Build Recruitment into Every Day

Hiring continues to be top of mind for leaders across advancement shops, as there has been no decrease in folks leaving our industry, moving to a new opportunity, or retiring altogether. This is nothing new: Recruitment and retention have been buzzwords for years now. And yet, too many shops aren’t taking action to build a culture that actively supports successful recruitment.

This is where many of us turn to search firms when we have a position open. Search firms can be great partners; but, not miracle workers. They need us to do our part too. Yet, I find so many of us aren’t sharing our recruitment goals with our teams, and even fewer are blocking time on calendars to make connections, mine LinkedIn, host informational interviews, or create a proactive plan for growing candidate pools.

Imagine what just 5-10 minutes a day dedicated to spreading a positive word about your team and your institution would do to support your efforts next time you hire someone. Don’t know how to begin? Start here:

  • Think about the most ambitious, positive language you can use to share about your team, your institution and your cause. Now, where do you share it, both internally and externally? Remember that retention is more effective than recruitment, so make sure you use your language with colleagues too.
  • When you and members of your team attend conferences, webinars or other professional development or networking events, how do you talk about your institution and open/upcoming positions? What tools are you providing to support these important discussions?
  • How are you networking with institutional partners (admissions, career services, annual fund, patient services, etc.) to find new talent that can be a transferable skills hire? Are you sharing your openings across your alumni network, volunteer/auxiliary groups, and program staff?
  • Every member of your team can contribute! How do they speak and post online about your institution? Are they networking? What tools can you give them to support your growth efforts? (My favorite is a card that shares your team values, with a QR code linking to open positions.)

We are in a fight for talent. But we are also an industry of incredible purpose and mission. Many of us even came to this field by accident. And now our role is to educate others about how our own teams can offer careers that provide fulfillment, joy, and impact on issues we care about deeply.

We can do this in just 5–10 minutes a day — a small investment that could yield you and your team some incredible new teammates.

Handoff Versus Transition

“Handoff” is transactional — It indicates a lack of collaboration, and rarely reflects a thoughtful pathway for someone who is supporting our institutions. So how do we move away from this transactional reference, and embrace our very best work?

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How to Become a Fundraising Favorite

If you’ve been a fundraiser for long — whether in higher education, healthcare systems or large nonprofits — you’ve probably heard these phrases:

The fundraising team loves that program.

That program gets all the funding.

That faculty member is advancement’s favorite.

And the reality is, it’s likely true! We know that not all initiatives are created equal, and philanthropy reflects that. But we also know there are plenty of strong fundraising opportunities that can be created when faculty/physicians/program leaders invest in becoming a fundraising favorite.

Of course, we cannot raise money for every program within our institution, no matter how important the cause. But we can raise more money for the programs with leaders who are strong partners. That’s why we, as fundraisers, need to be honest about that, and then clearly define how a program can become a favorite.

Expectation-setting is critical. Leaders new to this area may expect quick magic, rather than the thoughtful process of building toward generosity. Expectations that I share regularly include:

  • Not every program will have the same fundraising results.
  • Fundraising must be a true partnership between advancement and program leadership to be successful.
  • Leaders need to consistently make time for fundraising.
  • Donors have their own interests and we support those interests, even if it means a gift to a different program.
  • This work takes sustained effort and time – the results will not be immediate.

Then we must outline that we need the leaders’ partnership in three key areas: vision, engagement and alignment.


  • Define a clear vision and impact for the project.
  • Engage in a transparent budgeting discussion.
  • Be prepared to demonstrate milestones and outcomes along the way.


  • Be prepared to communicate directly with donors.
  • Share your research, lab, classroom or other showcase opportunity for donor tours/visits.
  • Don’t feel that you need to go it alone – advancement will partner with you to create donor strategies, communications and more.
  • Be available to edit communications/proposals.
  • Learn to speak passionately about why philanthropy matters to your project – but know that your fundraising partner will solicit the gift.


  • Speak about the institution positively.
  • Be a champion for your project and institution, both internally and externally.
  • Be a true partner with advancement, working together to align communications calendars, messaging, donor outreach and more.
  • Do not keep your own database: provide all engagement and biographical data updates to your fundraising partner for the university’s database so there is one accurate tracking system.

