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How to organize your fundraising job search like a pro with Phil Gerard

16 February 2016

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 February 16, 2016
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Phil Gerard

Phil Gerard

Mazarine Treyz: Hey, everybody.

Welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising, and today I am so excited to be interviewing Phil Gerard for our Fundraising Career Conference 2016. Phil will be speaking about how to structure and organization your fundraising job search. Here’s how I met Phil. I met him actually recently at the AFP National Philanthropy Day in Vancouver, where he asked me to be his guest. I was really grateful to him, and as I chatted with the fundraisers surrounding us, who he introduced me to, one thing that people kept telling me is that Phil is really dedicated to seeing fundraisers succeed. He’s not a typical fundraising recruiter just out to fill as many positions as possible for big universities and hospitals. He spends that extra time with us, helping us see what skills we need to apply for the jobs we want, and what stepping stones we’ll need to navigate to get to that crucial experience for the next phase in our careers.

So Phil, that’s a little bit of what I know about what makes you different. But what makes you different from all the other fundraising recruiters out there that people might be getting contacted by?

Phil Gerard: There are a couple of things, Mazarine, and thank you very much for inviting me back to your conference. That’s really nice. What is very important to me is that I have a long term view. I’m not just going search by search by search. For example, I have a client who said we need to find a new director of development. Then I just go out there and try to recruit for that particular position. I have regular meetings once a week, where I meet with fundraisers and aspiring fundraisers for coffee and talk with them about their career aspirations. I haven’t said no to anyone who has approached me and said they want to talk with me about a career in fundraising, about their next move. I think that’s really important, because this way I am getting to know my network. People in my network, what their background is, what their strengths is, what really makes them tick, what they want to do with their career. Then as opportunities come up in the future, I have a much better understanding of who could be a good fit for what job in what organization.

I’ve met with fundraisers that are not now fundraisers, but they might have just graduated from university and they were interested in the field. I don’t say no. I think that is something that makes me different. I don’t think many other recruiters meet with just regular, non-fundraisers for coffee to find out what interests them, why they want to be in fundraising and what their possible career paths might look like.

That is one, and the other is just my business model. I wanted to create something that is affordable and a good alternative for organizations who do not have the budget to do an executive search. So for example, you know, my focus is really the frontline fundraising positions. Even though I have recruited from development coordinators to president positions. I really focus on that major gifts officer, director of development, and often these positions don’t justify bringing an executive search firm in, spending ten thousands of dollars for a position that pays less than what they’re paying the recruiter. My focus is therefore really providing my clients with a better candidate pool, and that’s what I do. I don’t duplicate a lot of the HR functions that many of the organizations have. They have someone in place who can do that. A director of HR, a director of operations. They can conduct interviews. They can do reference checks, all that. I focus on sourcing candidates, making the match, and providing my candidates with a better candidate pool.

MT: I love that. So people who are listening, you know, do you recruit for all of Canada pretty much?

PG: Yes, I do. With a focus on Vancouver and Toronto. Vancouver is my home base, so of course that’s where most of my searches are. But I have conducted searches in Toronto, in Edmonton, even in Montana. But my focus is Vancouver.

MT: Right, and if someone is an American fundraiser but wants to work in Canada, they could contact you maybe?

PG: They can. But I really want to be – because I’ve had a situation like that just recently. I just want people to be realistic that unless you are a Canadian citizen or you have a work permit, or a permanent resident permit, it’s really tough these days to bring an American or an international fundraiser to Canada. The process has become really difficult. I’m just going through that with a client, and the successful candidate was American. Was just the best fit, absolutely the best fit. But we need to make such a big thing to immigration, that we can’t have the work permits accepted. So I just want people to be realistic. You can always contact me. I never say no to a conversation. But it’s much easier if you are a dual citizen or you have a work permit.

MT: Excellent. So that said, what work do you find most fulfilling with your consulting?

