Melissa E. Watkins Podcast
Mazarine Treyz: Host
Melissa E. Watkins: California Polytechnic University, Executive Director, Major Gifts
- 00:00:47 –> How did you go from social services to a university fundraising job?
- 00:06:34 –> What drew you to higher ed? Was it salary or passion?
- 00:08:56 –> How are you managing working two people’s jobs?
- 00:11:22 –> How does knowing project management help you in fundraising and doing two people’s jobs?
- 00:13:31 –> Could you define the key areas of project management?
- 00:17:30 –> Project management also manages people.
- 00:18:14 –> How do the project management key points help during a time of unprecedented work expectations?
- 00:20:01 –> If a person has survived a layoff, what can they learn from you during this crucial time?
- 00:23:00 –> What does being a futurist mean to you?
00:00:06 –> 00:00:44
Mazarine Treyz: All right. Hey, everybody, welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising and the Name It podcast. Welcome to the Name It podcast. Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Melissa E. Watkins, MBA, PMP as well as who is the Executive Director of Major Gifts at California Polytechnic University. And oh, my gosh, she spoke at the Rooted Collaborative UPRooted Retreat and I just had to ask her to come on to speak at my event and to be on this podcast. So Melissa, thank you so much for being here.
00:00:45 –> 00:00:46
Melissa E. Watkins: Thank you for having me.
00:00:47 –> How did you go from social services to a plum university fundraising job?
Mazarine Treyz: So, you have risen spectacularly in your career going from being Development Director at the Gleaners Food Bank in Detroit to Director of Annual Giving at Los Angeles Food Bank, to Executive Director of Major Gifts at California Polytechnic University. How did you go from social services to a university plum fundraising job?
00:01:11 –> 00:01:58
Melissa E. Watkins: Wow. Thank you for asking the question and thank you for having me again today. I’m honored to be here. And I just want to start out by saying that the path to higher ed had been in my vision for years and years. It was something that I always aspired to do. And as you mentioned Gleaners, and also the food bank in LA, it was something in the back of my mind, even back then, so I started planning even before. So I could actually step a few steps back. When I worked as a consultant at CCS Fundraising, I actually left that job to go back to school full time to get my master’s in business, because I wanted to kind of get on that path to get into higher ed. And I thought to myself, “Okay, so how should I do that? Okay, I have to get a higher ed degree.”
00:01:59 –> 00:02:46
Melissa E. Watkins: While I was getting my degree, kind of going back full time, I met a woman at the gym. So just at a spin class, I met a lady who said I had a great smile and she was wondering what I did for a living. And I said, “Actually, I’m going to school full time, but I’m a fundraiser.” She’s like, “I work at the food bank. You need to help solve world hunger. Come work for us.” Two weeks later, I was working at Gleaners. So it’s funny because I totally derailed on my plans were to go back to school full time, and “I’m not going to work at any place”, and in talking to her and in even just learning about the issues with hunger and making sure that people have their basic needs, especially food was so near and dear to my heart that I actually took the position and worked there.
00:02:47 –> 00:03:39
Melissa E. Watkins: And so I worked there, got my degree at the same time, and when I finished, my significant other and I decided to move over to Los Angeles. So again, keeping in mind that I wanted to get to higher ed, at the same time, I’m like, “How do I get there? How in the world am I going to get there?” So we moved out to LA, one Executive Director called the next and I had a job at LA Food Bank just like that, which was a gift, okay. So continuing that hunger conversation and how we can make solutions, but again, the climate, the environment, totally different. So I appreciated having the Los Angeles and the Detroit because it’s two different urban settings, but still similar. The face of hunger is always going to be not what people are expecting. And so the narrative was the same, but just the distribution of food and who the donors were, were just all different.
00:03:39 –> 00:04:33
Melissa E. Watkins: Okay. So I’m in LA. So I’m still like, “I want to get to higher ed.” So I have a friend of mine who, and I want to say this just on record, I interviewed with UCLA nine times, okay? Nine times in person. And I wasn’t getting in and still like, hunger is near and dear to my heart, but I still wanted to get into higher. So I just wanted to bring it back to that just to let everybody know that I wanted to get there. Okay, so I had a buddy who was working in Cal State Bakersfield, we were actually consultants together way back before I decided to go back to school and get my degree, my second degree. He said, “Melissa, we have a position open. I know you well, you’re down in LA but we’re in Bakersfield. Would you be willing to come up and get your feet wet in higher ed fundraising?” And I was like, “Absolutely”.
