Getting the Top Fundraising Positions-you’ve gotta Plan!

Listen to this interview here:

Hey and welcome everyone! This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising. Today we’re chatting with Major gifts recruiting guru Phil Gerard of Vancouver BC, all about his journey in fundraising and his session at the virtual fundraising career conference. The conference is April 6th-8th, and if you register before the end of January, you can get the early bird price of just $18!

Phil Gérard has been a fundraiser for 16+ years, working in the community service, education and university advancement sectors with a focus on major gifts. A Master of Business Administration degree with a Human Resource Management specialization set him on an exciting path within the fundraising profession: Fundraising Talent Management.

His firm’s services include recruitment for the nonprofit sector with a focus on major gift roles, career planning services for individuals, and talent management consulting services for organizations (including onboarding, career pathing, professional development, retention strategies, and succession planning).

Phil is an adjunct instructor in the Georgian College Fundraising and Resource Development Graduate Program. He is also the author of Phil’s Careers Blog – Fundraising ONLY!, which features the latest fundraising career and professional development opportunities as well as articles about topics fundraisers care about:

Mazarine Treyz: Hi Phil! Who are you and how long have you been fundraising?

Phil Gérard: You said it very well already, I’ve been in fundraising for 17 years. I started out working with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, through a school project. I have a bachelor’s of arts and a specialization in communications. We had to choose a nonprofit and do a media campaign for them. I saw their posters around campus, so I contacted them, they were real excited, they wanted me to be a big brother. I said, I want to do this project for you, would you be interested? After the project was finished, they asked me if I wanted to stay on as a summer student and do more work for them. After summer term was completed, their fundraiser had left. I went to the executive director and I said, I know I’ve been doing public relations for you. Why don’t you give me a chance? He said okay go for it. I started out 25 hours a week, and that turned into a full time role. We didn’t do a lot of major gifts at that time, but we started to have face to face meetings with potential donors. After that I went into education, working for a secondary school, I ran a capital campaign for them and we raised close to 5 million dollars. I went from a generalist role to a major gift role closing six and seven figure gifts. I did my MBA with an HR specialization. UBC, University of British Columbia was preparing for their campaign, and they had a real need for an in-house talent management specialist. When I saw the job advertised, I thought, “I have no experience of recruiting,” but they wanted someone who had both fundraising experience and an HR specialization, and that’s how I got into the talent management side of things.

MT: What are you doing now? What is talent management and what does that entail?

PG: After my position with University of British Columbia, I decided to back into fundraising and became the Director of Development and Major Gifts. But I also wanted to keep my HR hat on. People ask me what the similarities between fundraising and talent management, and my philosophy was to apply relationship cultivation building. We do that all the time in fundraising, and we need to do that in a similar way in HR. Keeping in touch with people rather than having to fill a specific position. Look at the fundraisers in town and follow them over their career. Understand who people are, what their career paths are, and what their talents are. It’s a fast paced environment these days. People move up so quickly in fundraising. It’s important to keep in touch and follow people over the course of their career.

MT: How long have you been recruiting? And what do you find interesting about it?

PG: I’ve been recruiting since 2008, and what I find interesting is the similarities to fundraising and relationship building. I’ve had so many coffees, I’ve lost count, it must be over 2,000 coffees. I have one day a week that I reserve for just that, and downtown I have a coffee place I go to. What I love is what gets people excited, what they are hoping to achieve in their career. I consider myself a match maker in one way. For my client I am trying to find the right person for the right job at the right time. I am trying to do that with candidates, what would be a good fit for them, and what would be a good fit for my clients. It’s about making that match, not filling that position. Sometimes you have a search that is going on, and it happens to be the right time for someone to apply for a position. It’s way more long term that I want to have that relationship. I have situations where I meet with aspiring fundraisers, and 2-3 years later they are in Development director positions. I love helping people find the right job, and at the same time it’s very important for me to give my time to anyone who wants to fundraise. Recruiters in general don’t have time for aspiring fundraisers but I love to make time with aspiring fundraisers.

MT: I love that you really see yourself as a match maker and finding the right person for the right job at the right time. That brings me to your session at the conference. What will you be teaching?

PG: How to move up to a major gifts role. I want to focus on how can you get that job that allows you to do face to face solicitation. Getting that face to face experience is what I’ve consistently seen as the most important experience that aspiring fundraisers can get to move up in their career. I’m a big proponent of education. I teach at Georgian College, and at the same time, education alone is not going to get you that top fundraising job. You have to show that you have a track record. Sometimes people ask me, “How do I move up? How do I get this?” It sounds simple but my answer is, “Try and get that chance to be in the front lines of fundraising where you get to speak with donors, where you get to build relationships with donors and raise more money. Because if you can get that experience raising 5, 6 or 7 figure gifts that will help you rise in your career.

