Leading the Future
Taking on a leadership role can be a daunting task. The CASE Academy offers an intensive, eight-segment course for advancement professionals ready to take the next step in their careers. It balances strategic guidance and practical advice from the most seasoned and successful advancement professionals in the world.
As we gear up for the CASE Academy this November, we spoke with these faculty members about the best professional advice they’ve received and what they’re most looking forward to at the inaugural Academy:
Sue Cunningham, president and CEO of CASE;
Liesl Elder, chief development officer at the University of Oxford;
Michael Goodwin, former president and CEO of Oregon State University Foundation;
Karen Osborne, senior strategist for The Osborne Group;
Paul Rucker, vice president for alumni and stakeholder engagement at the University of Washington and executive director of the UW Alumni Association.
CASE: How did you find your way to advancement?
Sue Cunningham: Like so many, I found my way here by accident. I was working in a photographic gallery, after the start of my career working in stage management in theatre, where fundraising and communications were part of a broader role. I discovered that I loved the opportunity and have enjoyed working in the field ever since.
Liesl Elder: I had just graduated from university and was taking a year out so that I could play rugby and have some time off before applying to graduate school. As it happened, the job I landed to pay my rent was in the alumni annual fund at Carleton College. From there, I met a mentor, moved to a new job, started working in major gifts, and never looked back. My intended gap year has now spanned more than a quarter century.
Michael Goodwin: I started my career as a high school teacher and coach. After a few years, I took a side trip into real estate, where I learned quite a bit about marketing, selling, and finance. When I realized I didn’t want to spend a lifetime in real estate, I was able to translate the knowledge I had acquired into a development job at a Catholic high school in the Seattle area.
Karen Osborne: Like many of my generation, I was fortunate to trip into it. I didn’t realize it was a profession, rather than a job, until I went to my first CASE conference. I listened to an amazing speech about the nobility of our work and I was hooked.
Paul Rucker: My journey took many twists and turns. It started with classroom instruction at the community college level 30 years ago, and then there were student affairs roles, advising roles, international development roles, alumni engagement roles, all the way up through senior advancement leadership roles.
At a time when advancement is needed at our educational institutions more than ever, it’s important to emphasize humility and empathy.
CASE: What excites you most about what you do?
SC: The vision: advancing education to transform lives and society and the 92,000 remarkable people who work in our member institutions worldwide who get up every day to do just that!
LE: I love working in academia: being surrounded by world-class academics is hugely enriching and I learn something new every day. The part of my job that gives me the most satisfaction is seeing my team grow and develop. I work with some of the loveliest people around, and it is a great pleasure to see them succeed. I particularly love the days when a new fundraiser lands their first big gift.
KO: Every week for 42 years and counting, I get to do something meaningful. Funding for our institutions and nonprofit organizations fuels the solutions to world, national, and community problems. Leading, teaching, and mentoring the advancement professionals who do this work is a privilege and a joyful endeavor.
CASE: What are the tough topics leaders are facing in advancement and how can they work toward solutions?
SC: Navigating COVID-19 and all that comes with it. And as a leader that means: how do we support our staff, our stakeholders, and the fiscal stability of our organisations? I am seeing remarkable resilience in dealing with this crisis, in focusing on what is important, and finding solutions for the long-term. Remaining true to institutional mission is key. As is being open to innovation. We are experiencing considerable change. Anticipating where the puck is going to land is hard. And yet it is what we must do.
MG: Building diversity in our programs is obviously a challenge. Lots has been written on this topic and I won’t add to that here other than to say: “just do it.” We grew our diversity at the OSU Foundation from about 6% to 21% over a few years. One of the key steps was simply hiring two people with diverse backgrounds as part of our HR team. They helped us reach out to and attract candidates we would have never known about or been competitive for.
Another challenge—and this has always been a challenge—is doing more with less. We live in an era when out institutions need us to be more successful than ever, and in most cases, are less able than ever to support our work. So, making the most of the investment in us is always an obligation.
KO: Before the pandemic, education was already under great stress at every level: parents and students questioning rising tuition, our public institutions facing ongoing cutbacks, high staff turnover, and many other issues. And, of course, the insatiable need for more philanthropic dollars to fund critical programs, reduce student debt, and keep our institutions flourishing or (in some cases) afloat.
Then COVID hit, the economy sank, and demands for racial justice rose.
These are exceptional times for advancement leaders. Working from home, caring for our families, and becoming our children’s teachers added another layer of complexity. Taking diversity, equity, and inclusion seriously—moving it from good intentions to effective action—is now an imperative.
