Around the World, Advancement-Style

Is a global career right for you?

By Moyra Doyle

Around the World, Advancement-Style

Making any kind of successful career move takes time and self-reflection. Making a successful international move calls for even deeper reflection, research, conversations with friends and family, and advice from people who have worked abroad. Such a step also takes, on average, twice as long. And though a global career can be rewarding, it brings challenges that require resilience, adaptability, an independent spirit, a desire to immerse yourself in a new culture, and for some, a family eager to experience a different way of living. Accepting your dream job in a far-off land can be one of the most exciting times of your career. It can also broaden your perspective and, in turn, help you and your advancement team achieve your goals.

While the current political environment of resurgent nationalism and populism—including controversy around immigration policies, visa restrictions in Australia and the U.S., and the U.K.'s decision to leave the European Union—makes it difficult to predict the future of transferring a career across borders, we are still living in a global society, with many important donors interconnected worldwide. This means it is crucial for advancement officers to cultivate international perspectives and experiences.

"My worldview has expanded to become less focused on Europe and to pay more attention to what is happening in other parts of the world, especially Southeast Asia," says Pamela Stephenson, director of development and alumni relations at Exeter College, the University of Oxford. She spent more than four years working in development at the University of Western Australia. "Given the implications of Brexit, it helps to retain a global perspective as a fundraiser. My expertise was immensely boosted by the experience [in Australia]."

Advancement Abroad

Around the world, reduced government support for higher education has increased the need for fundraising experts and made advancement work truly global. In the early 2000s, the traffic was almost exclusively one-way, with institutions in English-speaking locations recruiting North American professionals to join their advancement teams. By 2005, when Richmond Associates analyzed the Russell Group Universities, we found that more than 50 percent of the chief development officers were from North America, which has a long history of fundraising. Today, professionals in marketing, communications, alumni relations, and development move in several directions: from the U.S. to the U.K. to Australia; from Australia to the U.K.; from Canada to Singapore to Australia; and increasingly from and to countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. In the U.K., for instance, it's not unusual for at least one advancement staff member to have experience initially gained abroad. Although less than 25 percent of chief development officers at top U.K. institutions now come from North America, according to Richmond Associates data, the number of North Americans serving at all levels of U.K. educational advancement teams continues to increase. 

In Australia, advancement is growing in importance, with experienced professionals from North America and the U.K. spearheading the effort. Australian advancement leaders often have overseas experience, and many of their staff members have American, Canadian, British, or Asian heritages. In 2011, Richmond Associates opened an office in Australia. Since then, international candidates predominantly from the U.S., the U.K., and Canada have filled more than 40 percent of the fundraising positions for which the firm has recruited.

"It is hugely beneficial for organizations to have expatriate Americans bringing best practices with them to more nascent fundraising institutions," says Sarah Morris, chief advancement officer at the Singapore American School. In turn, she says, U.S. institutions benefit from hiring professionals who have worked in other markets, particularly with wealthy donors in Asia.

After 20 years as a fundraiser in the U.K., Siôn Lutley moved to Australia. There, he applied his experience with implementing American best practices in campaign planning. "This was exceptionally useful in working with Australian colleagues to understand what would work for the University of Melbourne," he says. Lutley spent five years playing a main role in Melbourne's "Believe" campaign, one of the Asia-Pacific region's largest philanthropic initiatives. A year after the effort reached its initial target of AU$500 million and extended its goal to AU$1 billion, Lutley joined the U.K. consultancy More Partnership, where he uses his international expertise in his work with clients. "It's a great strength to have a successful track record in more than one country," he says. "It reflects your ability to adapt and be sensitive to cultural nuances."

Part of adapting means getting to know a new philanthropic community. When she joined Western Australia University, Stephenson had to learn about the key players in the community as well as the country. "Perth is a small town where everyone is connected in some way, which can be a tremendous advantage for a fundraiser," she says.

Advancement pros must also familiarize themselves with cultural views about finances. The transactional nature of fundraising in Asia surprised Sarah Morris when she became chief advancement officer at Singapore American School. In Singapore, the government grants an income tax deduction of 250 percent of the gift amount to certain charities. "Tax deductions really aren't a motivator in the U.S.," Morris says, "but this massive benefit in Singapore really reinforces the already transactional mindset."

"Understanding attitudes about money and philanthropy is an important labyrinth to navigate," says Emma Silva, who moved from the U.K. to work at the American School of Paris and then to Vietnam, where she now serves as director of advancement for the United Nations International School of Hanoi. "The international cultural differences that really count are not about food and festivals but those deep-seated differences around values and attitudes. A successful international career will demand that you recognize and respect those differences without judgment."

When she first arrived in Hanoi, Silva had to fundraise with a translator. Her struggle to converse with Vietnamese donors was more complex than not knowing the right words. "The art of conversation, with all its nuances and body language, felt completely destroyed when searching for my blunt vocabulary or waiting for my colleague to translate," she says. She soon learned, however, that pausing for a translation allowed her to better observe people and gave her more time to reflect on and redirect conversations. "The pace is slower," she says, "but the conversations are often more powerful."

On an Overseas Job

Advancement professionals who have succeeded in positions abroad don't simply export methodologies from one country to another. "Top-down" methods that might have worked at large U.S. universities, for instance, might not be as effective overseas. Instead, it's important to ask questions and listen. Introducing principles and practices to a new team in a new country requires subtlety as you learn cultural cues and nuances, which can take years to fully grasp. "Some familiar words or phrases can be understood very differently," Lutley says. "British understatement could easily lead to misunderstandings."

