The Boss Won’t Heed Your Advice? Three Ways to Get Your Ideas Heard

Siobhan Aspinall

By Siobhan Aspinall


You know your fundraising plans are bang on, but you’re faced with a management team that resists your ideas. This is can happen in any sector, but can be a real challenge in the fundraising field.

Part of the reason is that fundraising best practices are not always widely understood, so your boss might not know how to assess your suggestions. Another tricky bit is that many fundraisers do not have the same targeted educational background as other specialists. For example: You are a working as a brain surgeon and tell your hospital’s CEO that you need sharper scalpels. Is that CEO going to second-guess you? No sir! But if you’re a fundraiser with a Bachelor of Arts in Italian Studies (ahem) the boss may be more reluctant to accept your advice.

Solution Time

Get out into the real world and bump up your education! Go to every seminar, course, webinar and conference you can get your mitts on. Go to and find local professional groups to join. Get a membership with your city’s Association of Fundraising Professionals chapter. And most importantly, tell your boss and colleagues. If you don’t share your new-found skills, how can they recognize you as the new team expert?

Or go with a virtual approach and sign up for information through blogs, e-newsletters, etc. By keeping up with evolving best practices and new ideas in the sector you will increase your perceived (and actual) knowledge value at work. But once again, don’t hide that little light under a rock – educate the whole team by sharing the information.

Consider bringing in an “expert.” You will look like a hero if you contact a colleague to present a new idea at your next fundraising meeting. Pick a trusted contact with experience and good presentation skills to talk about the ideas your management team doesn’t understand. It’s not fair, but people often value the ideas of someone outside the organization more than those of the staff! A side bonus for the colleague is that she’ll get experience in professional presentations that will help build her own career.

Note that solution #3 works incredibly well for fundraising managers and executive directors looking to educate board members. Board volunteers often have minimal knowledge (and maximum fear) of fundraising and should get ongoing education on this topic at every board meeting.

In any case, all of this information will not only bring your team up to speed, but will build your own fundraising and leadership skills as well. Good luck!

Siobhan Aspinall, CFRE has been fundraising for over 13 years for non-profit organizations including the Canadian Cancer Society, the David Suzuki Foundation and United Way. She is currently the Senior Manager of Development at Junior Achievement working primarily in grant-writing and major gifts. She teaches two fundraising courses at BCIT, consults, and is both a board member and professional development committee chair for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She holds a BA in languages from UBC and an Associate Certificate in Fundraising Management from BCIT. She obtained her Certified Fundraising Executive designation in 2013. In her spare time, she writes for her fundraising blog and surfs in Tofino.

Siobhan Aspinall
Sand Dollar Consulting

The Value of Membership

Doug Puffer

By Doug Puffer

In 1994 many if not all of the fundraisers in the Kingston area were called to attend a seminar about planned giving: Lorna Somers* was coming to town. I had no idea who Lorna Somers was, what to expect, nor was I a gift planner, but I had been to a couple of workshops about bequest fundraising and curiosity won me over.  Until then, I thought that only churches, universities and big hospitals did planned giving: all that mysterious, funereal, back office estate and legal stuff.

Lorna’s message was a beacon.  It was enlightening.  The seminar was a thinly disguised membership drive for a fledgling CAGP and apparently we were forming a new roundtable.  Whatever that meant, didn’t matter;  I was excited by the prospect of belonging to this group. Twenty years later as a gift planning specialist, I see how important that decision was to my professional development.

“No man is an island, entire of itself”

Most charity leaders today are well aware of the importance of professionalism to the future of their organizations but I am not so sure that they know how this equates to membership in a professional association.   As a national director of CAGP, it alarms me when I hear that membership in professional organizations and hence training budgets are considered unimportant when funding falls off.  This means that fundraisers may no longer have access to the benefits that come with membership: resources (often free), discounts on valuable products and services, advocacy, access to very bright minds, advice, mentorship, communications, bulletins, continuing education credits, and dedicated education programs. These are the very things that fundraisers need when the going gets tough!

But to me the true value of membership is about belonging.  The office walls between annual giving, major giving and planned giving are gradually coming down but the vast majority of planned giving is done off the side of the desk of a gift administrator or a generalist. Where do they turn for answers to tough questions if they are not members of CAGP? This is the primary reason that I place a high value on membership.  There is always someone out there to talk with.

