As Vice President for Search Management at Aspen Leadership Group, I am fortunate to work with an extraordinary team of search consultants. Felicia Garcia-Hartstein, Director for Search Management, Ashley Buderus, Consultant, and Jeanette Rivera-Watts, Search Consultant, interact with hundreds of advancement professionals each week, often focusing on one of the many searches led by ALG and our partner institutions, their career aspirations, or how they may best position themselves in a competitive market. Today, these interactions are increasingly focused on navigating careers during an uncertain time and they have taken on a more serious tone. While candidates are concerned about their own positions or about an interrupted career trajectory, they are also developing new skills, deepening relationships with donors, and working in ways that they never imagined. Here is what we are hearing from candidates and what recommendations we are sharing with them.

Michael: Have you noticed a shift in the content or tone of questions you are being asked by candidates over the past 6 weeks? How do candidates feel? Positive? Concerned? Hopeful?

Felicia: I have noticed that more candidates are reaching out to us to inquire if organizations are still hiring in this environment. The answer is, yes, they are hiring!  We’re seeing two buckets: people who are worried that they are going to lose their jobs and people who were already looking and are now worried that they will have to put their job search on hold. There are several things that people can do to start exploring job opportunities in this environment, and they shouldn’t hesitate to get started.  Candidates should consider a variety of roles and should be more adaptable to the search and hiring process as everyone works their way through the COVID-19 crisis.

Ashley: Fundraisers in some sectors are more worried than others, and some are considering a move to another sector. Many are realizing that there is even greater value to their work now, as earned revenue streams are down. They feel uncertain of what will happen next, including if posted roles will be filled, as they’ve heard of hiring being put on hold in some organizations. In these uncertain times, we encourage mindfulness and resilience. There is also curiosity about whether working remotely will carry over into the post-COVID era. Will there be more remote, or partially remote jobs? What impact will this have on the overall job market? Many candidates are surprised to find that they are learning new skills and moving their work forward under extraordinary circumstances.

Jeanette: I would say that there is general concern across the board, but also a feeling of solidarity that is evident now more than ever within the nonprofit community. We seem to have had an uptick in nominations for positions, which is heartening. Though the uncertainty can be unsettling, many are taking the opportunity to consider the positive changes that it might bring. Like Ashley, I find I am also fielding the question, “Is there a possibility for this job to be remote?” Candidates want to follow their passions but are sometimes unable to do so because they are tied to one geographic area.

Focus on what you can control

Michael: What are candidates worried about that they don’t need to be worried about?

Jeanette: Candidates are often surprised when we reach out to them with new opportunities. Institutions and organizations are indeed hiring and building teams. News of vacancies should be seriously considered, especially by those who are ready to explore a change. I find myself often reassuring candidates that our opportunities webpage continues to be updated regularly with new positions, even during these unusual times.

Felicia: Organizations are continuing to hire. While it is true that many are implementing temporary hiring freezes and pausing on searches, now is a great time to get your materials in order, to start having informal conversations, to figure out how to align your personal and professional passions, and to see what is out there. Just because there is a pause on hiring does not mean that you will have to put your career on pause.

Ashley: Organizations are hiring–they are hiring virtually, delaying start dates, or making exceptions for revenue-generating positions. Focus on what you can control. Do your job well, contribute to your own organization, and freshen up your materials in case you need to look elsewhere. Don’t panic or apply for every opportunity. Now is the time to consider many options, but be specific about what you are applying for, and take the time to tailor your materials and messages to reflect how you might bring value to the organization.

Michael: Thank you for bringing up the importance of focus. I understand a candidate’s desire to cast a wide net when unemployed or worried about soon becoming unemployed. That being said, I would discourage submitting multiple applications to the same institution or search firm at the same time. This gives the impression that a candidate is not fully committed to any one position or institution and now, more than ever, institutions are looking for fundraisers with a passion for that institution.