I’ve always believed in the importance of planning and focus, in asking tough and strategic questions, and listening to understand. We need these skills now more than ever. We must understand our new environment, anticipate the changes coming over the next few years, and plan accordingly. Hold onto proven practices and add the right, sustainable innovations that emerged out of this time of crisis and hope.
Read, watch, think, listen, and learn. Focus and plan. Take care of yourself. We rarely put these fundamentals on our calendars, but we must. We address them on vacation, or in the shower, or during our commute to work. They are essential and need priority status.
I love working in academia: being surrounded by world-class academics is hugely enriching and I learn something new every day. The part of my job that gives me the most satisfaction is seeing my team grow and develop.
CASE: What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve received?
SC: Only do what only you can do. Nurture those who work for you and empower them by allowing them to take responsibility for their work.
LE: “Don’t let them get under your skin.” When I was younger, I would get quite irritated and frustrated by various things at work and it would really get to me. My boss pulled me aside one day and helped me realize that I wasn’t doing myself any favors. I really took it to heart and changed. A year later, I got the big promotion that jump-started my career. Now, when people remark that I am very sanguine in the face of challenges, I chuckle and think to myself, “I wasn’t always this way!”
KO: I’ve been blessed all my career with attentive mentors and wise friends and family. I also worked for individuals who believed in staff development and in giving back to our profession. During the first year of my first job in institutional advancement, I volunteered at a CASE conference and went to all the sessions. Learning from that experience, I always invested in my teams’ growth and learning.
PR: We don’t control the narrative. Our community, broadly defined, knows whether or not the impact of our work is meaningful and authentic. Higher education holds in dynamic tension a legacy of exclusion and the capacity for transformational change. A mentor long ago reinforced that it’s really not about me, it’s about the experience of those I serve.
I like the advice that Stan Schmid, the vice president at Washington State University and a past chair of the CASE board, gave to all of his employees: “Be smart, be hardworking, be caring.” That sums it up well.
CASE: What are the most important traits of a successful leader?
SC: Empathy, vision, integrity, and a passion for your institutional mission.
LE: Generosity, coupled with high expectations, and a commitment to excellence. The best leaders I know are generous with their time, generous with praise, generous with advice. They want to see the people around them succeed and therefore don’t hog the limelight. When that generosity of spirit is accompanied by drive and ambition, it’s a good recipe for a high performing team.
PR: It’s how you serve those that you are charged to serve. At a time when advancement is needed at our educational institutions more than ever, it’s important to emphasize humility and empathy.
I start every day with my gratitude list. No matter what is going on, how scary the world seems, or how daunting the tasks I face, I write down, or recite out loud, the good in my life. It starts my day on the right foot.
CASE: Where do you find inspiration?
SC: From CASE colleagues, CASE volunteers, and CASE members for their dedication, creativity, and commitment. And my friends across the CASE global network who I have grown to know and trust throughout my career. And of course, my family: my son, my husband, and my dog, Wombat!
LE: What I find most inspiring are simple acts of kindness and generosity and ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
MG: Reading, family, exercise, and the outdoors. I especially enjoy reading books that are outside my normal areas of interest. For example, right now I am reading a book on the geology of Yellowstone Park.
KO: I start every day with my gratitude list. No matter what is going on, how scary the world seems, or how daunting the tasks I face, I write down, or recite out loud, the good in my life. It starts my day on the right foot. Connecting with the people my philanthropy, volunteering, and training serves is the second way I stay inspired. It goes back to why I love our profession. We are changing and saving lives. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?
PR: I find inspiration in our students and the next generation of team members who engage and challenge leadership in bold and empowered ways.
I am seeing remarkable resilience in dealing with [the pandemic], in focusing on what is important, and finding solutions for the long-term. Remaining true to institutional mission is key. As is being open to innovation.
CASE: What do you hope participants will take away from the CASE Academy?
LE: I hope that the participants will learn more about themselves and see where they can grow to build on their leadership skills. The traits that make us great individual performers are not necessarily the same traits that make great team leaders. I hope that we’ll broaden their horizons and give them some tools to help shape their future careers. I also hope that every participant will come away with a network of friends and colleagues that they will be able to draw upon in the years to come.
MG: A deeper understanding of what’s involved in senior leadership positions in our field, an honest assessment of where they stand now, and a game plan for acquiring the knowledge and skills they’ll need in a senior leadership position.
KO: Concrete information they can use to do their work and enhance their careers. The confidence to do it well and the inspiration to tackle the tough issues. In addition, the CASE Academy will provide excellent networking opportunities.