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.

Don’t Let The Money Fool You!

By Phil Gerard

First published in Canadian Fundraising and Philanthropy.

Read the full article here:

Pay is seldom among the top five reasons fundraisers give when asked what motivates them in their job and what makes them stay. In employee surveys I have seen such top motivators as interesting and challenging work, good advancement opportunities, and a good working environment.

Nevertheless, managers should not make the mistake of ignoring the salary issue. Money is still an important foundation. Employees must feel that they are compensated fairly relative to their responsibilities and performance.

Compensation in the fundraising profession and even within sectors varies. For example, the health and education sectors are competitive in salaries. That often pressures other sectors and organizations to follow suit. Organizations need to stay on the pulse of compensation and conduct regular salary reviews. We do not want to find out the hard way when people start leaving.

But to those colleagues who consider accepting a new job offer – beware! Sometimes the offer looks better than it really is!

It is crucial to look at the entire package when you’re considering leaving a job for a better salary elsewhere. Monetary compensation is only one part of the package. Your current employer may have lower salaries but offer benefits that outrank the other offer.

Consider these five points when making your decision.


Many organizations do not have a pension plan or at best contribute a small percentage to an RRSP. Other organizations have defined benefit or defined contribution plans. The latter is becoming more common now, while the former is more attractive for employees because at retirement a fixed monthly income is guaranteed for life.

Some organizations ask their employees to contribute and match or double their contribution, while other organizations contribute 100%. That can make a big difference on your paycheck.

Organization-specific perks

Many organizations have their own unique monetary benefits. Universities and private schools often offer tuition waivers to faculty, staff, and their dependents. If you have children of university age, or even better, several children going to university at the same time, a tuition waiver can mean big savings for your family.

Think about what special perks you are currently enjoying at your organization and that only your organization can offer (gym membership, daycare, health spending account, paid Internet, computer, iPad, professional development) and how important those benefits are for your bottom line.

Extended health

Some benefits are less clearly advertised or perhaps buried in a policy manual with an extended health plan provider. Depending on the needs of a particular employee or her family, these benefits can translate into large savings. I have heard from colleagues who explained how their plan covers several thousands of dollars a year in services for their family member with special needs. It is worthwhile exploring the fine print. You may rely on such benefits and discover later that your new employer’s plan does not cover these services or only a fraction of it.


The new job would pay $5,000 more a year but your vacation is down from five weeks to two. Some organizations may be less competitive in salary but their employees enjoy extra-long vacations. The monetary value of the vacation time plus the savings in time and expenses that working requires should not be overlooked.

And then of course there is a whole other point to consider – your lifestyle and wellbeing.

The “signature experience”

Again, we have to look at the entire package. In addition to the benefits there are things that cannot be quantified in dollars, like flexibility. Maybe your organization enables you to work a day a week from home (or always), or have a flexible schedule to accommodate your commute, day care or family situation.

A great article by Tamara J. Erickson and Lynda Gratton called “What it Means to Work Here” published in the Harvard Business Review discussed what not only makes people stay in a job and in an organization but also helps them become an engaged employee. The authors introduce the term “signature experience” – what sets the organization apart for you as an employee.

The article discusses the example of JetBlue Airlines. Competitive compensation was definitely not a strategy the organization could afford. Bigger airlines could easily trump what JetBlue could offer. Instead, JetBlue implemented a home-based ticket agent system to offer their employees flexibility, work-life balance and convenience. Professionals who chose Jet Blue as an employer were looking for this signature experience. For these employees it is likely that more than a cash incentive would be needed to recruit them to another airline.

So at the time of your next job offer, take a few moments to consider the whole package, including the signature experience you now enjoy. It is not just about how much we make and how much we take home but how happy we are doing it.

Managing Talent: Your Team’s or Your Own

By Phil Gérard

Talent management has become a buzzword these days, often used interchangeably with human resource management. It describes the entire cycle from recruiting through retaining to advancing talent in an organization.

Sometimes we assume that the organization is responsible for its employees’ success and professional development. A proactive talent management approach is in the employer’s best interest, because turnover is expensive and the talent pool may be limited. However, we as employees have our part to play as well, and need to be proactive in managing our career.

Employers, job seekers need realistic expectations
A vacancy offers an employer the chance to find the person who best fits the position and the organization. It is also an opportunity for job seekers to position themselves most effectively and find the right team, culture, and environment.

Accepting a new job is a serious commitment that requires diligent research and consideration. It is not just about being offered a job anymore. We need to do as much research on the employer as they do on us. In a larger organization we want to meet the team we would be joining to observe its dynamics. In smaller organizations we want to meet the board members and ask some tough questions around expectations.