We know that leaders who partner with us by committing to supporting vision, engagement and alignment will be fundraising favorites. Let’s share this message with our internal partners and invite them in!

Parent Season is Here! Are You Here for It?

My passion for parent engagement started long before I became one – it was built when I served as a summer orientation leader while I was a student at San Diego State University. I loved meeting parents, sharing about the student experience and providing resource suggestions as a member of the student panel geared for parents.

Later, my first professional frontline fundraising role had me expanding the parents program from a purely programmatic one to a program that built generosity to inspire individual gifts. That passion stayed with me, and only grew years later when our oldest starting touring colleges. I was able to experience universities from the parent perspective, and I saw so many opportunities to grow how we invite parents and families into a generous relationship.

Fast forward to today, where I find myself discussing parent fundraising regularly during coaching sessions with clients. The number one topic: the differences between inviting parents and alumni to give.

With parent fundraising heavily underway, let’s look at those differences and how we can use them to better engage our enthusiastic new parents.

  • With alumni, our job is to re-engage. They often have not heard from us in years, or even decades. Parents are the exact opposite: they have been deeply engaged with us for months. They read everything about our campuses they can get their hands on, shop our books stores and look for campus swag on Amazon, decorate high school graduation parties with school colors and mascots, and they post, post, post their child’s campus choice on social media. (Decision day takes over Facebook in the days surrounding May 1!) These folks are ENGAGED, and aligning our work with that ongoing daily engagement is a critical tool in building generous relationships.
  • High schools have taught parents that generosity is a normal part of the educational experience. They are giving to performances (costumes, instruments, props), athletics (uniforms, transportation), competitions (registration fees, tutors) and on and on. Parents are prepared to be generous during the child’s college education as well, and when we don’t invite them to give early, we change that pattern and that message for the worse.
  • Higher education philanthropy has an opportunity to build from the foundation laid by high schools. High school programs regularly focus on need or maintaining programs. However, at our institutions, philanthropy inspires our supporters to dream – to dream of how we can solve significant challenges, build stronger communities, create first- and best-in-class programs and more. This model strengthens parents’ relationships directly with our institutions outside of their students’ relationships.
  • Many, many parents will be ready to discuss giving early – even in the first meeting. By using probing questions about high school giving, educating them about how we align giving to vision and strategy at our institutions and inviting them to make a gift, we can build on parents’ excitement for this next step in their children’s lives. Even the first call to a parent can be energizing, as they’ll often want to talk with us. But, let’s make sure to be clear about our role in securing support, and then serve as a bridge to other areas of campus as needed.

But it’s not just freshmen parents we should be engaging. Our youngest walked across the commencement stage earlier this month, and his campus did an exceptional job of weaving the message of Wildcat for Life with speakers who role modeled philanthropy in meaningful and relatable ways. We had family members with us for their first visit to his campus, and I guarantee that if any of us were to receive an engaged solicitation, we would give. Our pride was once again swelling at our son’s choice, and all that the campus did to foster his growth. We felt deeply connected to the community, their vision and goals. All we need is a fundraiser to bring it home. 😊

Whether you are welcoming new parents, or looking to continue to keep graduating parents/families philanthropically engaged, parent pride is at an all-time high from late April through move-in or start a new job day. Think about how you’re building excitement about philanthropy with parents and families, and how you can grow their engagement into giving. And don’t wait: Our parents and families are bursting with pride, and that pride can translate into meaningful philanthropic partnerships with our campuses right now.

Need a bit of extra guidance or coaching around parent philanthropy, language or strategy? KDD Philanthropy and our coaching team is here to support you with customized training or coaching. And this is a topic we are passionate about! Let us share our energy and practical approach with you.

Rejection? Try Redirection!

This past weekend was full of emotions as our youngest son graduated from the University of Arizona. One of my favorite things about higher education is the tradition and pageantry of commencement, and the weekend was even more special as our family came together to celebrate and connect.

