Approaching Professional Development More Organically

I was talking with a manager a few weeks ago about their team and the need to invest in professional development. This person was doing so many of the right things by sending their team members to conferences, webinars, and more.

And that’s good news! Many of us recognize that professional development builds skills, confidence, and retention rates.

But, what if just sending our team members to outside sources for their growth isn’t actually enough? In that conversation with the manager, we began to discuss internal, institutional investment in professional development … and quickly realized that this internal development approach was actually a huge missing piece for the team.

This likely applies to a lot of managers. It’s so easy to send team members off, ask them to do a quick report out upon their return, and check it off the list.

This approach is leaving so much potential on the table, squandering both the opportunity for truly meaningful investment in our teams and the money we’re spending on those sessions.

Because at a foundational level, we as supervisors and leaders must invest our own time, energy, focus, and care into our team members. This cannot be outsourced.

Where to start? First, it is critical to be present and truly listen to what your team members’ growth goals are. While investing in external opportunities is important, if you are not present and interested in having meaningful growth discussions, these investments can feel disingenuous at best.

We see this regularly with our coaching clients: staff who want to be seen by their bosses, and to be recognized for wanting to grow, contribute more or to receive guidance in constructive ways.

This responsibility falls on us as leaders. We have the tools right at our fingertips:

  • Ask questions about skillset growth goals, and listen.
  • Find opportunities for team members to shadow you or others in areas they’re seeking to gain knowledge.
  • Be generous with your own insight about what it takes to achieve what your team member is hoping for. How did you learn to raise significant gifts, or lead a team, etc? Share your own experiences and earned wisdom.

Discussing growth proactively, openly, and regularly is an essential element of strategic leadership.

Once you’re laying that groundwork, external professional development is at its most effective – as a complement to your own investments, not as a stand-alone. And you can make the most out of that too by pairing every webinar, conference, coaching session, and more with the following:

  • A discussion with your employee before they attend, asking them to identify three clear goals for attending and learning.
  • A debrief afterward for your team member to share what their top take-aways were, and how they’d like to integrate those into their work.
  • A commitment from you as the manager to identify opportunities for your team member to use and explore the new skills and ideas learned. For example, maybe they’re a gift officer who heard some interesting best practices about stewardship reports. Could you arrange for them to meet with the donor relations team to learn more about how they do their work and put together their reports?
  • A 90-day check-in on the items explored above.
  • A brief presentation to the team about key take-aways.

It doesn’t take a lot to make professional development so much more effective. But it does give a LOT back as learnings become anchored in and your own investment becomes clearer for your team.

Looking to expand your approach to professional development for your team? KDD Philanthropy is here to support you! Contact us about the tools we can offer.

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.

Make Your Training Investment Matter

On a webinar I hosted recently, we had an institution sign up a large group of attendees. Including multiple team members is common, but this time something stood out to me: they had invited their student assistants.

I loved this immediately! Talk about a thoughtful (and easy) way to nurture talent, interest, and a culture of philanthropy in an up-and-coming group of professionals. It also made me think about trainings. Specifically, who we as leaders offer them to, who we exclude, and how we make them stick.

One thing COVID brought us is an increase in virtual trainings. Conferences, webinars, and other trainings have become more accessible than ever. This accessibility offers leaders an incredible opportunity to open up our thinking about who we’re inviting to participate in these professional development opportunities.

By being more expansive in our invitations, we’re more inclusive of a diverse group of employees — supporting professional development and career growth, while also introducing our important work to a wider potential talent base.

By inviting administrative team members and student assistants, we demonstrate our commitment to their growth and we expand their understanding of the field — building their own buy-in, skill sets and enthusiasm for our wider charge.

And, by inviting colleagues outside the target audience — for example, inviting donor relations or strategic talent management professionals to a webinar for gift officers, or inviting faculty or programmatic partners to a conference session for donor relations professionals — we provide additional understanding and clarity that can lead to better working partnerships.

We should also be thinking more broadly about how we follow up on those learnings. For example, bringing a wider audience together to brainstorm key take-aways and how to implement learnings. The broader the representation in those conversations, the deeper the buy-in … and the more effective our efforts overall.

The tools to build culture, knowledge, and growth opportunities are, quite literally, right at our fingertips. Let’s use them today for as many team members as possible!

Looking for practical, strategic professional development opportunities for your team? Check out KDD Philanthropy webinars, which offer a one-price structure that allows as many colleagues from one institution to attend.

5 Ways to Maximize Professional Development and Energize Your Team

Hiring and retaining talented staff has long been a challenge in our industry. However, with workforce trends that some are calling “The Great Resignation” currently underway, the need for advancement leaders to create an environment that attracts, nurtures, and retains talent has become urgent.

