This session will discuss the skills you need and why you need them. We’ll also talk about how to enhance your abilities in this critical area. We’ll hear senior leaders discuss how they developed their own abilities in this area, and how they develop potential leaders within their own organizations. We will conclude with small group meetings where you can work with colleagues to develop your own plan for enhancing your business acumen.
Topical Key Concepts
Concepts covered for understanding of a topic/mastery of a competency.
- Business acumen—what is it, why it’s important, and how to develop it.
- Acumen is more than just business knowledge. It includes a wide range of knowledge and competencies, and understanding of the diverse aspects of the business.
- It also involves the ability to understand and cope with a variety of business situations, and the ability to use information from multiple sources to make (or contribute to) sound business decisions. It is the quality of insight, the ability to “see around the corner”
- What are the core abilities of advancement leaders with strong business acumen?
- Understand basic functions like accounting, operations, HR, legal, risk management, etc.
- Basic understanding of financial tools, including debt and asset management.
- Understanding how people create wealth.
- Having a grasp of the capital planning process.
- The ability to use data and analytics to improve decision making.
- Knowledge of your Institution’s markets and forces impacting them.
- An understanding of the larger economic environment and how that may influence your work.
- The ability to have a sophisticated financial conversation with a donor, board member, or university leader.
- The ability to think strategically and prioritize based on desired financial outcomes.
- Why is business acumen important for senior advancement leaders?
- It enables you to partner effectively with your CFO and volunteer leaders on the finance and development committees.
- It enables you to participate effectively in institutional decision-making.
- Business acumen also gives you the ability to understand how complex gift arrangements will impact your institution, and to have conversations with donors about such gift proposals.
- Business acumen helps you understand what it takes for your advancement shop to effectively contribute to the financial health of your institution.
- It provides you with the ability to understand and anticipate the financial and legal consequences of your decisions.
- While the skills are the same, the business models have significant differences.
- Private vs. public
- Interdependent Foundation
- Independent Foundation
- Independent School
- There are many paths to developing business acumen:
- Reading business books, magazines, websites and blogs.
- Volunteering for business related assignments within your organization.
- Attending professional meetings sponsored by business related organization (like NACUBO).
- Taking degree or certificate courses.
- Learn from your colleagues, business associates and volunteers (especially your CFO!).
- Make your CFO your best partner.
- Develop an understanding of the major challenges facing the CFO
- Make sure the CFO has a good working knowledge of development (especially counting practices and ROI)
- Include the CFO in development meetings as appropriate, including donor visits
Expectations for what should be learned from this session.
- How to identify gaps in the financial knowledge/experience you need for senior leadership.
- Developing a strategy to get ready financially.
- How to acquire the information and experience you need.
Topical Supporting/Additional Resources
Books, articles, or videos that deepen/support the learning from this session.
- Harvard Business School Guide to Finance Basics for Managers
- Financial Basics for Non-profit Managers by Thomas A. Mclaughlin
- Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build your Credibility, Career and Company by Kevin Cope
- Harvard Extension School Leadership Development Courses.
- Online or hybrid courses from your local MBA program.
- Business periodicals: The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Barron’s, The Economist, Bloomberg Business Week, Inc, and so on.
Questions for Speakers:
- What role has business acumen played in helping you advance your career?
- Which skill or skills have been most helpful to you?
- What’s helped you build your business sense over the years?
- Can you give an example of how you were able to use your business acumen to deal with an entirely novel situation?
- How do you work with your own team to enhance their business acumen?
- How did you build your relationship with your CFO?
- Kathleen Schmidelkofer, President and CEO of the University of Minnesota Foundation
- George Watt, Senior Fellow, Association of Governing Boards. Formerly CEO of the US Naval Academy Foundation and the College of Charleston Foundation.
- Fritz Schroeder, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations, Johns Hopkins University.