The all-university ceremony featured Wildcat alum Michael Tubbs, who was both thoughtful and inspirational. He delivered a key message that works as well for new graduates as it does for those of us on the front lines of philanthropy: Turn rejection into redirection. What a positive way to approach growth opportunities!

KDD Philanthropy has recently led several qualification trainings, where we emphasize the need for using a beginner mindset to build your prospect qualification skills. One of the key reasons we often don’t pick up the phone, or send that initial email, is the deep-rooted fear of being rejected.

Michael’s comments about redirection give us all a new way to gather up our courage and do the hard work. Our role as advancement professionals is to advance our institution’s mission. This is important, valuable work, and if we fold at the thought of rejection, we will simply not do as much of what matters.

However, if we approach our qualification outreach by reframing rejection as redirection, we can use it to make us more effective fundraisers:

  • Redirection to a new approach when our first attempts have not yielded the intended results.
  • Redirection to include a colleague, natural partner or volunteer to energize our efforts or to provide a new hook for our outreach message.
  • Redirection of the negative stories in our heads (“I am a pest,” “They don’t want to hear from me/us,” “I am not any good at this”) to a narrative that motivates and celebrates (“I got this,” “Our mission is worthy of partnership/support,” and “Conversation leads to meetings”).
  • Redirection from a challenging conversation with a prospect due to a campus, healthcare or guest experience, to one that allows us to do service recovery leading to renewed engagement and eventual partnership.
  • Redirection from meetings that are not a good use of time to a conversation about where your time is best served for your institution.

We will always have hurdles in our work, but those hurdles become roadblocks if we allow them to become our narrative. Actively redirecting allows us to re-think, re-approach and re-energize our work, ultimately removing the roadblock and the false narrative that goes with it.

It’s worth considering: What would you accomplish today if you used a challenge as an opportunity to redirect?

And for all you parents, grandparents and friends that are celebrating a commencement … Congratulations! You get to celebrate too!

If you’re looking for more tools to strengthen your approach, consider hiring a KDD Philanthropy executive/fundraising coach to support your efforts!

Making Magic Happen

San Diego State University’s incredible run in the NCAA tournament this year had many people cheering on the Aztecs. However, “Aztec for life” has resonated for me since I began my time at SDSU as a student. From my early days as an undergraduate and student leader, to my times teaching and volunteering, to my time as orientation co-advisor, my move to an advancement professional and leader, and most importantly, as a proud alumnus, the culture has spoken to and been a part of me.

We used to call San Diego State a roll-up-your sleeves type of place — a campus where the impossible becomes possible. Not a lot of resources, but a desire to leave camp better than you found it. Tenacity paid off. Hard work was a staple. And our can-do attitude was hallmark. As was our Aztec Pride.

As I continue to relish the Aztecs’ historic run to the final dance (and especially the Butler Buzzer Beater in the Final Four), I can’t help but think of the parallels between the Aztecs’ run and our work in fundraising.

Our Aztec dream team was filled with persistence. Tenacity. Collaboration. Strong coaching with a commitment to individualization. Fun in working towards a common goal. They gave us something to dream about and believe in. At the finals in Houston, the Aztecs created bonds, rekindled memories and friendships, and created a greater passion for the work of SDSU. March Madness built community.

While we do not all have March Madness or cheering in the stands, every day we create magic at our institutions. And we use the same traits to make it happen: Persistence to create that magic and to invite others into it. Collaboration with our internal partners who set vision and carry it out, and with colleagues who help the entire advancement function rise together. We invite prospective donors in and engage them as individuals toward a common goal, toward a vision. We dream, and we invite these partners to be part of the dream through their generosity. When we do it at our best, we create life-long connectivity, and a greater passion for our institution. We build community.

The question for each of us, then, is whether we’re creating magic for the institutions and causes we represent. What does our magic look like, and how can we use it rekindle our connection to our supporters and build shared passion? How can we use that spirit to build a community of generosity?

We all have that opportunity if we’re willing to take it. And we all have it in us if we’re willing to try.

Tackling Your Top Fear: Conflict

At the recent CASE Strategic Talent Management Conference I attended, a fascinating report* was presented that outlined factors that make major gift officers successful, and surveyed fundraisers on how confident they felt in their ability to display those factors.

