CASE Spotlight: Heather Hamilton
Positivity. People and culture. Crystal-clear communication.
In January, Heather Hamilton stepped into the role of executive director of CASE's Asia-Pacific region, bringing with her a collaborative leadership philosophy.
Integrated advancement is key, says Hamilton, a longtime CASE volunteer and advancement leader.
“We should make efforts to break down silos and address problems collectively,” Hamilton says. “This creates greater efficiency and alignment around an institution’s mission.”
Hamilton comes to CASE from the Brisbane Grammar School on the eastern shore of Australia. Before that, she served as the director of annual giving, donor relations, and marketing and communications (advancement) at The University of Queensland and director of external relations at The University of Western Australia Business School. She’s also held positions within the corporate sector in marketing, communications, stakeholder relations, and human resources.
Here, she shares her favorite professional advice, and what’s exciting (and challenging) about advancement today.
What led you to advancement?
I landed in an advancement role before I knew it was advancement!
Around 2005, Tracey Horton, the dean of University of Western Australia’s business school, asked me to join her as the marketing manager of the business school. In this role, I reported to Tracey (now someone I see as an informal mentor) and worked alongside the fundraising team who were commencing a major capital campaign. Over time, my role evolved into that of director external relations with responsibility for marketing, alumni/industry engagement, fundraising, and international development. With a passion for all facets of the advancement mix and a belief that each portfolio is critical for success, I now avidly foster and promote an integrated advancement model.
What are you most excited about in leading CASE’s Asia-Pacific operations?
So many reasons!
It is a privilege to be given the opportunity to lead an extremely passionate team who has done amazing work in developing the CASE Asia-Pacific region.
When I was serving as a volunteer on the CASE Commission on Communications and Marketing in Washington D.C., under the leadership of Sue Cunningham, CASE commenced the new strategic planning process which led to the establishment of Reimagining CASE 2017–2021. As strategic planning unfolded, I observed the global CASE community help create and embrace the new plan with the ultimate objective to advance education worldwide (to transform lives and society) and champion the work of our members. It’s wonderful to see, and be part of, a global community the size of CASE—including staff, partners, volunteers, members—become advocates and champions for a great cause. That is what we do in advancement!
To this end, I am also excited to see through the current strategic planning process, the objectives come to fruition, the outcomes, and then being part of the next strategic planning phase beyond 2021.
What has being involved with CASE as a volunteer meant to you?
Since I began working in educational advancement 15 years ago, CASE has been a pillar of support: my go-to for professional development and thought leadership. As a volunteer, I have valued immensely the knowledge sharing that happens within the CASE community, the opportunity to informally mentor others, and develop a lifelong global network of friends and colleagues.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
Some years ago, I had the great pleasure to hear Gail Kelly, retired CEO of Westpac Bank, speak at a fairly small event hosted by The University of Queensland. Gail Kelly was the first woman to lead one of Australia’s big banks and ranks in the Forbes Top 100 Most influential Women in the World. She was very inspirational and I found myself madly taking notes as she spoke. Her real-life experiences and anecdotes made her authentic. A few key takeaways that resonated for me included:
- Choose positivity. “You can choose in your life how you respond to situations and you should actively choose to be positive, to see the world through a glass-half-full perspective. You should choose even in difficult times to look for the learning, the insights, the opportunities, the next steps.”
- Focus on people and culture. “…foster a culture where people deeply care about the customers that they serve and about the communities in which they operate, who understand the vision of the organisation and set about every day to make a difference…"
- Communication. “It is important to communicate in a crystal-clear way the vision and purpose of the organisation.”
What’s exciting about advancement today? What’s most challenging?
Some of the challenges facing advancement today also makes advancement very exciting! Throughout my 15+ years as a practitioner, I have certainly experienced my share of challenges.
The context in which CASE’s strategic plan was established is around “education as an essential component of the fabric of every nation and culture,” positioning advancement and its practitioners as a priority for institutions globally.
I have personally experienced and observed a steady increase in the development of new and growing advancement functions within universities and schools, creating new jobs and increased global mobility of advancement professionals. While at The University of Queensland as director for marketing and communications (advancement), of my four codirectors, only one was Australian.
As much as there has been a noticeable adoption of advancement in education institutions, there still exists a challenge of tighter budgets, declining resources, an increase in different educational models and competition requiring greater positioning, and higher expectations for philanthropic support. Building a team and finding advancement leaders and practitioners with a solid track record in the areas of fundraising, marketing, engagement, and advancement services is challenging, so there is also a greater need for strategic talent development across all advancement functions.
I am also excited, yet challenged by, the constant drive for new digital technologies to support demographic shifts in our constituencies: providing current, on-demand and multichannel communication tools to provide relevant news and services, and for connecting people. Also, the demand is increasing for improved data collection and metrics to support smarter strategic planning, measure outcomes around alumni engagement and perform predictive analytics for fundraising. All very fascinating but confusing at the best of times! We need more multichannel marketers and data specialists in advancement.
And finally, something I am a big advocate of: I see many institutions starting to see the benefits around adopting an integrated (at least partial) advancement model for alumni/community relations, industry relations, global engagement, fundraising, marketing and communications in education. We should make efforts to break down silos and address problems collectively; this creates greater efficiency and alignment around an institution’s mission.