Training in the Time of COVID-19

Arthur 2 1Training in the Time of COVID-19
By Arthur Criscillis, Managing Partner

In conversations with clients and colleagues, I have heard that training is high on everyone’s list. With travel prohibited, many staff members are seeking additional training opportunities and many leaders are trying to structure appropriate learning opportunities for their staff members. That is well and good—an excellent way to utilize time.

Let me offer a suggestion for Training in the Time of COVID-19 (apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez) of development officers that should actually become part of our general training regimen for gift officers. This suggestion is born of several factors—my own experience, my work with many, many gift officers as both supervisor and consultant, and my review of any number of training opportunities afforded front line fundraisers.

First some background. In working with a front-line gift officer to assist in strategy development for prospects, I was reminded of a gap in his understanding. He was interested in developing an approach for an alumnus, who did not give personally, although the accounting firm for which he is the founder and managing partner made contributions. It was clear to me that he failed to recognize that gifts from the firm were, in fact, to some degree coming out of the alumnus’ pocket. While there was merit in working with that alumnus to secure an individual gift, to approach him as though he were not giving would be a mistake. In short, his lack of understanding of the differences among corporations was proving to be a problem in his work with a prospect.

That reminded me of my early days as a gift officer. I remembered dealing with a number of prospects who were involved in the world of investments. One was a hedge fund manager whose fund was a fund of funds, giving investors access to a good array of other hedge funds—sort of like a mutual fund approach to hedge-fund investing versus owning one specific fund. Let’s just say that, as he explained what he was doing, I was lost. I had no idea what a hedge fund was; to say nothing about some of the strategies those funds employed. I nodded, smiled and kept quiet. Another did technical analysis for a mutual fund company…say what?? A third ran a fund that employed a long-short strategy designed to give investors a steady return. As he described it, “This fund is for people who want to have a reasonable return on their investment. I’ll never hit a home run, but neither will I read the headlines and immediately get nauseous.” One other was employed by Bain Capital. As he described what this private equity firm did (and I had no idea what private equity even meant), I struck that “smile, nod, repeat” posture so familiar to me (and others) when being told something about which I know nothing.

So, what’s the point of this? I have come to believe that we would serve our budding (and some who may be in full-bloom) professionals well by ensuring that they have a basic—and I do mean basic—understanding of the language and structure of the business/finance world. Having a degree of fluency in those areas would be beneficial to most. Many of the prospects they will work with, will live in one or more of those worlds. Many who do not, will still have a familiarity with one or both. We take great pains to educate gift officers in the profession. We also make sure that they have a good understanding of our college and/or university. We provide them with continuing education opportunities of all sorts. Yet, I am fairly convinced that we do not serve them nor our profession well if we do not include the basic concepts and language of business and finance as part of their overall introduction to the profession. In doing that, we have resources galore, including faculty, our alumni or select board members, if we choose to use them. They could assist us in designing the training and even help with instruction…high-level, broad, but sufficient to give them some degree of fluency. In doing so, we are likely to help them become even more effective in their work with their prospects. So, as you think about the training or professional development you want to provide your staff—or some part of it—during this time of COVID-19 social distancing, give some consideration to this. Once we can return to normal (or a new normal), consider how it can be one essential component of the education of a gift officer.