Searching for a Development Leader? Are you looking in the right places?

November 23, 2015

At present, UK universities need to double their current number of fundraisers if they are to reach the philanthropic goal of £2 billion a year by 2022. However, there is a well-documented shortage of development talent, in particular in the area of major gift fundraising.

The impact of this shortage of talent not only affects the ambitions of Higher Education but also adversely impacts the existing talent pool:

  • fast tracking of development executives and over-promotion, which can lead to major skills deficits in the area of leadership, management, team building, and strategic capabilities
  • high turnover of staff
  • lengthy, costly, and frequent recruitment processes
  • higher salaries, which can lead to backlash both publicly and internally within the university itself

Therefore, how do we begin to address this talent shortage?

The hiring decision of UK universities seems to place a heavy bias on a track record in fundraising, with a large proportion of Development Directors coming from charity fundraising careers. This heavy weighting can often preclude non-traditional candidates who can bring transferable skills such as advanced management, leadership capabilities, and income generation from the commercial sector.

Higher Education in Ireland offers an interesting case study. A relatively underdeveloped philanthropic culture and a small pool of career major gift fundraisers have forced university leaders to place a greater emphasis on competencies. Irish universities have typically recruited Development Leadership from outside the fundraising sector, with the majority of Development Leaders coming from commercial and entrepreneurial backgrounds.

This focus on transferable skills has proven successful. Irish Higher Education institutions enjoy a comparatively strong major gift fundraising record, with the vast majority of income generation coming from high-net worth individuals over the last two decades either through Foundations or personal giving. There is also a greater stability through retention of this talent in the sector.

Same Thinking, Same Results

It can be safer to appoint people to positions based on prior experience, particularly where there is an established strategy and where performance development is incremental.

However, transformation is rarely led by ‘insiders’, and for ambitious organisations, seeking to change the game of philanthropy, the right approach is to recruit on the basis of strategic leadership calibre, relationship and deal making expertise, team-building capability, and authentic commitment to the vision and cause.

The future of hiring Development talent necessitates new thinking. Perhaps it’s time for universities to disrupt their hiring processes?

-Darra Power-Mooney, Consultant at Millington Pope

Millington Pope provide Executive Search and selection for clients committed to ambitious growth, innovation or reform.

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