At the very top of the list — tied with using the phone to secure donor visits — was handling difficult conversations with donors.

The relationships between our institutions and donors are, in our best-case scenarios, long term and deeply personal to the donor. And those factors are a recipe for the occasional conflict.

However, learning to manage those conversations is both deeply effective and satisfying for the fundraisers who must do so. Here are my top strategies for navigating these tricky conversations with supporters:

Remember that you’re an ambassador, not the subject of the critique.

  • We know that we’re not the institution, and a donor’s concern isn’t a judgment of us as individuals … but how we process emotionally can be an entirely different story!
  • One frame that can help us manage this emotion is to think of ourselves as a facilitator: We are not the party who is critical, and we are not the party being criticized. We are here to facilitate a message between those two parties.

Understand when transparency is a gift.

  • Don’t delay when there’s information to share. Perhaps your scholarship naming minimums are being raised, or a program beloved by a donor is going away. Whatever the scenario, it is a kindness to share information proactively and clearly.
  • Have the facts on both what is happening and why it’s happening before you talk with the donor. Otherwise, the conversation will feel incomplete.

Represent the institution professionally but with authenticity.

  • We should never undermine the institution in donor conversations, so we must know how and when to acknowledge our own feelings.
  • Not every issue needs you to share your own thoughts, but issues that are very substantive or when the donor is personally impacted can be an appropriate occasion.
  • Consider language such as:
    • I recognize this is a complicated decision; and while I don’t know that I would make the same one, I understand why it was made.
    • I think very thoughtful people can disagree about this issue.
    • If I can take off my ambassador “hat” for a moment, I will share that I see this issue a bit differently than the institution does. But I also recognize that leadership is weighing some very complicated factors and is making the decision they think will create the best outcome for everyone.

Recognize when your donor may be unhappy.

  • Some donors will tell you when they’re upset about something … but many will not be so direct.
  • When something feels “off,” ask probing questions. For example:
    • Am I hearing some hesitation in how you feel about leadership?
    • It sounds like you may have some thoughts about the event. Would you be open to sharing more?
    • I’m sensing that something may be off in how you’re feeling about your relationship with the institution. Am I correct?

Don’t try to resolve right away: Seek to understand first.

  • Conflict often has layers to it. Perhaps a donor who is upset about a program going away is just upset about the program … or maybe what concerns them most is that they weren’t consulted first.
  • Ask questions to ensure you have a full picture. For example:
    • I understand. Can you tell me more about how you would have liked to see us approach this issue?
    • What would you change if it were up to you?
    • Is there a way we could have managed this differently that would allow you to feel better about the change/decision/program/etc.?

Determine whether the donor is seeking resolution or just needs to be heard.

  • Being heard is a basic human need and can resolve many conflicts.
  • An apology or acknowledgement can go a long way. Offer it freely.
  • Often the donor will respond by letting you know whether the situation is resolved or if they need further resolution. If that’s unclear, ask:
    • I’m really glad you shared your thoughts with me …
      • Can you tell me more about how you’re feeling now?
      • I’d like to offer to arrange for you and the dean to discuss this directly. Is that something you’d be interested in?
      • I think the best outcome would be for you to be able to feel confident in this decision. Is there something else I can do to help with that?

While conflict is never fun, I’ve found that using these tools can make these conversations productive and even rewarding. When we help a donor navigate conflict with the institution, we preserve a relationship that is meaningful to both sides – and that outcome can make the temporary conflict worthwhile.

*Advancement Resources Feb 2020: Early Career Success Factors for Major Gift Fundraisers

How to Engage Your Front Door Partners

How many blogs have you read, or conversations have you had, about engaging executive leaders in your work? Deans, star physicians, executives, program leaders … these are the first roles we think of when it comes to collaborating with partners in advancement.

But there’s another group of natural partners about whom we should be thinking. Not those in leadership roles, but those who are often the “front door” to the institution or to a leader who also plays an important role in building a successful culture of philanthropy.