Felicia: At ALG, we recommend that candidates with questions about application strategy reach out to us. If you see multiple positions on our website or in our newsletter that appeal to you, email us and we can help guide you toward the opportunity that is best aligned with your experience and aspirations.

Ashley: If you decide to apply to more than one position, make sure that your materials reflect both the responsibilities of the specific role and the mission of the organization. Do not upload the same résumé and cover letter to multiple roles! Show a sincere and demonstrated appreciation for the mission and the skills that you will use to help them achieve that mission.

Michael: We cannot overestimate the importance of a well-written cover letter–which some consider an afterthought. I know many candidates that were hired in part because of their cover letter–it certainly got them in the door.

Felicia: 100% agree. Candidates can have a strong tie to the mission of an institution that is simply challenging to communicate via a résumé alone. I have had lots of “aha” moments reading cover letters.

Michael: What are candidates doing right at this time?

Felicia: Candidates are preparing. They are putting together a game plan for their future, and in turn, are starting to have conversations with people about that plan. Whether candidates are just catching up with a former colleague, engaging in a networking conversation, conducting an informational interview, or participating in a virtual interview, they are prepared with thoughtful and meaningful conversation starters and responses. This could include the “why” (why a transition now?), their accomplishments, and their 20-30 second elevator pitch on why someone should hire them. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Ashley: Candidates are looking towards the future, while also staying present in the current environment. They realize that today is not the same as yesterday, and that the job market and their role might look different in the weeks, months, and years ahead. They are taking a close look at job opportunities and evaluating what they could bring to the table. In addition, those candidates who are moving forward are moving past fear and anxiety. While none of us knows what the short- and long-term future might look like, we do know that philanthropy is critical to our society. Nonprofits will continue to hire successful fundraisers who can help engage philanthropists. The individuals that take the time and effort to seek new opportunities will be the ones that are hired.

Jeanette: Candidates are focused on the health of the entire nonprofit sector. They are more open to considering career moves and are seeking out informational conversations in order to help them assess where they are and prioritize their goals. As worried as some are, they are proud to be a part of the philanthropic community and they realize that their work has tremendous value.

Michael: What could they do better?

Jeanette: I encourage those currently searching in earnest to apply as soon as they are able for positions in which they are interested. There is no need to wait for an informational interview or to seek out lots of information that can be gleaned during a first interview. Read the prospectus carefully and cross-check it with your experience, values, and goals. Candidate materials are key to getting things moving! Motivation is a highly regarded trait–by institutions and talent management firms. On a practical note, keep your Philanthropy Career Network profile updated to ensure that we know what you are looking for–since that may have changed recently, it might be a good idea to go back and look it over.

Ashley: Candidates should keep an open mind. As the job market becomes more competitive, consider all of the benefits that a position has to offer–even positions and sectors that you have not considered in the past. Definitely think beyond salary and title. Is there a skill that this role will allow you to develop? Will this opportunity allow you to shift sectors or access a new donor base?

Felicia: Lateral moves are worth considering at this time. In today’s society, we are commonly chasing a better title, a bigger paycheck, or a more prestigious institution.  What I have seen is that the advancement professionals who are the most satisfied have found jobs that make sense at a specific point in time in their life and career, that match their unique skills, and align with their personal values. This is a great time to think about what you want to accomplish with your life, not just your career.

Materials have the power to get you in the door

Michael: How should candidates get “search ready?”

Felicia: It sounds very simple, but I really want to emphasize this. People should not underestimate the importance of their résumé and cover letter. These materials have the power to get you in the door or out the door in a matter of seconds. I have seen too many candidates, actually hundreds of candidates, neglect putting time and effort into their résumé, and as a result, they have not moved on to the next step in a search process. The three most important things to keep in mind include keeping your résumé and cover letter simple and easy to read; highlighting your accomplishments and providing quantifiable information; and ensuring the skills and experiences on your résumé align with the respective job responsibilities and that your cover letter is tailored to the respective organization and job for which you’re applying.

