Tara George, CFRE, Senior Vice President – Lead, Search Practice at KCI (Ketchum Canada Inc.), talks career advice with Cynthia Foo, Grants Manager at Environmental Defence.
CF: If you had to pick three “must have” attributes for the fundraiser today, what would you say these would be?
TG: Goal orientation – Regardless of the fundraising role, the individual has to be able to formulate goals, marshal resources, and deliver results. This takes persistence.
Communications savvy – All messages, written and verbal, regardless of channel, have to reinforce the strategy and drive results. Fundraisers have to be exceptional listeners.
Service orientation – The fundraiser has to really seek to spotlight the cause and others’ priorities, rather than one’s own. And if you do that with effective communications savvy, those three things are really fundamental and critical.
CF: How important is the role of a good fundraising manager?
TG: People can learn and model, but training is a factor. In the fundraising world I often hear people describe themselves as a “solo warrior”, or a “lone wolf”. Fundraisers who started young, and never managed other people for example, can get stuck at a certain level because of lack of opportunities to obtain diversity of experience.
So my advice to fundraisers is this: gain people and business management skills – learn about theory, and gain knowledge of best and emerging practices. You don’t become a good manager by accident: continuous learning is a key ingredient of the recipe for success!
CF: What about advice for mid-career fundraisers?
TG: This is the time to broaden your scope of fundraising, gain experience in other areas beyond your narrow field of expertise and prepare for more senior positions. You don’t get to be the CEO if you are just a specialist!
However, I don’t think of a career as a ladder, I think of it as a web. For example, someone who starts in event fundraising may need to go sideways to go up a level. Their event position may lead to an expanded role in communications which develops into learning about digital fundraising, or deeper involvement in annual giving.
I often hear complaints that employers can’t pay for all of employees’ courses and their training, but I say that you are responsible for your life and career – so why wouldn’t you invest in yourself? Don’t let these things stand in the way. I paid for my MBA myself – it was tough, but it was important to my growth, and I’m glad I did it.
CF: What are the three most common mistakes when marketing oneself in the job market?
TG: People come in ready to present their skillsets but they don’t know anything about the organization. Do the research and show your passion and knowledge about the organization and the cause. And it needs to be genuine – you can’t fake it.
The second common mistake is that people are not properly prepared for the interview process. Make sure you understand the role and provide evidence to back up your success. I’m always surprised to see people who can’t clearly identify the metrics of their success – either in percentage or numbers of donors increased. For a group of people who hang their hat on dollars, identifying numbers in their resumes is a must!
Finally, the most common mistake: Being too self-centered – not showing examples of contributing to the success of others and not recognizing the importance of team work.
No one landed their first seven-figure major gift completely single-handedly. Most likely, there was someone who did prospecting, others who did stewardship in the organization and so on. Demonstrating how you work with others is important!
CF: What do you see as reasons for high turnover in the nonprofit sector? And what do you see as the current biggest challenges facing employee retention?
TG: Generally speaking, high turnover in any position in any sector is not healthy and it’s not good for the individual: it can stain their reputation. When there’s supply and demand, the perception that the “grass is greener on the other side” heightens the sense of opportunity. I think people really should do their homework to make sure they can be satisfied and happy where they are and where they think they would like to go.
In my role, I hear people comment that money is the main motivator, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Often people move for personal satisfaction – they want to learn and grow and be challenged. Of course, people want better titles and money. But more importantly, they want to have impact and be engaged in their work, to be respected. Managers can play a huge role in making employees feel really good about their accomplishments and excited about what they’re learning – even when the organization cannot offer more money.
In today’s market, employers are showing less loyalty, so employees are doing the same. I think it’s important that employers hire for values – when that happens, the turnover rates drop. Hire people for their values and retain like-minded people who want to stay.
CF: Thank you so much for your time, Tara! As a parting thought – what are some of the fun things you do in your spare time?
TG: I love to read! I especially love to read novels and read a couple of novels a week. Sometimes I read business books: I enjoyed The End of Competitive Advantage by Rita Gunther-McGrath, which I won as a door prize at Congress. She was an excellent speaker there that year. I also read “Thinking Strategically” by Harvard Business Review, and The First 90 Days by Watkins. Every morning I also scan the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and the Harvard Business Review, in addition to a number of other sites.
Tara George, CFRE – Senior VP Lead, Search Practice, KCI (Ketchum Canada Inc.)
As the Lead Consultant for KCI’s Search Practice, Tara has successfully led more than 150 recruitment assignments for a range of non-profit clients across Canada. A respected advancement professional with extensive networks in Canada and beyond, Tara has a clear sense of the strategic vision, leadership skills and business acumen necessary to succeed in the nonprofit arena.
Cynthia Foo – Grants Manager, Environmental Defence
Cynthia Foo is the Grants Manager at Environmental Defence,a national environmental charity that just celebrated its 30th anniversary. She helps strategize, secure and steward foundations’ giving to help her organization grow. She also currently sits on the AFP Toronto Ethics Committee, and serves on the Board of the West-End Food Co-op and the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto.