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Growing your own

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Skills, not just experience, needed for development jobs.

By Connie Harris

As vice president for institutional advancement at Meredith College, personnel matters, including updating position descriptions, training staff and interviewing and hiring new staff, are some of my most important responsibilities.

I’ve received many resumes for advertised positions in the past, but not necessarily those with the talents desired for fundraising.

Here are some ideas on ways to develop your own source of development professionals:

* Look at “home” first.

Who is working in your organization with the set of skills you need? Is it an admissions counselor, a coach or teacher, a resident advisor or the administrative assistant who knows everyone?  People skills, an appreciation for maintaining relationships and an understanding of your mission are already there.

* Higher education has advantages.

Those of us who are hiring at colleges and universities can offer tuition remission, flexible hours and the attainment of a graduate degree.

* Talk to your best volunteers.

Which volunteers “drive” your staff and have the energy and commitment to take on even a short-term paid position?  The challenge here is engaging them in a different mindset so they are now accountable as your employee.

* Rehire the retiree .

Do you know someone who has retired from sales, marketing, higher education or another not-for-profit? There may be strong interest in less than full-time positions.

* Meet and greet.

Go to local meetings of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Chamber of Commerce, conferences of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and other events. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Pass out business cards and tell folks you are looking.

* Call local college and university career centers.

They know their outstanding undergrad and graduate students. These future development officers are no longer coming in the “back door” to fundraising as many of us did. Offer an unpaid internship or stipend for a semester.

* Use your local publications.

There is nothing wrong with the newspapers, but advertising here at the Philanthropy Journal was great for my most recent searches. I’ve also had colleagues tell me that advertising works in business journals, too.

* Gather a focus group.

Invite colleagues for lunch to brainstorm other ways to recruit. Call your younger colleagues together for a “young professionals’ culture committee” to help you think creatively about recruiting their peers.

* Answer email.

I keep a “Dear Vice President” email file from those unsolicited jobseekers’ inquiries, and I make sure I answer them, then I file them for future searches. New people are constantly moving into the your area and targeting your organization.

I worked in student development at Earlham College for three years before I was recruited — in the ladies’ room, no less — to run the college’s $1 million annual fund. The most fundraising I experienced before that was getting pizzas donated for a community service day.

I’m forever grateful that they took a chance and hired someone with the skills, not just the experience.


Connie Harris is vice president for institutional advancement at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.

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