June 25, 2023
Starting a new job can be stressful. Navigating the unknowns while trying to fit in personally and professionally can fray even the strongest nerves!
But new Development Directors have a leg up. They can offset the learning curve by transferring many of their skills to their new private school environment—even if this is the first time working in a school office.
New Dog, Old Tricks
The qualifications that led to success in former roles—raising funds for a museum, local orchestra, or a metropolitan hospital—are the same skills that make for a strong Development Director in academia, including:
- Leadership: Taking the initiative and guiding development staff to reach fundraising goals.
- Planning: Coordinating all areas of a strategic development plan.
- Relationship Management: Managing donor relations and growing the existing donor base.
Sound simple? It can be—with the right approach.
Understand Your Surroundings
None of the skills outlined above will be useful without a solid grasp of the school’s inner workings. To fully appreciate the culture of the institution, take time to listen and learn. Get to know the school’s constituencies—student body, staff and faculty, administration, parents, alumni, and, of course, the donor pool.
A successful development program relies on building relationships. Take your time! Even though the people are new to you, your hard-earned skills in social networking and engaging benefactors will easily translate to your new school community.
Tune in to live webinars every week during the school year to get specific, research-backed insight you can immediately apply at your school.
Lead the Way
Was your last job serving as a Development Director for an art museum? A youth support program? Or perhaps a healthcare advocacy group?
Although the mission and donor pool have changed, the overarching goals from your past positions remain the same: Build a culture of philanthropy … and annual giving. But the tactical language from past positions remains the same: And given your previous experience, you likely have a foundational knowledge of each of these areas.
Leading a team can be intimidating when starting out, so be mindful of how you tackle your new responsibilities. Assure your staff that, although you may hail from a different nonprofit sector, you bring a depth of experience in ways to build robust giving programs. Your goal is your team’s goal—secure funding to meet the school’s current and future needs.
Embrace Your Inner Techie
Transferring job skills as an independent school’s Development Director will be especially useful if you’re up-to-date on the latest technology trends—including donor tracking software, text-to-give fundraising, and curated donation pages. Technological advances in fundraising and development have seen significant growth in the last five to 10 years, yet the educational arena is often a few steps behind. Being well-versed in the ways technology boosts development efforts will yield early success in your new role—and win the respect of your staff and peers.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to show your creative side! The adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is only true to a point. Sometimes it takes a new set of eyes to notice the old ways aren’t working as well as they once did.
Bring fresh ideas to the table—highlighting your creativity and flexibility. This is a great opportunity to practice those leadership skills while establishing an atmosphere of openness and excellence.