“It takes a community to raise a child”

AFP and AHP have created and sustain great opportunities for fund raisers to network and learn from peers and mentors. CAGP educates the broad spectrum of professionals engaged in fund raising and strategic philanthropy and has positioned planned giving in the mainstream of fund development.

“We are not alone”

The founding members of our respective Associations knew there were many notes in the musical chord of philanthropy and I will be forever grateful that they created the means to allow widespread understanding about how those notes work together.  So thanks to whomever it was that called me many years ago to listen, to learn and to drink the Kool-Aid.  I have belonged ever since and given back many times over.

*Lorna Somers was one of the main driving forces in planned giving in the early years of CAGP and is globally renowned as one of the most respected professionals in university advancement.

Doug Puffer is the Director of Planned Giving for Simon Fraser University.  He is a recognized expert in gift planning in Canada with over 26 years in higher education and environmental conservation.  His well-researched presentations have been heard at CAGP, AFP, STEP & CASE conferences and he has written numerous articles and stories about strategic gift planning and philanthropy.


Making Information Interviews Work For You

By Phil Gérard

Appeared originally in Hilborn Charity eNEWS

While I have not been on many information interviews myself, I have given hundreds over the last five years. When I started my fundraising career I did not know about information interviews. I just applied for jobs as they became available. Now that the awareness of information interviews has increased, more people take advantage of them.

Information interviews are a great way to research possible career options. Maybe you want to be a Director of Development one day and speak with someone about how to rise to that position. Maybe you want to explore which fundraising sector you want to work in or which organization to work for. One of the great things about our profession is that we fundraisers are an outgoing, welcoming and helpful bunch. We are usually happy to meet and chat.

Making connections – building the pipeline

The more you network and get your face and name known in the fundraising community, the more results you will see in the future. Have you ever heard a colleague or your supervisor who is hiring a fundraiser ask if you know “anybody good”? This is when we rattle off the names of the fundraisers we know. Sometimes they are former colleagues, but often they are just people we know from professional organizations or networking events, or because years ago we met them in an information interview.

Managers who make a regular practice of giving information interviews start to build a pipeline of prospective hires. Again, this is long-term thinking. In most cases, information interviews are being requested by junior or aspiring fundraisers. However, while you may not consider hiring this person yet, they might be senior enough in the future for a role in your organization. Social networks like LinkedIn make it easy to stay in touch, follow the career progression of potential candidates, and connect when the time is right.

No agenda

An information interview doesn’t have as obvious an agenda as a job application. If you’re applying for a job, it is clear that you want that job and you want it now. An information interview is non-committal for both parties, so the interviewer is most likely going to agree to meet with you. It is a chance for you to get a meeting with someone in an organization even when you are not qualified for any jobs that might be vacant. The power dynamic is more balanced than in a regular interview – you are not really wanting something immediate, but researching as much as possible about the organization or a particular job and whether it is right for you.

Be strategic 

If you are seeking an interview in the charity you really want to work for, be strategic. Contact one, maybe two people at most in the organization. People talk – if you introduce yourself too frequently you risk your behavior being interpreted as desperate rather than proactive. Do your research. Seek out the individual who would be most valuable for you to connect with. Don’t automatically reach for the top, the Executive Director, but the person who holds a position that you are interested in.


An information interview is usually more casual than a formal interview. Often the location is a coffee shop. But do not make the mistake of considering it less important than a “real” interview – because it is a real interview. You might not be in a competition for a job at that particular time, but the impressions about you will be registered in the same way. Positive impressions will last, and when the next position that is a possible fit for you becomes available, your phone will likely ring.

The etiquette for information interviews is the same as for a formal interview. Be prepared with intelligent questions, do your research about the organization, and most of all – be on time. The people in an interview are paid to talk to you as part of their job. In an information interview, though, the person might be giving you their coffee or lunch break. That makes it even more important for you to be on time.

Information interviews are really a focused form of networking that can bring great results for your career. Make them a part of your career advancement strategy and get noticed.

Professional Development 2013: On Your Marks, Get Set, Plan!

By Phil Gérard

Appeared originally in Canadian Fundraising and Philanthropy

Happy New Year!

I enjoy the month of January. It always feels like a new start as we look at our lives, our careers and new opportunities for growth and self-improvement. January usually brings me the highest number of inquiries for upcoming job opportunities as well as requests for informational interviews.

But I don’t want to write an article about seeking new career opportunities, since I have just written about not leaving a job too early in your tenure. Growth opportunities can be found right where you are. The beginning of the year is a great time to look at your professional development, determine your goals and create an action plan.

