Investing in the Future of Philanthropy

The cover of the summer issue of Advancing Philanthropy www.afpnet.org asks, “What’s New? What’s Enduring?” One of the trends cited in the article is the number of millennials selecting development work as a career and taking steps to make this a long-term vocational choice. As Millennials are the largest generation, this is a good sign for our profession because many institutions are experiencing the retirement of professional development officers who are of the baby-boomer generation.

In the field, more thirty-somethings are serving roles as professional gift officers and more importantly in leadership positions. Organizations struggle with balancing the grooming and retention of a young development officer who is new to the profession with training new leaders on how to manage a team, while continuing to maintain their own portfolio of prospects.

While there is a focus on integrating as much technology as possible into the field, a related trend is the employment of a more personalized approach to onboarding and retaining staff, and a customized “hands-on” strategy for training new leaders. Several strategies have emerged to train and retain new staff, including:

  • Formalizing and Documenting the Onboarding Process. Going well beyond the position description and Human Resources Employee manual, organizations develop a specific written guide to the role of a development officer to augment and replace what used to be a series of oral conversations. Recognizing that most staff will not carrying around and consult a bulky three-ring binder, this information is more useful if accessible on the cloud. Additionally, training is including a rotation among the advancement services departments so that there is an understanding of the roles that prospect research, and management, gift-processing, donor relations, etc., will play in the success of a new employee.
  • Assigning a Mentor. Although the team lead or manager will assume responsibility for orientation and initial training, assigning a peer mentor for the first six months is helpful to a new development officer. Providing specific guidelines for the mentor is necessary to define the expectations and time commitment. For a new member of the team, accompanying a more experienced staff member on calls offers the opportunity to learn successful strategies and help to resolve concerns or obstacles.
  • Conducting Weekly Check-in Meetings. Most new professionals welcome frequent interactions with their team lead or manager. Some of us survived the “sink or swim” approach and met with our supervisor only when there was a problem, which eliminated turning to the manager as a resource. Regular contact and review of activities establishes positive habits and ensures success early in the game.

The described tactics serve newly promoted managers as well, if tailored appropriately to the position. Employing a coach has proven valuable to new managers as well. Those of us who have previously served as a chief development officer can serve as an effective coach. A coach can get to the heart of any issue and provide a more targeted and focused approach than information gleaned from a conference or text. The advice provided is customized to the challenges that the manager is facing in real time. Most importantly, organizational culture plays a significant role in determining what strategies work best and a good coach ensures the recommendations and guidance align with the organization.

As the AFP article states, “Through mentorship, professional development and making strategic career moves, the future is bright for any ambitious young profession.” Ensuring that one can harness and preserve these young professionals as a part of the team will yield success for the institution.