Managing talent: your team’s or your own

publication date: Apr 24, 2012
author/source: Philippe Gérard
Talent management has become a buzzword these days, often used interchangeably with human resource management. It describes the entire cycle from recruiting through retaining to advancing talent in an organization. Phil Gerard photo

Sometimes we assume that the organization is responsible for its employees' success and professional development. A proactive talent management approach is in the employer's best interest, because turnover is expensive and the talent pool may be limited. However, we as employees have our part to play as well, and need to be proactive in managing our career.

Employers, job seekers need realistic expectations

A vacancy offers an employer the chance to find the person who best fits the position and the organization. It is also an opportunity for job seekers to position themselves most effectively and find the right team, culture, and environment.

Accepting a new job is a serious commitment that requires diligent research and consideration. It is not just about being offered a job anymore. We need to do as much research on the employer as they do on us. In a larger organization we want to meet the team we would be joining to observe its dynamics. In smaller organizations we want to meet the board members and ask some tough questions around expectations.

It continues to amaze me how many board members at small organizations expect fundraisers to bring their previous contacts and donors with them. Some boards believe that by hiring a top fundraiser at a premium salary, they will immediately close six- and seven-figure gifts. A year later that fundraiser may be out of a job.


"Onboarding" is the process of making a new employee part of the team and ready to perform. It starts during recruitment, as that experience influences how a new employee perceives the organization, and it is a crucial time that can make or break the relationship.

Organizations can save time and money by motivating top talent to stay past the honeymoon period. Some organizations go the extra mile in making new colleagues feel welcome: presenting jackets, t-shirts or other paraphernalia, or giving flowers and welcome lunches.

The common theme is that the organization has been expecting and preparing for the new employee. Simple things such as a working computer, a prepared office, business cards and an activated phone go a long way. Some organizations communicate prior to the new colleague's arrival about what to expect on the first day. Once the new colleague is welcomed to the team, orientation and training programs can help make the onboarding process a positive experience.

Employees joining an organization without an official program can help their own onboarding succeed. Find out who the champions are and who can answer questions so that you can understand the culture better and integrate with the team faster.

Setting a career path

"I want your job, boss!" Often employees know what job they ultimately want, but how to get there is a different story. Organizations that can demonstrate and explain available career paths and how to get there are more likely to retain talent.

The first person to approach in our own career management should be our manager. If a position becomes too mundane, with limited opportunity to advance into a higher role, just asking for opportunities and additional responsibilities may help. If we want more frontline fundraising experience, we can ask to accompany a senior fundraiser on calls or assume a small portfolio. Sometimes, however, people have to leave the organization to gain additional experience before returning as so-called "boomerangs" in a more responsible role.

Professional development

Having a career path is good but climbing it successfully requires gaining additional knowledge and experience. Organizations with a professional development plan proactively support their employees' continued growth, motivation, and engagement.

Some organizations think about professional development while others do not. Employees need to think beyond conferences when setting their personal development strategy. Public speaking, communications, leadership training and time management are all important in fundraising: One of the best professional development experiences for me has been joining a Toastmasters club.

Succession planning

While professional development should be open and accessible to all, succession planning is a much more personal affair and therefore requires an individualized approach. Not everyone has what it takes to be the next leader. Senior managers need to identify and advance their potential successors and give them chances to see for themselves if they are cut out for a leadership role, perhaps by appointing acting leaders during their absence.

As employees, if we already know that we want to be in a leadership role, we must show it and demonstrate that we are serious and committed. Positioning ourselves to be noticed by the right people is important. This does not mean bragging to everybody about successes, just ensuring the decision makers are aware of our involvement in successful projects. Too often I have seen brilliant fundraisers overlooked because they are poor at positioning and marketing themselves.

In our busy, target-driven world, talent management matters are not always at the top of our minds. However, just like fundraising, a strategic talent management approach can help build and maintain our talent pipeline. In an ongoing talent crunch, that is crucial not only for large organizations but for all. Still, as employees, we should not expect that every organization will embrace talent management. Be proactive. No-one else will manage our career for us. Get in, perform, get noticed and move up.

Philippe (Phil) Gérard has been a fundraising professional for 14 years in the community service, education and university advancement sectors.  His specialty is major gifts fundraising. An MBA with a human resource management specialization set him on the exciting path of fundraising talent management. 

He is a director of advancement with Simon Fraser University and teaches as an adjunct instructor in Georgian College's Fundraising and Resource Development Program. Phil is also the President of Gérard Consulting - Fundraising Talent Management and author of Phil's Careers Blog. His firm helps fundraisers find a great career and organizations find and retain the next great colleague.

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