Our “front door” partners are often some of our best allies, but only if we are intentional in cultivating this engagement. Intentionality can take many forms, such as:

  • Implementing a meeting to introduce yourself and discuss your role and the larger advancement effort to key new employees.
  • Finding opportunities to regularly share stories of wins, including a monthly email, department meetings, year-end celebrations and more. Be expansive in defining wins, such as updates for the database, assistance with scheduling an important meeting or helping a donor with a request.
  • Presenting at department/program meetings about how everyone contributes to the patient/guest/alumni/etc. experience and therefore can support generosity — or take it off the table with a bad experience.
  • When announcing a gift, share specific examples of colleagues who supported the process along the way, including those who did so behind the scenes.
  • Regularly sharing stories and context. For example, if a parent prospect interacts with program staff and then makes a gift, come back to program staff to share that they helped create an experience that supported generosity.

Think about your language too. How do you discuss donors and the fundraising process? Do you represent the meaningful, enjoyable elements of the work? Do you acknowledge the donor’s experiences with the institution as a whole, rather than with only advancement and leadership? These messages make a difference!

Underlying these opportunities is a simple concept: When we lead with openness and gratitude, we create a dynamic that others want to engage in. Take the time to ask yourself who the “front door” colleagues are to your institution and whether there may be more you can do to create an impactful partnership.

Additional Tools for Building Effective Philanthropic Relationships with Institutional Partners

One of my favorite things to do as a fundraising consultant is to help those who are not comfortable with fundraising get comfortable, learn how to be conversational and, in some cases, find our work … enjoyable! The leaders, physicians, faculty members and others who are least likely to be seen as partners early on often become exceptional partners with whom advancement loves to work.

Often times, when we have institutional partners that advancement professionals are eager to work with, that can be perceived as playing favorites. And while earlier in my career I would have shied away from such a description, over time I’ve become much more comfortable owning this idea … and even sharing that other partners and individuals can become “favorites” too!

That’s why it’s so important that we, as advancement professionals, become comfortable coaching our partners on what it takes to become a “favorite.” Our partners are not experts in fundraising. So it’s our role to have the open, clear coaching conversations that help them get there, and to tell them what it takes to make your work together worthwhile.

What if you said to your colleague: “I’m excited to talk about how we might work together! I’d like to learn more about your project, and also share some patterns I’ve seen in what can make our partnership as effective as possible.”

By doing some table-setting first, you’re then able to share what we all wish every partner knew:

  • Ongoing, sustainable initiatives are more productive for the donor and the institution than one-off, one-time-only needs.
  • They will need to be committed to providing time and energy to this effort in an ongoing way, making time for both the behind-the-scenes work and donor engagement. While some will never be comfortable talking about philanthropy, we can help them learn how to talk about impact. And, they can make our work more meaningful by being accessible and engaged, and serving as a champion and a conduit of information.
  • There must be a viable audience for a fundraising initiative — an identifiable group of individuals (or foundation funders) who find the effort compelling and worthy of philanthropic investment.
  • The better they are at connecting with their colleagues and championing their initiative internally — with deans, presidents, etc. — the greater the opportunities for success, as this will open the door for collaboration with donors who may overlap into other areas.
  • The portion of your time that you can allot to this effort, so that you can align your partners’ expectations.

Use this opportunity to ask questions as well, inviting your partner to reflect on how their project would overlap with these issues.

  • Who do you think the donor audience would be for this?
  • Are there any alumni/grateful patient/community members who are supportive of this work? Have they been engaged to this point?
  • Would this project be an immediate need, or is there a longer-term horizon for this? Would multi-year or endowment support be a fit?
  • How would donations make a difference for this project?
  • In order to take this initiative forward, we would want to develop a case for support and giving opportunities, and then we’ll have ongoing work of identifying and engaging prospective supporters. How much time would you be able to dedicate to this effort?

Very few of the colleagues who we partner with will come to the table with a fine-tuned approach to fundraising. Most will either be new to it, or worked with someone else in their past who had a different style. But this newness gives us every opportunity to help create a path forward that leads to success in fundraising and the identifying of another “favorite.”