What’s my long-term career goal?

Maybe your current position is not your dream job, but the experience you are gaining will help you to get there eventually. It is important, however, to know what your long-term career goal is. Only then can you have a strategic approach to your career development and ensure the experience you are gaining is relevant to what you want to be doing.

For example, you may want to be a frontline major gifts officer but currently you are in a role behind the scenes supporting the major gifts team. The experience you’re gaining is valuable and relevant to your ultimate career goal.

On the other hand, you could be wasting your time. Getting face-to-face experience by going out on donor calls is great if you want a career in major gifts but not if you have decided you want to leave fundraising altogether. In that case, stop investing in the wrong type of professional development and start investing in your new career.

What do I want to achieve this year?

Look at some key areas and skills you want to develop this year – specific objectives rather than overall goals or visions. The objectives will help you achieve your goal. If your goal is to become a major gifts officer, an objective might be to find a mentor at work who will take you on a specific number of donor calls.

Find the right opportunities

Now that you know how you want to develop, look at the offerings that are available. Try to pick conferences by relevance and not by location. We have some great Canadian professional development options. Every November, AFP Toronto’s Congress features relevant Canadian content and many different tracks that offer something for every type of fundraising professional. In the West there is AFP Calgary’s Banff Compass, which will be offered again in 2013.

Conferences are not everything

There are many great professional development opportunities in addition to conferences. Workshops or continuing education classes are great if you want to expand your knowledge in a certain area, such as perfecting your Microsoft Excel skills, accounting, or learning a database program. One of the best professional activities I have ever done is joining a Toastmasters club. Toastmasters is not only about public speaking but about professional communication in general, time management, sales, etiquette, and so much more.

Get a head start on 2013 by planning your professional development right. As well as this website, a number of others (AFP, CASE, CCAE, Charity Village) can help you find the right educational opportunities. I also invite you to visit my blog and follow me on Twitter for professional development opportunities.

All the best for your career in 2013!!

For more information, follow @philscareers, or visit or

“You want to interview me on what?!” How to survive a Skype interview

By Phil Gérard

Appeared originally in Canadian Fundraising and Philanthropy

Skype has been used for interviewing for several years now, but it is still uncomfortable for many, including me. The thought of not being in the same room with the interviewers is somewhat frightening. It can feel like losing control over the interview situation. Here are some tips to help you perform at your best during your Skype interview.

1. This is just the beginning

Skype interviews are mostly conducted as a first step with out-of-town candidates to help decide whether it is worthwhile to fly the candidate in for further consideration. Remember that everything will not depend on this one contact – offers are not made on Skype interviews alone. At the same time you need to perform well enough to advance to a face-to-face interview in the future.

2. Be prepared

Technology always plays tricks on us, so do not leave the preparations to the last minute. Make sure that your equipment works well before the interview.  Check your speakers, microphone and camera settings. You don’t want to find out when the interview starts that something doesn’t work. Skype has a handy test call feature that you can dial up to check your audio and video settings and performance.

3. Set the stage

If you are doing your Skype interview outside your professional office, make sure that you are in a private spot where you can focus and not be interrupted. Make sure all cell phones or other beeping devices are turned off, that no children, spouses or other family members can enter your room, and that no dogs or other animals make noises that can distract or embarrass you. Even if the interview is audio only, try to focus on the interview task. I have once spoken to a candidate who I am certain was doing the dishes while talking to me! An interview is not the ideal time to practice your multi-tasking abilities.

4. Keep it real

Try to think of the Skype interview like a personal interview and present yourself just as you would in a face-to-face situation. Dress appropriately for the occasion. Just because you are not in the same room does not mean you should dress down or that your demeanour can be more casual.

5. Make a trial run

One of the biggest challenges I have seen with Skype is managing where to look while you speak. The natural tendency is to look at the screen, not in the camera. Cameras are usually located at the top of your screen, while the picture is a bit below. Looking at the picture on the screen will make you look down and give the impression that you’re avoiding direct eye contact. Try to look into the camera and get comfortable with it. If you’re using a laptop, you can move the laptop and camera closer to eye level, rather than placing it on a desk that forces you to look down.

6. Just wait!

With Skype the connection is always a bit of a gamble. Sometimes there is a delay, so speak clearly and reasonably slowly and allow pauses, especially at the ends of sentences.

Skype will not replace a personal interview in the same place with your potential employer. But especially if you’re exploring an opportunity out of town, a good Skype interview could be your ticket to a face-to-face interview.

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