The Great Opportunity (Part 3)

Friday, October 29, 2021

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By Sally Bryant, BRYANT GROUP

It’s been called The Great Reshuffling, The Great Resignation and even The Big Out. Call me Pollyanna, but I maintain that this is truly The Great Opportunity – especially for those in the field of advancement. This is the third part in this series: In Part I, I provided you with the context for The Great Opportunity and showed how this moment is a gift for advancement professionals who are ready for a change. The second installment discussed how we can seize this moment to diversify the field. Today, I offer three additional ways that The Great Opportunity is ripe for improving, growing, and diversifying the field of institutional advancement.

The Great Opportunity to Spotlight Advancement as a Meaningful and Fulfilling Career

A few weeks ago, CBS Sunday Morning aired a story that featured a man who, prior to the pandemic, had waited tables for many years. He was a good waiter who took great pride in providing quality service to diners. Waiting tables, however, was not what he wanted to do with his life. Yet, he couldn’t imagine how he would ever make time to pause, to consider what kind of work he would find meaningful, rather than just what would pay the bills. Then the pandemic happened, and his world shut down. He could have panicked or drowned his grief in unhealthy ways.

But, instead, he took advantage of the moment to research options for his future – a future he would find more engaging and could provide a higher income for his family. He chose cybersecurity and is working long days to complete online coursework and certification. He beamed when he talked about how he would be able to help protect the livelihoods of people like you and me in this digital world filled with cyber-threats.

There are millions of people who have spent the past year-and-a-half asking themselves similar questions. I wonder how many of them even know that the field of institutional advancement exists, let alone that it is intrinsically fulfilling, full of meaning and purpose, and that it can provide a solid income? What if the millions who are asking, “What now?” were being invited to explore institutional advancement as a career path that may provide exactly what they’re seeking? How can we inform and invite talented people who are looking for a new line of meaningful and purpose-filled work that the advancement field may be exactly what they’re looking for?

The Great Opportunity for Strategic Restructuring

As we start the “next normal,” the world is different and, already, so is the field of advancement. The pandemic has both forced and invited organizations to reassess nearly everything they do. Do the processes, procedures, and strategies employed before the pandemic began still make sense? Does the structure of your staff match the new advancement landscape or the old one? And maybe most importantly, is your leadership different – thinking differently, creating differently, focusing differently?

Many advancement offices know they must change to continue to be productive and effective. They are assessing strategic direction for the future by asking questions like: do we have the staffing structure that will give us the greatest opportunity to succeed now and in the years ahead?

A metaphor that most people are familiar with from Jim Collins’ book Good to Great is getting “the right people on the bus.” I believe an important concept that many people miss is that the author talks about getting the right people in the right seats on the bus – and that must start with having the right seats to begin with. This is a tough, even emotional question, to ponder, because changing the “seats” (i.e., the positions on the org chart, the reporting lines on the org chart, or even starting over with a whole new org chart) affects people. However, this is precisely the type of challenging question that brave, effective leaders must ask and answer. The situation has changed; does our staff and/or organizational structure need to change as well?

This is The Great Opportunity for advancement leadership to question everything. Probably literally everything…but we’ll stick with staff structure for now. Is your advancement office beginning a campaign? If so, do you need new development positions with different campaign-focused or university-wide initiative experience? Has digital fundraising become more important for your organization or will it soon? Is your advancement office organized in a way that is too siloed to effectively manage university-wide initiatives? Are you considering working together with other organizations on a joint fundraising project? If so, does your current staff and organizational structure support the unique landscape of inter-organizational partnerships? Perhaps most basic of all – is your current staffing structure the most effective use of your budget? Sometimes restructuring is also helpful to your current staff – maybe some of them are the right people but currently in the wrong seats. This could be a Great Opportunity for them as professionals as well as for your organizational effectiveness.

The Great Opportunity to Find New Leaders from Within

To fill the vast number of positions open in advancement right now, many organizations seek to find candidates from “outside” to hire. Often, this is the right path to follow. However, I am going to suggest something you don’t often hear from a search consultant: a mix of hiring from outside and creating intentional paths for advancement from within creates the strongest advancement organizations. I am passionate about powerful leadership and powerful teams, and constant turnover does not build that strength. The synergy, power, historical perspective and lasting relationships that come from intentionally building leaders from within is all too rare in the advancement world.

There are organizations creating intentional paths to career advancement and to leadership from within, and we applaud you. However, even if this has not been a historical part of your culture, this is still a Great Opportunity for every organization right now.

First, let me say that I believe leadership is a skill, and that every single person can and should embody leadership, even if one is not a manager of other people. You are still a manager of yourself, your job responsibilities, and your impact on others and the world. The pandemic created a situation where the strengths and weaknesses of leaders – at all levels of the organization – were highlighted, spotlighted, and even exposed. We saw leaders who were not naturally strong in empathy, and didn’t realize that their people needed connectedness first, then strategy and tactics next. We saw other leaders who naturally understood this concept, and consequently were able to move their organizations forward faster in a healthier way.

We saw leaders who wanted to hide because they didn’t know what to do or how to make decisions in the chaos. And granted, it was, and still is, daunting. The leaders we work with make decisions that affect whole communities, cities, states and beyond. Every decision could affect hundreds or thousands of people (or even more). But many leaders recognized this time for what it was – a first in our lifetimes. A time for new thinking and new partnerships. Many of the brightest, most talented leaders reached out for help from coaches, colleagues, and mentors – realizing that together we are the strongest.

An interesting byproduct of the pandemic was spotlighting unexpected leadership at all levels of the organization – based on how people reacted, acted, and then led. Who did that in your organization? These hardworking, talented leaders have shown they are ready for the next level. Now is the moment to reward their work by promoting them to official roles that match the leadership they have provided in an unofficial capacity.

The Great Opportunity is right now.

William Arthur Ward once wrote, “Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them.” The time for talented, experienced development and advancement professionals who want to take the next step in their career is right now when the number of openings far exceeds the development workforce pipeline. The time to diversify (in every sense of the word) is also right now for the same reason. The time to spotlight institutional advancement as a valuable profession filled with meaning and purpose is right now when so many talented people with translatable skills are looking to find a new career path that offers that very meaning and purpose. The time to restructure your advancement office to meet the needs of the future is right now as we begin that new future. And the time to find and promote new leaders from within your advancement office is right now as they are proving themselves worthy of that promotion during unprecedented and uncertain times.

The Great Opportunity is here right now… but it won’t be here forever.

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