For Morris, going from Northwestern University, a large established institution in the U.S., to working in Asia, the difference wasn't so much international versus domestic as it was big versus small. Even large universities in Asia, she explains, often have relatively small advancement operations without established best practices in place. But accepting a job in a country where educational advancement is at the pioneering stage offers an opportunity to make a large impact. At the United Nations International School of Hanoi, for instance, Silva's outside expertise has been essential in establishing an advancement program, creating professional development initiatives for young practitioners, and helping institutional leaders understand the evolving advancement terrain. "Building capacity for advancement programs to take hold in schools and universities in this exciting, emerging country is a passion," Silva says.

Many advancement professionals join a team overseas to broaden their fundraising abilities in a diverse atmosphere. The Singapore American School community and foundation board, for example, is made up of more than 50 nationalities, and members of the six-person advancement team hail from Singapore, Italy, Ireland, and the U.S. The school's donors also come from dozens of countries. "The diversity has been interesting and instructive," Morris says. "My worldview is so much bigger as a result."

That wider perspective serves as an asset when advancement professionals return to their home country. Now back in the U.K., Stephenson encourages her team at Oxford to move beyond the common inward-looking mindset to learn about best practices and innovations happening in other areas around the U.K and the world.

If you do decide that an advancement position in a different country is right for you, Lutley advises, give your employer and the job the respect they deserve. An international career move is not a gap year or extended holiday. "You need to commit sufficient time to make a real and positive impact in your new role," Lutley says. "Your employer will have almost certainly invested significantly in getting you there in the first place, so having a clear and shared understanding of expectations is essential on both sides."

Kisses and Taxes

Packing your life into a few suitcases or crates can be cathartic and present unexpected personal and professional opportunities. It can also create cultural and other obstacles, with the small things sometimes causing the most consternation. Before Norm Bradshaw moved from Canada to become associate director of philanthropy at the Australia National University, he thought he knew quite a bit about Australia and its culture. When he arrived, though, he had to learn about new social norms, shopping, brands, and ways of banking. "While there is a fairly easy cultural shift from Canada to Australia, the differences—as small as they are—are there," he says. "Adapting was a larger task than I expected it to be."

One of the biggest challenges of moving to Australia for Stephenson was recognizing that although she had to pay taxes, she couldn't vote and couldn't voice how she wanted those taxes to be spent. When Silva made her first international move across the channel to France, she was expecting language to be the biggest hurdle. Instead, it turned out to be something she never would have guessed. "The polite form of greeting and saying farewell to people with kisses in France is a minefield," she says. "How many kisses, when to kiss, when not to kiss, and make sure to allow time for leaving a group!"

Another difficulty many professionals encounter in accepting a position abroad is the effect on their family. Supportive family members who have thought through the implications of your decision are essential to an international career move. Relatives you leave back home must be able to manage without you or be capable of traveling to visit you. Spouses and children who accompany you have to get used to a new environment.

Bradshaw and his family have made an effort to balance the old with the new, continuing language studies and athletics that they had been doing in Canada and trying out different activities in Australia. "We wanted to provide as stable and as strong a foundation as possible for early success in school [for our child] in order to build confidence and comfort," Bradshaw says.

Because of a quality educational system and plenty of sports and other programs, his child has had a fairly easy transition. His partner, who was focused on the move and set up the household while Bradshaw dived into his new position, had more of an adjustment, including finding employment. "Once we were settled," Bradshaw says, "the challenge of finding a new job and building a new community of friends and colleagues was the next step. This took time and was more challenging than expected. However, after about 18 months, the family has settled in and adapted well."

Stephenson's husband also struggled to find the right type of job in Perth after giving up his position in London. The upside, Stephenson says, is that he had a chance to move into a different career, which he has continued back in the U.K.

For single professionals taking on an international career move, developing a social circle is critical to acclimating. After 10 years in alumni relations at York University in Toronto, James Allan accepted an opportunity to become director of alumni and stakeholder relations at the University of Melbourne. His new colleagues and friends of friends have gone out of their way to invite him out and help him build a life in Australia. He also stays in touch with family in Canada and the U.K. via video chat, Facebook, and other platforms. "It's a great way to stay plugged in to the daily lives of friends and family, to see pictures of my sister's kids, or trade a quick hello with old friends," he says. "I talk to my parents more regularly now that I live in Melbourne than I did when I lived in Toronto."

No Regrets

Approaching a global move with a spirit of openness is a common theme for advancement professionals who have taken their career, life, and family on an international adventure. Ted Wynn, director of advancement, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law at The University of Queensland, found that moving from the U.S. to Australia has given his family a broader understanding of the world. "I'm so glad my daughter will grow up with that," Wynn says. "Going through this confidence-building experience and adventure as a family has strengthened our bonds. I would advise anyone presented with this opportunity to accept the challenge."

When the job in Singapore came up, Morris and her husband jumped at the opportunity, knowing the move would have a "profound impact on our lives and the lives of our elementary-age children." It's also affected her professional outlook on fundraising, which, she says, comes down to donors and their personal passions and priorities, no matter where you are in the world. "Living internationally has been a good reminder that you can never make assumptions because you never know where someone else is coming from," she says.

For advancement professionals debating whether to take an international job, Stephenson offers this advice: "Just do it. It's occasionally unnerving and always challenging, but if you don't try it, you'll never know if it would have worked. If it works, it will be the best thing that you ever decided to do. If it doesn't, at least you gave it a shot."

About the Author

Moyra Doyle is the founder of the global search firm Richmond Associates, based in London and Sydney.