It continues to amaze me how many board members at small organizations expect fundraisers to bring their previous contacts and donors with them. Some boards believe that by hiring a top fundraiser at a premium salary, they will immediately close six- and seven-figure gifts. A year later that fundraiser may be out of a job.


“Onboarding” is the process of making a new employee part of the team and ready to perform. It starts during recruitment, as that experience influences how a new employee perceives the organization, and it is a crucial time that can make or break the relationship.

Organizations can save time and money by motivating top talent to stay past the honeymoon period. Some organizations go the extra mile in making new colleagues feel welcome: presenting jackets, t-shirts or other paraphernalia, or giving flowers and welcome lunches.

The common theme is that the organization has been expecting and preparing for the new employee. Simple things such as a working computer, a prepared office, business cards and an activated phone go a long way. Some organizations communicate prior to the new colleague’s arrival about what to expect on the first day. Once the new colleague is welcomed to the team, orientation and training programs can help make the onboarding process a positive experience.

Employees joining an organization without an official program can help their own onboarding succeed. Find out who the champions are and who can answer questions so that you can understand the culture better and integrate with the team faster.

Setting a career path

“I want your job, boss!” Often employees know what job they ultimately want, but how to get there is a different story. Organizations that can demonstrate and explain available career paths and how to get there are more likely to retain talent.

The first person to approach in our own career management should be our manager. If a position becomes too mundane, with limited opportunity to advance into a higher role, just asking for opportunities and additional responsibilities may help. If we want more frontline fundraising experience, we can ask to accompany a senior fundraiser on calls or assume a small portfolio. Sometimes, however, people have to leave the organization to gain additional experience before returning as so-called “boomerangs” in a more responsible role.

Professional development

Having a career path is good but climbing it successfully requires gaining additional knowledge and experience. Organizations with a professional development plan proactively support their employees’ continued growth, motivation, and engagement.
Some organizations think about professional development while others do not. Employees need to think beyond conferences when setting their personal development strategy. Public speaking, communications, leadership training and time management are all important in fundraising: One of the best professional development experiences for me has been joining a Toastmasters club.

Succession planning

While professional development should be open and accessible to all, succession planning is a much more personal affair and therefore requires an individualized approach. Not everyone has what it takes to be the next leader. Senior managers need to identify and advance their potential successors and give them chances to see for themselves if they are cut out for a leadership role, perhaps by appointing acting leaders during their absence.

As employees, if we already know that we want to be in a leadership role, we must show it and demonstrate that we are serious and committed. Positioning ourselves to be noticed by the right people is important. This does not mean bragging to everybody about successes, just ensuring the decision makers are aware of our involvement in successful projects. Too often I have seen brilliant fundraisers overlooked because they are poor at positioning and marketing themselves.

In our busy, target-driven world, talent management matters are not always at the top of our minds. However, just like fundraising, a strategic talent management approach can help build and maintain our talent pipeline. In an ongoing talent crunch, that is crucial not only for large organizations but for all. Still, as employees, we should not expect that every organization will embrace talent management. Be proactive. No-one else will manage our career for us. Get in, perform, get noticed and move up.

Hey, Mom – I Want to be a Fundraiser!

By Phil Gérard

This could be summarized as my vision for the future as a recruiter and talent manager in the fundraising sector, and as someone who simply loves our profession.

Strategic planning experts say that a vision should be achievable – ideally in the next 5 years. Goodness, do we have a lot of work ahead!!

The good news is that AFP Vancouver has created a new committee – Youth in Philanthropy (YIP). I’m excited to be chairing it.

Last year, a YIP taskforce comprised of UBC Development and Alumni Engagement colleagues have started brainstorming ideas on how to reach the next generation of fundraisers (and in their language).

Initial ideas have been

  • Creating collateral material promoting the profession and summarizing the educational pathways (how to actually get there!)
  • Liaising with high school counselors
  • Speaking engagement at university clubs, high school career days
  • Attending career fairs in universities and high schools
  • Start and internship program

We attended two career fairs last year and the interest of the students in the profession was impressive! The question almost everyone asked was: “So, what do I do, what do I study?”

We have to do a lot of work making it easier for up and coming fundraisers to understand what the educational options are and what else to do to be employable.

I invite discussion on this as we are embarking on this YIP initiative in Vancouver. And of course I am recruiting enthusiastic AFP Vancouver members to shine as members of this new committee.

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