I’ve met with so many people who are trying to get into fundraising. When we first chatted, you were so kind to participate on my blog, and we talked about some of the challenges that women in fundraising face, and what I’ve found in the last few years, I’ve been talking with stay at home moms who are trying to get back into the workforce.

I’ve had this woman who’s got her PhD while raising her kids, but she didn’t have work experience during that time. I met with her a few weeks ago and I encouraged her to find that organization to give you that chance to show that you have what it takes. She got a job last week, a senior development officer role with an organization that is well known.

That is what makes me really excited, when I see these success stories. I don’t do any research, I have a small shop, I don’t have any of the capabilities, but that makes me so happy when i hear these stories because somehow I must be right in what I’m telling people.

I see these success stories all the time.

MT: You help people who help people who have been out of the work force for awhile, as well as people who have no fundraising experience at all. Would you like to talk a little bit about what it means to do career pathing?

PG: Often organizations talk about developing a career path for their team. When you come into a bigger shop at universities, when you have development coordinators, development officers, development directors, you have a development coordinator come in and ask, how do I get from a development coordinator to be a development director? What’s my path?

I always encourage employees to have a conversation with their manager about their career path. This is something that organizations can develop for their teams or for their staff.

I also believe that every fundraiser needs to plan their own careers. Your own personal career plan that gets you on that path. You shouldn’t expect to go into a smaller organization and get a career path. That’s not very individualistic, it’s a template so to speak. Using a template like that, you want to build a track record, solicit face to face, there are some themes, the ongoing professional development, if you want to be a manager, you need to ask for the opportunity to supervise people. Maybe you can do this through volunteers or mentoring, or supervising an intern or something like that. You have universal themes but then you need to apply that to your own situation, and that is in my opinion a personal career plan. You say to yourself, this is what I am doing right now and this is where I want to be. These are the steps I need to take.

You may want to talk with other fundraisers that you know and then develop this plan for yourself. There are some people who are really good at this, who are good at building a brand for themselves as a fundraiser. They know that they want to be a director of development or executive director. There are so many career paths in fundraising. You could do a stewardship role, a strategic side role.

MT: It’s obvious that you’ve helped people get into a variety of roles and there’s no one clear path, but there are some things you can do to make that individualized plan.

PG: That’s right. It doesn’t always have to be the front lines. Fundraising is a real profession, and there are now jobs that were not there 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. It’s incredible what you can get into now. My focus has been major gifts and front line fundraising roles, but I’ve been recruiting for a lot of stewardship roles. It’s hard to find good stewardship people.

MT:That’s a trend we could look at during the presentation. That’s really interesting. I just talked with Michael Rosen today, and I asked him, how do you get into planned giving roles? He said believe it or not, your dedicated planned giving role at hospitals or universities is going away, and more likely a development director will just be doing planned giving with their left hand.

PG: That’s true, people who were major gifts side, they are also doing planned giving now. It’s becoming much more front line. I’ve heard that from several people.

MT:We’ve got some trends to share, that’s one reason people should come to your session, and you’re going to help people do some planning, is there any other reason people should come to your session?

PG:Well, if people are hoping to plan their careers, they should come, but also managers who want to know what it means to attract talent, they should also come. HR and talent management is something we don’t worry about so much, until our top fundraiser leaves and we’re scrambling to fill that position. It’s not just for your own career but also hear some strategies to have a good talent pipeline at your organization.

MT: I love that, the concept of the talent pipeline on the inside of your organization. We don’t think about hiring someone for the inside. But we should think about that, it helps your nonprofit so much to have someone fill that role that is already familiar with the organization. That’s actually what Penelope Burk talked about in Donor centered leadership book, and the Underdeveloped report from the Haas Jr Fund talked about this as well, how important that is. Thank you so much for telling us about your session, now I’m even more excited about it. If people want to learn more about you and your services, where should they go?PG:

There are two websites., and that tells you more about my services, and is for career opportunities and professional development opportunities, and guest posts, and everything fundraising careers is on there.

How to interview strong for a fundraising role – Interview with Claire Axelrad, J.D., ACFRE

How to create better boundaries at work – Interview with Sheena Greer

How to use your team’s strengths to raise triple your goal – Interview with Kishshana Palmer

If you want 65 more fundraising career resources, just go here.

If you want 99 more nonprofit leadership resources, click on over here.

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