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Next Generation: Developing an Advancement Talent Pipeline

Wednesday, May 17, 2017  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By Karen Brand, director of strategic marketing & communications, Providence Day School, Charlotte, NC

If you were lucky, at some point early in your career a mentor came along and showed you the ins and outs of your chosen profession. Perhaps your mentor helped you gain new skills, expanded your knowledge base, navigated you through a difficult situation, or opened doors. Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC, is taking luck out of the equation for young professionals by offering a one-year, fully-immersive fellowship in its Office of Institutional Advancement. The position is designed to prepare a recent college graduate for the next chapter in their career, as well as to help grow the advancement profession in independent schools.

The concept was borne from the idea of establishing an incubator for young professionals interested in the advancement field, said Jeffrey Appel, associate head of school for institutional advancement. Appel, a 32-year veteran in the field, has seen first-hand the shortage of candidates ready to fill entry-level positions. 

Appel sought to create a program that would provide an opportunity to learn and fully understand the four areas within advancement offices in independent schools: alumni relations, major gifts/annual giving, advancement services, and marketing/communications. The fellow enjoys the potential benefit of determining which area is of greater interest for future job considerations. 

The sponsoring office gains additional resources to enhance or expand their services or initiatives in a given year. That extra boost to productivity comes with a commitment, though, and should be fully embraced by school leadership as well as team members who will take on the responsibility of managing the fellow’s activities and progress. 

“The concept must be embraced by the head of school,” Appel explained. “You have to find the funds. Directors need to specifically identify projects that the fellow can do and own completely. And you should be very deliberate about making sure it’s a value-added for both parties.”

Opportunities like this are much needed, according to Jonathan Ball, managing associate at Carney, Sandoe & Associates. During his 19-year career recruiting for independent schools, he has noticed the education sector facing challenges in terms of its perception as a viable job choice.

“If we’re not taking the lead in promoting and growing our industry, pulling people in and giving them these entry-level jobs, where are they going to come from?” Ball asked. “I really applaud and support the work that’s been done and the initiative around this program.”

For the school’s very first advancement fellow in the 2015-16 school year, the impact was immediate and long-lasting. Patricia “PJ” Kolman came to Providence Day after graduating from Duke University in 2015. She is a 2011 alumna of the Hun School in Princeton, NJ.

“When I first got the fellow position, I felt like I had won the ‘Golden Ticket’ of advancement jobs,” she explained. “Throughout my job search, I was unsure about what positions would be the best way to start a career in advancement. I also did not know which field, like marketing or annual giving or alumni relations, I wanted to pursue. When I was introduced to the fellow position, I realized it would be a unique opportunity to immerse myself in every aspect of advancement at an exceptional institution.”

Her responsibilities were both broad and varied: creating annual giving materials, producing videos, planning alumni and parent events, writing for internal and external audiences, building web resources, researching donor prospects, and attending professional development conferences, among many other activities. She also found time to serve as assistant coach of the middle school swim team.

Bolstered by those experiences, Kolman was a much sought-after candidate at the conclusion of her fellowship. Ultimately, she accepted a development officer position at King’s Academy in Jordan. In this capacity, she is designing fund-raising appeals, managing a portfolio of regional and overseas donors, preparing for the school’s 10th anniversary year celebrations, assisting in the formation of the alumni association, and serving as a dorm parent. 

This year’s fellow, Myers McGarry, has benefited from a wide-ranging set of tasks and projects. A 2016 graduate of Washington & Lee and a 2012 alumna of Charlotte Latin School, McGarry filmed and produced several videos, has written executive-level communications, collaborated with admissions on a drip-marketing campaign, created social media editorial calendars, updated donor files, implemented volunteer engagement activities, and helped plan alumni events. Additionally, her visits to other independent schools in the region produced invaluable perspective on the different strategic approaches to advancement work. 

During the search for her next position, McGarry leveraged her time at the school as a distinguishing characteristic. “People were impressed by the breadth of projects that I took on,” she said. “I felt more confident applying for positions at other schools with this year of experience.” After considering several offers from independent schools across the country and internationally, McGarry will join Nashoba Brooks School in Concord, MA, as marketing & communications associate.

Both Kolman and McGarry encourage other schools to consider similar fellow positions. “I would suggest looking internally and asking if each member of your team possesses the ability to handle their own responsibilities and take on a mentee,” Kolman said. She also cautioned that location, housing options, and cost of living could impact a program’s viability. For example, a school may be able to provide housing and/or meals to subsidize the fellow’s living expenses. McGarry enthusiastically proposed schools “go for it!”

Providence Day recently selected its third advancement fellow, alumnus Guille Henegar ’13, who will begin his tenure this summer after earning a B.A. in communication with a Spanish minor from Denison University in Ohio.

It’s been said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Advancement fellow programs – crafted thoughtfully and intentionally – can be a win-win-win-win for the candidate, the school, the profession, and the industry.

For more information about the fellowship program at PDS, contact Jeffrey Appel, associate head of school for institutional advancement at (704) 887-6000. 


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