00:04:34 –> 00:05:45
Melissa E. Watkins: So I actually took the job. So that was actually my transition to higher ed, and without my friend getting me in the door, it would have just taken me a little bit longer. And again, I left the Los Angeles market because there was so much competition in this area that I couldn’t break in. And so I stayed there for three years and a position opened at Cal Poly Pomona, and the actual– Okay, so get this right. The president of Cal State Bakersfield where I was working was really good friends with the president at Cal Poly Pomona. So there was always this connection. So also I should mention that in Bakersfield I had this tie into agriculture because that was the primary donor for the community. So I had a tie into agriculture. I even led the project that started a food bank in Bakersfield. So there was a tie to food, nutrition, and then I also [was] able to use my food banking experience. So I applied to the position as Development Director at Cal Poly Pomona, Senior Development Director there. So it was a step up, but again, same constituent.
00:05:46 –> 00:06:13
Melissa E. Watkins: So I got the job and within two years of just working hard, making prospect calls, building relationships on and off campus, I got promoted to Executive Director, Major Gifts, and now oversee six positions under my title plus an assistant. And that was a pretty fast trajectory and I’m just grateful for the opportunity and to be in the role.
00:06:16 –> 00:06:27
Mazarine Treyz: Wow, incredible! That is so incredible. And I know you make it sound like there’s a lot of luck but it sounds like a lot of hard work was involved in that luck.
00:06:27 –> 00:06:32
Melissa E. Watkins: Thank you. And also just staying focused, like “I got to get to higher ed. I got to get to higher.” I was always mindful of that. Yeah.
00:06:34 –> What drew you to higher ed? Was it salary or passion?
Mazarine Treyz: Can I ask you like what drew you to higher ed? Is it because it would be a more sustainable salary? Or is it really because you just feel passionate about education?
00:06:44 –> 00:07:25
Melissa E. Watkins: I am so passionate about education. That’s a great follow-up question. So the reason why I was like– So just a little side personal story. When I went to college, I went to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. That was the only college I applied to. I got there and I must tell you, it was a culture shock. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. It was the greatest amount of white people I had ever been around in my entire life. I felt like a fish out of water. I was like, “Well, do I belong here?” On top of that, everything that could go wrong with my financial aid did. And so I found myself having to pay for college and on top of that, just being like, “What is going on here?”
00:07:25 –> 00:08:23
Melissa E. Watkins: So after about a year and a half or so of school, I just dropped out. I was like, “I can’t do this. This is too hard. I’m not smart. And I’m not supposed to be here.” And so if you fast forward, I actually worked and went to school undergrad, I mean, it was a struggle. So by the time I got to be 25, I had my undergrad, but it was a grind. So the reason why higher ed is important to me is because I never ever, ever want people to have to experience what I did. And so I’ve always said this is how we propel people to the next level. This is how we get them access to education. No one should have to worry about how to pay for school. If you’re from a different culture, we want to get you into programs where you feel accepted and wanted. I mean, just to be a part of that system through fundraising, we can help donors understand what the student’s perspective is, get funding for these programs to help students propel their lives to the next level. And so that’s why it’s such a passion for me.
00:08:26 –> 00:08:54
Mazarine Treyz: I love that. And it really does tie into the Patriot Act. I was looking at that today with Hasan Minhaj and he’s like, “College degrees really are a pathway for folks. They’re not just like something you reach for anymore, they’re expected.” And people that have college degrees, women make half a million dollars more over their lifetimes and men make over $600,000 more over their lifetimes if they have a college degree.
00:08:55 –> 00:08:56
Melissa E. Watkins: Right. Yeah.
00:08:56 –> How are you managing working two people’s jobs?
Mazarine Treyz: So I love that. I think you’re totally right and right now, in our first conversation, you mentioned that you’re working two people’s jobs and not on purpose. How are you managing that?
