Member Profile: Kurstin Finch Gnehm
Advancement celebrates generosity—and that's the best part of the job, says Kurstin Finch Gnehm.
"People have immense capacity for kindness. I love that my job is to find an outlet for it," says Finch Gnehm, deputy director of philanthropy at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and a longtime CASE volunteer.
Here, Finch Gnehm shares her best career advice, what she loves about volunteering, and more.
How did you find your way to advancement and your current role at your institution?
I backed into advancement, as so many of us do. I wanted a career in education but didn’t have the patience for a Ph.D., so I cast around for other roles that suited my technology and project management skills. When my alma mater, Linfield College, advertised for an associate director of advancement services, I jumped at the chance, even though I had no clue what advancement services was. I haven’t looked back, and it’s taken me from Oregon to Scotland and finally to London.
What’s one professional achievement that you’re particularly proud of?
I’ve worked with probably close to 300 student fundraisers over the course of fifteen years, running call rooms, managing internships, and mentoring. I’m incredibly proud that many of them have gone on to successful professional fundraising careers themselves across the world. They’ll be able to help their institutions in ways I could never dream of.
How have you been involved with CASE, and what has that experience meant to you?
I think I served on my first CASE Circle of Excellence panel in 2008 in District VIII. Since then, I’ve co-chaired the CASE Europe Regular Giving conference three times, and I’m in my second year of co-chairing the fundraising track for the CASE Europe Annual Conference, in addition to speaking at several conferences each year.
I love being involved with CASE for first access to thought leadership and networks, of course, but my real passion is about providing a place where higher education fundraisers can think deeply about and celebrate their work. CASE is the opportunity to sit at a campfire and chat with the brightest people in the profession. What wonderful luck to have access to it.
What’s a professional lesson you’d pass along to someone just starting out in advancement?
In the first six months, spend 80% of your time immersing yourself in the ethos of your institution. Attend as many meetings, matches, performances, lectures, and classes as you can. Absorb the vocabulary, the values, the cultural touchpoints. Talk to anyone who will give you five minutes, including the cleaners and estates staff. As a fundraiser, this intelligence will serve you better than anything else you’ll learn in the office.
What do you love about your job?
It reminds me, even in the face of a world that can seem unkind, of the power and generosity of the human spirit. People have immense capacity for kindness. I love that my job is to find an outlet for it.
What’s something you keep on your desk or in your office that’s really special to you? What’s the story behind it?
Twenty-five years ago, during my semester abroad as a university student, I sent my parents a very silly postcard of a man in a kilt from Scotland. I couldn’t have guessed that 15 years later I’d live there. The postcard is battered and dog-eared now, but I keep it on my desk to remind me how far a fundraising career can take you.