Fundraising Nerd

Turn your data into donors.

AASP: panel on leadership

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Now a panel on “Becoming an Advancement Services Leader” with a group of incredibly smart folks: Jon Thorsen (George Washington University), Gail Ferris (American University), Jennifer Liu-Cooper (Zuri Group), and Christina Pulawski (Art Institute of Chicago). Robert Weiner (Robert L. Weiner Consulting) is moderating.

How does one become a leader in advancement services? Robert says it’s either “raising your hand or not ducking quickly enough.” That is, pretty much none of us set out to be advancement services leaders when we left college!

Jennifer: Advancement Services is all about orchestrating your knowledge to come up with solutions. She also says, “Problem-solving is like crack.” So true!

Jon: One thing we can bring to our institutions is to slow them down. “We’re the only process-oriented people in any development office.” The battle of the SOPs — standard operating procedures vs. shiny object people.

Good question: At what point in your career do you feel like an actual expert rather than that you are faking it?

Christina: We all have our methods of coping and preparing. Could be costuming (power suit), over-preparation, or research.

Gail: Feeling comfortable in your role does not come from knowing the answers, it comes from knowing the questions.

Robert: Be willing to ask a lot of questions at the risk of seeming dumb.

A number of the panelists have mentioned the value of conferences and continuing education to build knowledge and confidence. Christina also mentions the value of reaching out to other institutions and doing site visits.

Christina: Understand the moving parts and complexity of the environment. There is no solution that fits all situations. Being able to apprehend the landscape and choose specific tools from your toolbox is an important step toward confident leadership.

Gail: The best way to know a topic is to teach it. Present on your area of expertise — this will build your confidence.

Jon: This is a very giving profession. We’ve all been there at some point, so there is a great deal of empathy and willing to share within the field.

How do you manage areas in which you are not a specialist?

Gail: It’s an issue of respect. Be sympathetic and respectful to your staff.

Jennifer: Sit with your staff to shadow their work to better understand it.

Christina: What will further your career is management and people skills. Functional skills may actually hold you back. Managing people is a full-time job, and it requires a different approach than managing a process. Focus on management techniques rather than the functional skills.

Jon: Be honest. Speaking about a specific business analyst team, he says, “They were so much smarter than me, and I’m never going to catch up.” Be honest about what you can and can’t do, and how you can be helpful.

Gail: Know thyself. Don’t set yourself up for failure by taking on responsibilities that you can’t learn or don’t want to do.

Christina: If it’s not working, and you can’t figure out why, ask for help. It may be a paid consultant or other resources.

Jon: Good leaders want to be pushed. They want team members who know things they don’t know.

Robert: Listen to the clients of your department. This will help you find trouble spots.

Question: Have you been or had the opportunity to be a frontline fundraiser?

Gail: No way! “But most of the people to whom I provide data would rather die than do my job.”

Christina: We are seeing more of a merging of the data and frontline worlds. Frontline staff can do on their phones what data analysts used to provide 10 years ago. We are looking for people skills in advancement services staff.

Jon: He disagrees with Christina. Jon thinks there is still a strong dichotomy between the back office and the front office. The skillsets are transferable, but not for everyone. The change we need to make is not seeing frontline as a promotion, but simply as different. APPLAUSE!

Gail: As advancement services leaders, we serve as translators between frontline and technical. The question is whether we use those people skills internally or externally.

Robert: Disagrees with Jon. Thinks that back office folks can make a very successful transition to frontline. And that introverts can make great development officers due to listening skills. But if you are not a people person, you won’t be able to make this transition.

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