What Aspiring VPs of Advancement Need to Know
Dennis Barden

Dennis Barden

The day-to-day responsibilities of an advancement officer in higher education are expansive, and growing. Of course fundraising skills are a major component of what makes a successful advancement officer, but there are countless other essential talents – including leadership ability, strategic thinking, and political savvy, to name a few.

Dennis Barden, a senior partner in Witt/Kieffer’s Education practice, has recently published two articles that shed light on careers in advancement leadership and the diverse skill sets needed. With broad experience as both an advancement leader and search consultant, Barden shares the unique challenges and rewards the VP and other advancement leadership positions present to executives.

What Institutions Want (and Need)
In the article “So You Want to Be the VP?” Barden describes in detail the prerequisites for advancement leaders today. VPs are not necessarily the “closers” when it comes to fundraising, but they do need the communication skills and diplomacy required to inspire donations, whether from alumni, families of students, or friends from the community. These leaders must market their school’s message in a way that ensures all constituents respond positively, and this is where political savvy plays an important role. These skills relate to the overall goal of any advancement officer: to ensure a strong return on investment for the institution. In addition, Barden advises candidates for VP and other roles to carefully consider what the college or university really needs from its leadership. Specifically, make sure your personal mission and leadership style align with the goals of your future school.

Current Job Market
In both articles, Barden explains why the job market in advancement currently favors the job seeker, not the institution, because of an imbalance of supply and demand: in recruiting there is a need for candidates with proven strength in this arena; however, there are not nearly as many qualified candidates as jobs available. This may make it seem as if the opportunities are endless, and the lure of new positions may draw candidates from institution to institution. Although it is tempting to pursue better offers, Barden cautions that strategic leaders need to be careful not to always see the grass as greener in new positions.

Create Good Career Karma
With the increase in job opportunities, it is a good idea for candidates to revisit job-search practices to represent themselves in the best possible light to potential employers. Barden highlights best practices in his HigherEdJobs article, including: take time with a search and avoid the temptation of applying for every job that comes along (“Don’t become America’s candidate”); apply only for positions where you believe you will truly be a good fit for the school (and the school will be a good fit for you); and always remain respectful of the opportunity and the hiring institution.

Next Steps
There are many challenging issues facing advancement leaders today. Brush up on them, Barden advises in CASE Currents, and be ready to discuss them at length during the interview process. This will highlight your dedication to the future of the institution and field. Networking is also essential, not just with colleagues in advancement but in all departments. You can learn valuable lessons by heeding the advice of a mentor and observing successful leaders at your institution. Finally, volunteer as much as you can. Interact with other leaders, with students, and with families. This experience, more than anything else, will help you to understand which activities and strategies work for your campus and which to improve moving forward.

The VP of Advancement and other advancement leadership roles will become increasingly vital in higher education. While a vice presidency is not a position that every leader in education can handle – “Do what gives you joy!” Barden counsels – for those ready for the task it will provide a challenging and rewarding profession.

By Lauren Corso, Communications Assistant

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