Luckily, there is clear data showing what advancement professionals are seeking in their careers, and professional development is high on that list. And investing here not only improves employee satisfaction, it also improves your results by elevating team skills, contributing toward a culture of excellence and creating a talent pipeline for your institution.

With intentionality and thoughtfulness, you can create professional development opportunities that enrich individuals and contribute building your larger team. Some of my favorite ways to do this are:

1. After a webinar, have team members debrief together and discuss next steps. Meet again in a few weeks to discuss what’s been implemented, what’s working, and what’s not.

2. Staff members who attend a conference should present key learnings to the team, and then ask the team to brainstorm how those learnings can apply to your team.

3. Invite employees interested in growth to identify roles they’d like to learn more about and have them job shadow. Afterward, ask what appealed to them and what didn’t; and discuss the skills they should develop to obtain a similar role.

4. For those who want to become managers, or strengthen their management skills, ask them to identify a monthly management topic for you two to talk through, identifying strategies and styles.

5. Most importantly: invest in your own knowledge about how to develop team members. Join me for a complimentary webinar on January 5 to explore how you can use webinars, conferences, coaching, and trainings for your staff to grow results, build performance, and increase retention. I’ve seen what works (and what doesn’t) and will provide practical and easy-to-implement advice to ensure that you and your team are getting the most out of your professional development investments.

How are you creating development opportunities, whether for your team or yourself? Share in the comments so we can learn together. And don’t forget to join me on January 5!

Meeting the Need for More Advancement Professionals

If there’s one narrative that’s held true in the world of fundraising for years, it’s the difficulty in hiring and retaining talented advancement staff. Studies show major gift officer tenure is anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5 years, and similar retention issues for other positions, driven by a demand for talent and a shallow talent pool.

We all struggle with the impact of this reality. But how many of us are proactively working to address this problem at its source, inviting others to consider building a career in our field?

Agreeing to informational interviews for those who are interested is an activity we all can – and should – commit to, even when we feel too busy to squeeze one more appointment in our calendars. Consider what you could accomplish in just one conversation:

  • Kindling a passion for advancement work in new graduates and experienced professionals with transferable skills.
  • Educating about the nuances of our field: what it takes to be high performing, the struggle against job-hopping, and more.
  • Building a wider understanding of the value and professionalism of our work, a shift underway nationally but still too-slow moving.

When you say “yes” to an informational interview, keep in mind a few tips:

  • Come prepared with actionable advice for moving forward in the advancement field – from attending professional development events to relevant volunteer opportunities to offering additional contacts.
  • Be honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly, allowing for informed decision-making and better self-selection for fit.
  • Above all else, remember what brought you to this profession. Was it a passion for a cause? The idea of helping others do good? Partnering with visionary faculty, physicians, or programmatic staff? Share that inspiration and seek to spark it in others.

When was the last time you agreed to coffee with someone who wanted to learn more about your work?

Today I challenge each of us: schedule one of these meetings in the coming weeks. Say “yes” to someone in your network, tell your alumni group you’re available for fellow alums, or tell your on-campus career counseling center you’d be happy to be a resource. Whatever tool is at your disposal, be a part of recruiting others to help us build a more philanthropic world.

For tools that decrease turnover of your staff once they’re hired, see these 5 Strategies for Retaining High Performing Staff.

Professional Development That Works

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

Most of us know by now that everyone learns differently: some of us are visual or auditory, reading/writing or kinesthetic. But if you close your eyes and think of professional development, what comes to mind? I’m willing to bet you see a conference first: rooms of attendees quietly watching a presentation.

Don’t get me wrong: conferences are important and irreplaceable, but an organization’s talent bench is deepened greatly when engaging and practical trainings are added to the mix. What do these trainings look like?

  • They include individual and group exercises so that each participant expands their style and approach.
  • They mix different skill levels in groups so mentoring and experience can be shared.
  • They invite team members with creative approaches to share their strategies, because there are so many ways advancement officers can be successful.
  • They use role plays to support core concepts, and to again expand style and approach.  It’s one thing to talk about something, quite another another to put it into action.

Equally important is to not let your investment in these trainings end when the session is over. Build key topics into staff meetings.  Ask how these new tools are being deployed. Create additional exercises to reinforce key messages and to ensure these new tools become habits.

There are other easy opportunities to reinforce learning:

  • Sending someone to a conference? Have them share core concepts at an upcoming staff meeting.  Encourage them to deliver this content in creative ways, such as skits or games.
  • Sending multiple team members to the same conference? Ensure they attend different sessions, and that every member is accountable to bring new information back to the team.
  • Create a professional development repository, and put materials into a shared drive so everyone can access.
  • Pair webinars with a facilitated lunch-and-learn debrief discussion.

If you’re looking for a new approach to training, contact KDD Philanthropy.  We customize exercises, role plays, and leave-behind tools to meet the needs of all of your employees and ensure your return on investment goes beyond your day of training.