00:09:11 –> 00:10:49
Melissa E. Watkins: No, that’s such a good question and just to give some context. So when I took the position, we had three positions open out of the six that report to me, well, plus my assistant. And the idea was that we were going to fill all of those positions, and then COVID hit. So what ended up happening is the position that I was previously in, so the Senior Director of Development for Agriculture, was open and then all of the other open positions ware still open. So I’m covering the Executive Director position as well as Senior Director of Development and I’m doing that using a project management approach. I’m being very intentional about the time that I’m using for both positions. So I’ve even like from a weekly standpoint, set aside certain days of the week for which positions, So I’ll only take certain meetings or I try to for each position. And what’s nice is that because I have built such strong relationships with a lot of donors in that college, some of the work is almost automatic. So I’m not having to put in some of that grind work. I’m more or less just following up with the strongest prospects. So I will say this is not the easiest thing to do to manage those positions. There are times when I’m thinking “Am I doing C level work at both?” But I just try to do my best and stretch the 40, 50-hour workweek as much as possible.
00:10:51 –> 00:11:17
Mazarine Treyz: I know for people that are listening who have survived a layoff, this is something that they care about. “How can I do both jobs equally well if I have to do two people’s jobs?” Maybe your Grant Writer got laid off, maybe your event planner got laid off, you’re shifting to virtual events. There are a lot of reasons why you could just have more work right now. Maybe you’re the Executive Director and they lay off the Development Director, which I don’t recommend you do.
00:11:20 –> 00:11:21
Melissa E. Watkins: I don’t either.
00:11:22 –> How does knowing project management help you in fundraising and doing two people’s jobs?
Mazarine Treyz: So you have a PMP, project management certification, as well as your MBA and I’m so impressed. You’re a lifelong learner clearly, and how does knowing project management help you in fundraising and doing two people’s jobs?
00:11:36 –> 00:12:33
Melissa E. Watkins: Well, honestly, what it does is it helps you be much more intentional about your work. So sometimes people don’t think about our work as being like projects, but if you think about it, you can break down every aspect of fundraising or development into the project management kind of structures. So for instance, just to give an example, in the beginning of any project, you should have what they call a project charter. And a charter is just a tool that outlines like, “What is our goal? What is our vision? Who should be involved in this project? Do we have sign-offs?” And so what project management has forced me to do is say, “Okay, in order for us to move forward with any project that I’m working on, we must have these things in place.” So it’s more or less a checklist to help guide the work. And then it’s also “Let’s look at the timing. Let’s look at the budget.” And it helps all parties involved, especially internally.
00:12:34 –> 00:13:30
Melissa E. Watkins: So what I use this for is mostly internally when we’re starting out any fundraising project. Or even if I flip the hat over and look at my Executive Director role, as I’m working with the people who report to me, those Development Officers, asking them those questions even before we start a project with a donor. Or let’s say we are going down the path with the donor. The donor has made a commitment. Are we communicating to everyone? So it really is through project management, just making sure that we’re intentional about every aspect of the project or like I like to call [them] philanthropically driven projects, right? It just helps clear everything up and I recommend everybody look into it. Even if they don’t get their project management professional certification, there are courses out there that you can take that talk about this methodology and just help you be more intentional. It just helps tremendously.
00:13:31 –> Could you define the key areas of project management?
Mazarine Treyz: Well, I know that I know very little about it, so I know that I know nothing. But I did look it up a little bit before we talked and I know in project management you have some key areas like work breakdown structures, competency development framework, project configuration management and change management. Could you tell us what each of these [mean]?
00:13:54 –> 00:14:48
Melissa E. Watkins: Yes, absolutely, especially so I’m going to start off with the first one that you’ve listed, the world breakdown structure. So basically this is a great tool because if you think about a flowchart, that’s exactly what it is. So it says, “Okay, so we’re going to start a fundraising initiative, what’s all involved in this project?” So from start to finish who are the key players? So if I use the higher education model as an example and use something very simple like a scholarship. So we say, “Okay, in order to get this scholarship implemented, how do we start?” So we start off with the core thing, which is get scholarship implemented. And from there, you break down every step. So we need a gift agreement, we need to get the criteria established, we need to identify what the reporting structure will be. And so you really just outline it in a flowchart format.
00:14:49 –> 00:15:40
Melissa E. Watkins: What’s nice about that is that you can take that breakdown and then assess or add the key players who will be responsible for each task and then ultimately, add a timeline to it. So the work breakdown structure really is a great outline. And as you know, to get through to people, sometimes you need visuals, and it’s a perfect thing for that and you break it down. And I could get more into the specifics of course with, you know, they say that you shouldn’t drill down too far on some of the tasks. So you wouldn’t want to say change all font to 12 point Arial. You wouldn’t want to put that, but you would want to kind of keep it in broad categories that can be assigned and tracked. So that’s the work breakdown structure. I’m going to skip over to the project configuration management.
