Search Resources

Advancement talent recruitment, engagement and recognition: Best practices from three leading universities

March 2020
Featuring: McGill University, The University of British Columbia & The University of Toronto

Written by: Janet Sailian

CCAE recently interviewed three Directors in the growing field of advancement talent management to learn about their strategies, innovations and best practices. While smaller shops are also innovating to attract, retain and applaud advancement staff, the larger, multi-Faculty institutions - by virtue of their staff depth and resources - lead the way.

In this era of intense competition for the best talent, take note and adapt these ideas to your advancement human resources operations.

For sharing their time, insights and strategies, CCAE thanks:
Irene Hensel, Director, Human Resources, Development and Alumni Engagement, The University of British Columbia
Tania John Pihl, Associate Director, Advancement Talent Management, University of Toronto
Melina Tondino, Director of Human Resources and Talent Management, McGill University


What are your current best practices in talent recruitment and on-boarding?

Tania John Pihl

  1. All new Advancement staff get a welcoming e-mail from the Advancement Talent Management team that reviews what our team does and how we can support them. We link them to important on-boarding information on our Advancement College SharePoint site.
  2. Our Advancement Buddy program for new hires matches a seasoned advancement staff member with a new advancement hire to support acclimation over their first three months.
  3. “The U of T Advancement College”, our in-house professional development program for all advancement staff, has the tagline: “Work with the best, learn from the best.” Sessions offered from September – June include front-line fundraising, alumni relations, communications and marketing, and personal professional development.

Irene Hensel

  1. The Development and Alumni Engagement Office has developed a “People Plan” focused on recruitment, coaching and organizational development. UBC leverages technology to encourage external prospects to engage with us via platforms such as LinkedIn.
  2. Talent management objectives rank high among our strategic plan priorities. UBC is currently defining our values and guiding principles and linking expected behaviours to these values in a competency-based model.
  3. All postings and job applications in our centralized / decentralized structure flow through the central Development and Alumni Engagement office. We ensure all candidates have a positive experience and familiarize them with our structure as well as with other opportunities at UBC.
  4. We promote branding and articulation of UBC as a great workplace and culture with a mission focused on our impact on society through research and outreach.

Melina Tondino

  1. We have embedded our core organizational values in all talent management efforts, and changed our recruitment and performance-management practices to align with these values: ownership, agility, integrity and collaboration.
  2. McGill is the only Canadian institution to be part of a U.S.-based consortium that uses the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey. We have run this survey annually for the past two years to pinpoint areas where we need to increase engagement. It has been very helpful.
  3. One assessment tool we find useful is Clifton’s Strengths, also known as Strengths Finder. It identifies both individual and team-based strengths and links them to an over-arching strengths-building strategy.
What innovations have you developed in employee engagement and recognition?

Tania John Pihl

  1. We offer professional development based on key roles (Major Gift Officers, Leadership Annual Giving Officers, etc.) with job-specific training. New this year, a Leadership Stream for managers in Advancement supports development of leadership potential at all stages of their careers.
  2. The peer-nominated Advancement Bravo Awards recognize the contributions of advancement staff who have gone above and beyond their current responsibilities to provide extraordinary support to advancement colleagues. Recipients receive a certificate and letter from our Vice President, a $50 gift card, and acknowledgement in the advancement community.
  3. We offer two different U of T Advancement Leadership Awards:
    1. Advancement Rising Leader Award - Presented to an individual at an earlier stage of their career who has shown great leadership potential.
    2. Advancement Distinguished Leader Award - Presented to an established advancement professional who has continuously demonstrated exemplary leadership. A proven role model, this individual’s expertise and leadership motivates teams to achieve outstanding results.

Irene Hensel

  1. Our leadership development program helps prepare advancement staff for their first management role and for future leadership opportunities.
  2. As the workforce changes, we are creating new positions, planning for growth and investing in staff development. We are building a fundraising training program in-house, from scratch, using a blended learning approach.
  3. Our goal is to get people ready for change faster; to accelerate learning and preparedness.

Melina Tondino

  1. Our recognition programs are values-based. Immediate recognition - within one week of an achievement or event - is very important. We are exploring apps-based platforms for peer recognition.
  2. McGill’s Healthy Workplace Initiative focuses on sustainability, mental health and physical wellbeing.
  3. There are only so many Director of Development positions available. We are moving to open up more options for senior individual leaders; not only team leaders. Entry-level professional positions can introduce new staff to the many aspects of advancement and give them a sense of where to focus.
What challenges do you face generationally and what strategies and tactics do you use to develop new talent?

Tania John Pihl

  1. The Advancement Talent Management team sponsors for two students in the CASE Advancement Internship Program and one university graduate for the CASE Fundraising Residency Program. These programs allow us to have three young, interested students (or recent grads) join our team for either eight weeks or one year. It’s a wonderful way to introduce young talent to advancement.
  2. New this year, we reach out to all students who work in Advancement (student callers, student ambassadors, student engagement officers, work-study students, etc.) to invite them to a career session on advancement. We aim to open them up to the possibility of working in advancement after graduation.

Irene Hensel

  1. Retaining staff is a challenge for all who work in fundraising, whether in educational advancement, health care or the arts. Couple that with the fact that advancement is still not a well-known career path.
  2. Younger generations in particular want to see values infused in their jobs. They want to learn new skills and grow. We have invested heavily in organizational development to foster this.

Melina Tondino

  1. We have found that what motivates people to stay (or, presumably, to leave) generally is their immediate manager. That relationship is crucial to satisfaction, engagement and performance. So management training is key.
  2. We are exploring more flexible working arrangements in a pilot project. This is definitely a priority for younger generations.
  3. Millennials want their managers to act as coaches in both their current job and their career. People want opportunities to move up the ladder and also to mentor others and take on new, challenging projects.
  4. Advancement as a career needs to become an academic field of study, to fit into university parameters. Clearly defined career pathways are essential to entice more young professionals into advancement.

Tags: Tag-1, Alumni Relations, Young Alumni, millenials, talent management, socialmedia, University of Toronto, McGill University, alumni, graduates, The University of British Columbia