Building Team Culture Through Communication

From staffing decisions to managing interpersonal conflict and everything in between, managers face a steady stream of difficult decisions and opportunities to make mistakes.

Which is why, when it’s easy to do the right thing, we should do it every single time.

One easy way that managers can reinforce a constructive, transparent culture and demonstrate respect for their team is with timely, thoughtful communication around employee departures and new hires.

We know that every staff transition presents the possibility of uncertainty, rumors, and assumption. Managers must be proactive in managing the communications around these transitions accordingly.

What do I mean by this? We’ve all seen a valued colleague prepare to leave a team, only to have the announcement sent far too late. We’ve seen announcements that are bland, non-specific or muted in their appreciation for the employee. And what is the natural outcome? Speculation and the feeling that leadership doesn’t value its employees or their contributions.

But by sending a departure announcement that offers specific and personalized recognition of the employee’s achievements, managers demonstrate their respect for every team member and their work. By including information on how the transition will be handled, we minimize confusion. And by including all key stakeholders, rather than just the immediate team, we avoid partners who feel that they’re “the last to know.”

New hire announcements can miss opportunities too. A new colleague’s first months on the job are crucial to their success, from how they view the team and the opportunity to whether they’ll stay. These announcements should include the obvious details about the person and the position, but they should also highlight the new hire’s skills and other reasons they were the right choice. This content builds confidence in a new colleague while reinforcing the value leadership places on making the right hires.

This announcement also provides a forum to engage the new employee and emphasize partnership by asking for input on the email, and to engage the team in welcoming their new colleague and encourage the outreach that will reinforce the colleague’s decision to join the team. And, if we are going to make the effort to tailor our messages so they are meaningful to all, send the message out PRIOR to the new hire’s first day. Doing so after a new hire starts is sloppy, and appears to be an afterthought.

This is the easy stuff, and all too often it doesn’t happen. But when we pay attention to the details – details that demonstrate transparency and respect – we build a productive team culture that retains high performing staff.

For additional practical, ready-to-implement tools to build a high-performing culture, contact me about my Strategic Talent Management bootcamps and one-on-one coaching.

How to Stop Fundraising Staff Turnover and Help Employees Stay

Two statements that I hear constantly, in fundraising shops of all types and sizes, are:

“In order for me to grow in development, I need to find a position at a new organization.”

And, “One of the biggest – if not the biggest – challenges I face as a development manager is the constant staff turnover.”

Employees eager to grow feel they must leave. Managers are searching for a way to get their staff to stay. And yet…with the average development officer tenure remaining stubbornly under two years, it’s clear these two completely in-sync needs have yet to find a way forward together.

The truth is, sometimes employees do need to leave – but not nearly as often as they currently are. And when employees stay, everyone benefits: development officers gain important foundational skills, are able to demonstrate steadiness, cultivate relationships that lead to larger gifts, and experience the quality of life that stability provides for many. Organizations see more successful donor relationships, are not so often distracted by onboarding and starting anew, and are more effective in building a productive culture.

So how do we help employees stay? First, we must create cultures that foster transparent dialogue about professional growth. Staff members need to feel that discussing career options is safe, and managers must commit to entering these conversations with care and honesty.

Second, it is up to managers to lead the way by:

  • Openly discussing timelines and expectations for promotion and raises early and often;
  • Identifying non-promotional opportunities to expand an employee’s skill set and experiences;
  • Celebrating and rewarding employee successes outside of offering promotions;
  • Offering thoughtful and honest feedback on an employee’s progress toward his or her goals;
  • Recognize a shifting culture toward increased work-life balance; and,
  • Advocating for appropriate raises and promotions with the organization’s senior leadership by discussing the return on value in retaining a high-performing, stable employee.

However, this is not a one-way conversation. Employees who participate as well, by undertaking the following, will likely find a much more fulfilling path ahead:

  • Demonstrating a sustained expertise for their current positions before seeking growth;
  • Recognizing feedback is a critical part of the growth process;
  • Keeping an eye open for opportunities to learn new skills, and asking their managers to participate in these; and,
  • Spending time seeking insight on how their strengths match career opportunities and organizational needs.

We as managers can cut down on turnover with this kind of culture – I’ve seen it, and I’ve done it. That doesn’t mean every employee will stay. However, when staff members do leave in an environment like this, it’s more likely to be because the organization truly isn’t able to provide the next step for an employee. And the employee is more likely to leave on good terms, allowing for a more productive transition. Whether it’s the organization maintaining morale or a positive relationship in case the employee ever wishes to return, or it’s the employee preserving a professional reputation, this type of departure benefits all parties.

Are you a manager looking to grow your tools to retain employees? Learn more about Strategic Talent Management on the KDD Philanthropy webpage, or send me a message to discuss how I can help.