00:14:40 –> 00:16:25
Melissa E. Watkins: So configuration management just means how do we integrate this project within the existing structure of the organization? And so if we even throw out the food bank, for example. Let’s say someone donates $10,000 for a new system to track the food that’s donated. Okay, so we can’t just take that, right, if those funds– Who are all the parties involved? So we got to talk to the IT department, we have to talk to shipping, let’s talk to development because maybe more money needs to be raised. So how is that all incorporated? And so just managing that process and all the communication, the planning, everything that needs to go [involved 00:16:23] because we know we don’t just live in one bubble, right?
00:16:26 –> 00:17:24
Melissa E. Watkins: Okay. And then change management. I love that one because basically, we all know that people love or hate change. So having a process in place for the changes that need to happen, and involving the key players at the right times. No one likes to be told after a decision has been made that change is coming. So making sure all parties involved know about the change, are involved in that change, have some decisions in the process, and so that’s what change management is really all about. Really all of these are communication, right? And then going back to competency development framework, again, that kind of goes into change management as well. But again, those core competencies that need to be maintained at an organization, having that framework in place so that when changes happen, when projects are managed that everybody’s on the same page.
00:17:30 –> 00:17:38
00:17:30 –> Project management also manages people.
Mazarine Treyz: I love that. I love that. So it sounds like it doesn’t just manage projects, but it also manages people.
00:17:40 –> 00:18:10
Melissa E. Watkins: That’s correct. And that’s the name of the game. After all, who would we be without our teams and people management? That’s what we do as development professionals. We keep making sure everyone – the donor, the internal constituents, as we’ll call them, like whether that’s a faculty member here in the [inaudible 00:17:59] space or the president of an organization, the CFO, all of these folks need to be kind of kept in the loop. And how do we do that, you know?
00:18:14 –> How do the project management key points help during a time of unprecedented work expectations?
Mazarine Treyz: Yeah, and it also seems like, during a time of great change, we need to think about and be competent in change management more than ever before. And so, how do these help you during a time of unprecedented work expectations?
00:18:32 –> 00:19:59
Melissa E. Watkins: Yeah, I am a very structured person. I love organization and so it helps me feel safe. I know that sounds very– But it helps me see the future. It helps me plan out things. It helps me anticipate what could be coming and so through project management, you also have to do risk assessment. That’s part of the checklist. So using this model, I’m always assessing risks. So one of the kinds of theories is you should always be looking at time, schedule, risk, and so I’m always looking at, “Okay, so we’re at right now we’re in COVID; these things could happen, but even after, what could happen?” So it’s always those questions. And so I think having project management just gives us safety and organization to our work. And also I will say it also gives the donor – because I’ve used some of these kinds of like strategies as I communicate with donors, and it makes them feel secure like, “You all know what you’re doing. Look at this organization. Look at these tools that you’re using, and I trust you with my donations”, in a time when we know that donors are feeling a little bit wary about, or not sure wary is the right word, but not as concrete feeling in their giving.
00:20:01 –> If a person has survived a layoff, what can they learn from you during this crucial time?
Mazarine Treyz: I think that’s a really good word. I mean, there’s a lot of demands on their attention now and their time. And there’s a lot of crowdfunding campaigns out there that they could be giving to, not just to us. And those crowdfunding campaigns can often seem even more urgent than what we’re doing. So I love that this is not just a tool for people to manage your project better, but actually do their job better as fundraisers. And so you’ll actually be talking about that at the new Power Fundraising Conference. So if a person has survived a layoff, what can they learn from you during this crucial time for–?
00:20:39 –> 00:21:21
Melissa E. Watkins: First of all, gain as many skills as possible because right now, the people who have survived the layoff, we know that we’ll have to wear multiple hats, and we probably will for the foreseeable future, because normal is not going to be normal for a long time if we even return to it. So I would say any free resources that are out there in terms of webinars, workshops, and then also investing in your own personal future. So just as I went down this project management professional certification route, it’s a good time to start thinking innovatively about the skills that we have as development professionals.
