Will Higher Education See a Golden Age of Philanthropy?

WittKieffer senior partner Dennis Barden discussed advancement recruitment mid- and post-pandemic during a recent airing of “The Development Debrief”, a podcast hosted by Columbia University’s Kathryn Van Sickle dedicated to discussion of topics involving the fundraising landscape across higher education. Spoiler alert! He is confident demand for good fundraisers will increase during what he is calling the “new golden age” of advancement.

Barden and Van Sickle discussed a range of topics, including:

  • What do search consultants look for today in a vice president of advancement?
  • How have search firms modified leadership recruitments during the current pandemic?
  • Are philanthropy and higher education leaders seeking new positions right now? Is it possible to generate strong candidate pools for searches?
  • How does a candidate know whether they like the campus and people at a potential employer if they haven’t been able to do a traditional visit?

The following are snippets of their conversation:

Van Sickle: What has changed (with the recruiting process) over the last nine to 10 weeks?

Barden: Methodologies . . . just as in education, the recruiting process has been taken online. Searches are underway for which the recruiting professionals, as well as most of the candidates, have never stepped foot on campus. However, while making extensive use of technology, the process is seeing greater input from more stakeholders participating in virtual open forums that are held at the onset of the process. This provides the committee with more and better information as they begin the search.

Van Sickle: Are people moving?

Barden: The marketplace indicates people are willing to move. They see the future in the longer term and that they will respond to recruitment. Searches begun prior to quarantine orders are continuing, and new searches for presidents, and enrollment and advancement leadership are continuing. The latter, in particular, because those are areas of administration that generate revenue, they are the hardest people to find and they tend to be the most “locked down” by their current institutions for the foreseeable future. For those reasons, institutions will look to leadership recruiting professionals for help.

Van Sickle: What will the new Fiscal Year bring?

Barden: A new fiscal year typically marks the end of a significant number of capital campaigns. That is when talent becomes available, and we’ll look to those campaigns and the stats of those campaigns for the next generation of advancement leaders.

Expect more searches to continue taking advantage of the virtual search and interview process because of the tremendous savings in time and expense for the client. Eventually, finalist interviews may return to campus, but for the near future that may be reserved only for the candidate of choice.

Lock down your talent now, because once the environment returns to “normal” demand for advancement professionals will take off.

Van Sickle: Regardless of the reason, institutions are looking for individuals doing exemplary work.

Barden: Right now, at this time in history, people who are getting creative with the way they do the job will stand out in the market place. Those who are expressing different ways of doing the job and challenging their institutions and colleagues to think differently will be at a real premium.

Institutions will be looking for advancement professionals to lead the way when the public, including alumni, are ready to resume their donating habits.

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