PG: Oh, I love my job. There are many things that I find fulfilling. One example, or maybe two. One example is when someone calls me and they have tried to break into the fundraising profession, and we’ve talked a number of times and then this person calls me in the future and says, “Phil, I got the job.” Or even better, the year after, they call me and say, “I still have the job and it’s fabulous, and now I have a promotion.” That makes me feel – that’s just an awesome feeling. The other example would be when I identify a candidate for one of my clients and I really think that this is just the perfect fit, and they call me back and they have done the interviews. They got the person. They say, “Phil, you are bang on. This is fantastic.” So those are two examples of many fulfilling moments in my consulting life.

MT: I love that. I really love that. I love that you both love working with job seekers as well as universities and hospitals and bigger nonprofits like that, too. What are you teaching at the Fundraising Career Conference in 2016?

PG: This time we are going to be talking about organizing your job search. So this is something that I am looking forward to very much, because it’s going to touch on many different points. It’s going to be a really broad session, where we’re talking about researching the organizations that you are interested in that you want to apply to, preparing your resume and being strategic about your job search. How to prepare yourself for an interview, the dos and the don’ts, and how to present yourself in an interview and afterwards. Then also we’re going to talk about negotiating your salary, your benefits, and I really want to tackle a few of the uncomfortable questions about what to say. For example, what to say when you’re being asked for your salary expectation. We can talk about some really sticky – I have some really sticky examples that we can talk about that you really often cannot talk to a hiring manager about, right.

So you can ask me these questions and I will give you examples, and I will also prepare some examples in my searches where an interview or a search process has not gone as well as it could have if the person had been more transparent, for example, or would have prepared better or approached the situation in a different way.

MT: Thank you so much for that. I think that’s going to really be useful because I know a lot of us, we’re trying to get those resumes out there and we’re just sitting there shotgunning the resumes and we’re not really realizing what people are looking for and how we’re kind of our own worst enemies when it comes to negotiation and stuff like that. So some of our listeners may have been struggling to break into fundraising. I know you meet a lot of those kind of people. Do you have any advice for them? One piece of advice for them.

PG: Yeah. I think there are a couple of things that need to align to break into fundraising. First of all, I think you really need to know what you want. You need to know that this is your career. Not because the economy is bad and you just got laid off and fundraising looks like a good idea. That is not the best place to start from. I often say to people when they want to talk about a career in fundraising, “Why do you want to be a fundraiser?” You know, have you given this some thought? So I think it’s really important that you want to be a fundraiser as a career. So that’s number one. Then you need to have the theory and the knowledge, right? You need to know how to fundraise. You can’t just start tomorrow and you know nothing about it. So the knowledge. The theoretical knowledge you can gain from books. Ideally you start a certificate program, a diploma in fundraising.

Then almost simultaneously, around the same time, I recommend that you start your job search. You will need to, in addition to your theoretical knowledge, you need to be able to put your knowledge in practice. You need to find an outlet where you can build a track record. I like to give this example, and I know you and I talked about this because I brought this example up in the last session at this year’s career conference, about becoming a realtor. I have transferrable skills, right? Lots of skills that could translate to being a fundraiser. I have all these transferrable skills. It’s so hard to break into fundraising. Why can’t I, with my sales experience, be hired and be a fundraiser? Well, I, with my transferrable sales skills and experience as a fundraiser, I can become a realtor, write the certification or whatever you need to do, in maybe two months. Right? But that doesn’t mean that tons of people are lining up to list houses with me, because I don’t have a track record. I need to get that first listing, and then I need to do a good job, and then I will likely get another listing. It will be a lot of work and I have to build my track record.

The same thing in fundraising. Just because you have a certificate program completed doesn’t mean that you can actually raise the money. You haven’t built your track record. So it’s really important to have these three pieces. Knowing what you want, then getting the theoretical knowledge, and then put that into practice. You need to get that first chance to show what you can do.

Fundraising Career Conference 2016

MT: And for others of our listeners, they may be wondering how to go from like a small shop fundraising job for human services to a job at a university or a hospital. Do you have any advice for them? One piece of advice?