00:21:22 –> 00:22:29
Melissa E. Watkins: I have a colleague who I trust in and love, and she actually has gone back and taken different courses on the industry side for the organization that she’s working with. So it’s more or less like, even though she didn’t go get a CFRE, she got a specialized skill in the area that she’s raising funds for. I think that as we as development officers look to the future, we know that we’ll have to be innovative in our thinking just like we talk about all the time. So many times we don’t think about fundraising as being innovative, but we have to. It’s not just about the ways that we reach out to donors, it’s what we’re saying to them when we do. So I think just to get as many skills as possible, learn as much as possible, stay motivated, stay positive. Yeah, just love the work, find the passion, keep the passion going, stay connected to the cause as much as possible because even in remote settings we need things that keep us motivated because we have to do so much motivation for others.
00:22:30 –> 00:22:47
Mazarine Treyz: Oh, I love that, and you feel like a very motivating person. I cannot wait for people to learn from you, Melissa. I’m just so excited. I’m so excited to have you come speak. Is there anything I like [inaudible 00:22:43] with where they can find you? Anything you’d like to share?
00:22:48 –> 00:23:25
Melissa E. Watkins: Yes, sure. I welcome anyone to reach out to me via LinkedIn. My handle is Melissa Ellyn but Melissa Ellyn is filled with Melissa and then E-L-L-Y-N. So I want people to reach out. We can always schedule a 30 minute time and talk. I’m happy to share my story, hear other stories, and give feedback. And I just encourage everyone to just make the most of this time, whether it’s learning more resources, reaching out, and volunteering yourself. Just trying to help as many people as possible so that we can all get through this together.
00:23:27 –> 00:23:59
Mazarine Treyz: Thank you so much. That is so powerful. And I agree, we really do need people to start thinking more creatively and innovatively about fundraising if we’re going to be able to overcome what is looking like the great culling of many nonprofits. And even many universities are shutting down locations because of COVID-19. So that’s something that building your skills is always going–
00:24:01 –> 00:24:02
Melissa E. Watkins: I totally agree.
00:24:04 –> 00:24:10
Mazarine Treyz: Right on. All right. Well, everybody, thank you so much for listening, and thank you again, Melissa.
Melissa E. Watkins: Thank you.
00:00:01 –> 00:00:04
00:00:01 –> What does being a futurist mean to you?
Mazarine Treyz: Okay, go. You’re a futurist. What does that mean to you?
00:00:04 –> 00:00:54
Melissa E. Watkins: I’m a futurist. So I should back up and just tell you that I took the StrengthsFinder. One of my core strengths, this is my second top, is futuristic. And so basically it’s someone who enjoys looking into the future and can often forecast what’s to come. So it’s helpful as we look at fundraising and development and especially in turbulent times because people with futuristic personalities can see beyond right now. So I think that’s how I’m able to stay so happy all the time, because I’m like, “No, but there’s a change coming. And we could see this as the breakthrough for the beautiful things that will come as a result of getting through COVID.”
00:00:55 –> 00:01:10
Mazarine Treyz: Yeah, I mean, as you said, the days of a 100 person development shops are over and people are going to have to really start looking at doing more than they ever have before is what it sounds like.
00:01:11 –> 00:01:32
Melissa E. Watkins: And being more efficient. So how can we do more with fewer resources, but in the most efficient way we ever had? Using the right tools, asking the right questions of donors, getting out the right reports. I mean, this is the time for us to really make significant changes.
00:01:35 –> 00:01:53
Mazarine Treyz: I agree with you. If 40% of nonprofits potentially are going to close in the next year, then now more than ever, we have to ask ourselves, how am I helping my nonprofit, but not just my nonprofit but my own career succeed during this time?
00:01:53 –> 00:02:14
Melissa E. Watkins: That’s exactly right and I’m glad you brought that statistic up because it is real. It is real and that’s another reason why we need to make sure we have our skill sets strong. They are transferable. People can transition to anything they want. Honestly, the development professional is one of the most unique and wonderful positions on this planet in my opinion. I know I’m biased.
Mazarine Treyz: I agree.
00:02:15 –> 00:02:34
Melissa E. Watkins: But at the same time, just the relationship building, the strategy, the customer service, I mean, I know it’s an old school world, but essential skills that we have, just that combination, you can’t find anywhere else. And so the work is wonderful. Yes. The people are great.
00:02:35 –> 00:02:46
Mazarine Treyz: I can tell you love the profession and you love other fundraisers and you love what you do and that is just infectious. So I can’t wait for everyone to learn from you. Thank you so, so much.
Melissa E. Watkins: Thank you.