PG: Yeah, there are a couple of ways to do that. One would be to start in an entry level position. The earlier you start in a big shop, the easier it is. Because they have some people who know right from the beginning they want to work in a big shop, and they start as development associates or they start as a development coordinator, and they work their way up. For someone who has already been a fundraiser in a different type of organization, again, they need to know if this is what they want to do. Because social service is different from fundraising for a hospital foundation or a university. But if they really want to do that and they want to break into that sector, either they start in the beginning in an entry level position, or most folks who have actually gained quite a bit of frontline experience face to face – and that doesn’t have to be necessarily major gifts. That could be leadership annual giving, or it could be corporate relations. I actually have recruited a number of fundraisers who were in third party events, community based fundraising, corporate relations, into more of a junior frontline major gifts role because they had that face to face element. That is extremely important to universities and hospital foundations.

So you might have been a generalist in a smaller shop. But as a generalist, you might have had this experience as well. You might have run a capital campaign or you had experience with annual funds, where you had face to face exposure to donors. Then you have a good chance to break into a frontline fundraising role in a university or a hospital foundation. But the challenge that many face is that even sort of a junior mid level major gifts position in a university already has a $750,000 to $1.5 million annual goal. If you’ve only raised $300,000 in the past, then that might be a challenge to overcome.

MT: Yeah, that’s something that people should really think about. So thank you for that. We’re actually going to have a session on how to do that at the conference as well. So that should be interesting for people in a university fundraiser. He used to work at a small domestic violence nonprofit here in Portland, Oregon. Now he’s in the East Coast of the U.S. He’s going to be speaking about how he managed to make that shift. So looking forward to that.

PG: That’s great.

MT: Yeah. So now let’s switch gears a little bit. Phil, since you, I’m sure, see so many cover letters and resumes, what’s one mistake you see people make over and over with a cover letter or a resume?

PG: I have many pet peeves when it comes to resumes and cover letters and LinkedIn profiles. We’ll talk about that at the session. But one mistake that I see over and over again is inconsistency, and that includes everything. That includes typos, that includes style issues. For example, you do bullet points in your resume and then you have a period in one bullet and then you don’t have one in the next. Typos, as I said. Comma mistakes. Inconsistency with fonts, font size, or addressing it to the wrong organization. So your resume, your cover letter needs to be flawless. Because the thing is that it’s so easy to start off, for recruiters and hiring managers to get the wrong idea, the wrong picture of you. You might be the best fundraiser they could ever hire. But for some reason you had a bad day and you pumped that resume out, and you don’t get the job because simply your resume is – they’re not going any further with you because of that. So it’s such an easy mistake and a crucial mistake to make. So that’s why I choose that as the number one.

MT: Wow, yeah. I’ve definitely seen that when I was doing career fairs for the Urban League. I asked people who wanted to come to the career fair to send us their resumes beforehand and we’d make sure that the recruiters got them. I started looking through thousands of resumes, and yeah. I couldn’t believe how many people also misspelled my name when they wrote to me, and misspelled the name of my organization and just sent me their resume. They got a lot of things wrong, let alone the style issues in the resume itself. So it just shows a lack of attention to detail that I think is easy to generalize to the person.

PG: Absolutely.

MT: Like this is probably not their first choice for a job if they’re making this mistake.

PG: Absolutely, and with names, just to throw that in there, I’ve been called Gerard at least once a day. It drives me crazy. But it happens so often. Hey, Gerard.

MT: That’s not my name. Yeah, I’ve been called Marazine Triez, which is hilarious.

PG: Oh, boy.

MT: Yeah, it’s funny. It’s funny. So what would you wish more people realized about the fundraising job search?

PG: That it takes time. Especially if you want to break into fundraising. It will take time, and I say this over and over again. Those who are patient and have a good attitude, are humble and gracious in the process, they will eventually be successful. Being humble and gracious, that universally applies for professional fundraisers who have been in the field a long time, as much as new fundraisers. But new fundraisers need to learn that it just takes time. You can’t expect to have a job within a month. I’ve had someone really frustrated, actually. Really angry with me on the phone, and this is taking too long. It’s ridiculous. Why doesn’t anybody hire me? I’ve been looking for a job for two months, and I go, oh my gosh. But also for professional fundraisers who are superstars, I think it has always – and I hear it from my clients all the time. They’re looking for humility. Don’t let the rock star hang out all the time. Even if you are a really good fundraiser. I think humility goes a long way.

MT: Absolutely. I know here in Portland, Oregon, six months is a short amount of time to find a fundraising job that you’re going to love. It often takes a year. It takes a year here. So people, don’t be impatient. Getting the right job takes time. Even getting any job in fundraising takes time. Because nonprofits are not on your timeline.

PG: Exactly, exactly.

MT: Yeah, and you like to recruit people of any experience level? Or do you like to recruit people with more experience?

PG: So I like to meet with people with any kind of experience. As I said in the beginning, they’re kind of two separate things. So there’s the getting to know my network, people in my network and what their background is and what their plans are. I might not have the right position at the moment, but maybe a year, two years, three years. I started doing this in 2008. So some of the people I met back then are now actually, you know, who just started out and now I really see a position. But in terms of recruiting, I recruit for development. The most junior search I’ve done was a development coordinator, and the highest level seniority was president for an independent school. But the typical positions that I recruit for are major gifts officers without managerial experience, and then directors of development of a team of let’s say one up to ten. So it really varies. But if you’re asking what the typical person is that I would approach for in one of my searches are people with good major gift experience. Three to five years of major gift experience.

MT: Excellent, and I know those people are the ones that pay – the positions are kind of some of the ones that pay the most. Last year you talked about, again, a major gifts role. For people who are interested in that, we can make that recording available to hear about your advice about how to get that crucial experience to get that first major gifts role as well. So thank you for sharing that. That’s very helpful to know. Let me see, what was my last question to you here? It was what will people learn if they come to your session?

PG: So we like to talk about the research projects, researching the organizations that you applied to. So we’re going to learn about doing that most effectively, about preparing your resume strategically and for the exact position that you want. We’ll learn about do’s and don’ts for the interview. Presenting yourself in your best light in the interview. Follow-up gracefully, and finally negotiating benefits and salary. And as I said in the beginning, there should be some room to answer some question around whatever tricky questions or tricky situations that people would like to talk about.

MT: I love that. I love that. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

PG: I’m really excited to do this, Mazarine. I’m looking forward to it. Particularly I’m doing the how to become a major gifts officer. I’ve done that presentation, and this is something that I’m writing on my blog about quite a bit, about interviewing, about your LinkedIn profile and all these kind of things. I would really love to speak in a session about all these points in one session. So I’m excited about that.

MT: I love that, and I’m really excited to have you as well. I think that the experience that you bring and the energy and enthusiasm that you bring to what you do is really inspiring. I think a lot of times, fundraisers get burnt out and need to recharge. I think they’ll get that from your session.

PG: Well, I hope so. I hope so.

MT: No, definitely. I mean, looking for a new job is hard, and resumes and cover letters are hard, and it’s a lonely process. Having you there just to talk to us about how to do it better, I’m so grateful to you. I think it will help a lot of people. So thank you. How can people get in touch with you?

PG: The best way to get in touch with me is through my website, gerardconsulting.ca. Not .com. There’s another Gerard out there who consults. But especially for those in the States, make sure it’s ca, and you can also find me on LinkedIn. Feel free to contact me through there. I look forward to speaking with you.

MT: Oh, thank you, and everybody else, read Phil’s blog. It’s excellent. It will give you some sneak previews of what he’s going to be talking about some more, and that’s philscareers.ca? Is that right, Phil?

PG: Yeah, that one, funny enough, is philscareers.com. You can go to gerardconsulting.ca and then click a link to the blog from there as well. There’s a link.

MT: Excellent, and you’re on Twitter at philscareers, right?

PG: That’s right.

MT: Excellent. Good. Thank you so much, again, Phil. Really looking forward to your session.

PG: Thank you, Mazarine.

 Fundraising Career Conference 2016

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