Jeanette: Speaking of making your materials simple and easy to read, I encourage candidates to think inclusively when crafting their materials. Of course, you want to be noticed but user-friendly materials are more likely to get you noticed than lots of graphic elements. Your materials should be accessible to all kinds of people–to HR staff, to the advancement shop, to volunteers, to program staff. You want to be remembered as the candidate that developed compelling strategies for engaging alumni, not the candidate with the polka dotted résumé.

Ashley: Can someone glance at your résumé in 5, 10, or 15 seconds (maybe on a phone in a car or subway) and want to learn more? If not, polish it up. Less is more and quantitative bullet points beat wordy paragraphs any day. Quantify your achievements. By what percentage have you helped grow a program? How much have you reduced expenses, while increasing the organization’s revenue? Also, consider a personal vision statement. Where could your talent and passion be most useful to others? This vision statement will help you articulate why you are applying to future roles.

Consider your virtual first impressions. Start with LinkedIn. Use a business-like photo, update your contact information, and use the summary space wisely. Use numbers throughout, treat your profile like an abbreviated résumé, update your skills, and include a current job, even if not currently employed. Think about how you are presenting yourself in your virtual interviews. Test technology out on your friends or family.

Michael: So, you haven’t given this any thought.

Ashley: Ha! Perhaps I’ve given it some thought. Practice, practice, practice. Even though you are at home, this is an interview. Prepare and practice what you are going to say, in a concise manner. Look at the prospectus and job responsibilities. Outline your own experiences and think of examples where your background aligns with this position.

A diverse and inclusive environment helps everyone

Michael: Will diversity, equity, and inclusion continue to be a major factor in today’s hiring climate?

Felicia: Organizations are committed more than ever to diversity, equity, and inclusion, to meaningful and authentic stewardship of their constituents, and to creating a healthy, dynamic workplace. Candidates that can communicate that they share these values will be the most successful. 

Ashley: Institutions recognize that fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment helps everyone. Individuals who can articulate the diverse backgrounds and perspectives they might bring to the team, as well as their interest in creating an inclusive and equitable environment often rise to the top of candidate pools.

Jeanette: Candidates with new approaches, innovative ideas, and diverse life experiences are highly sought-after. Reflect on what has made you the person that you are today and consider how you can put what you have learned to use for the benefit of others.

An excellent moment for entrepreneurs

Michael: What about non-traditional candidates?

Felicia: If candidates are able to show a progression of responsibility, demonstrated success in a field that builds the skill set necessary in development work–including quantifiable results–and a connection to the mission on their résumés, in cover letters, and in interviews, they will be successful. Institutions and talent management firms are looking for long tenures–regardless of the sector. Institutions want to know why you want to work for their organizations and how you could be a passionate advocate for their mission.

Ashley: Over the past month, many professionals have moved to new, remote models. If you can articulate how you’ve successfully navigated these changes, or led your team through these changes, you will stand out in a candidate pool–regardless of the role you are in now. This is an excellent moment for entrepreneurs.

Jeanette: Focus on the skills and experience that you possess that are consistent with the work that needs to be done and align them with your commitment and passion. The “why” has never been more important. This is a time when very few individuals know what the future will look like and we are all making our own way.

Michael: Felicia, you mentioned tenures. Can you say a little bit about short tenures?

Felicia: If you have a succession of short tenures, be prepared to address them. You may choose to do so in your cover letter. There are many valid reasons for short tenures–illness, family responsibilities, changes in leadership–and if you are able to successfully explain these, institutions are willing to consider your candidacy. But they do notice them on your résumé, so best to acknowledge them up front. If you have only been in your current role or most recent role for two years or less, explain why you are seeking a new opportunity in your cover letter.

Michael: What is the best way to transition from one sector to another (arts to higher ed or corporate to nonprofit)? Do you expect to see more of this in the near future?

Jeanette: Yes, we do anticipate seeing more transitions from different sectors. For anyone looking to make a transition into philanthropy from a different industry, it is critical that they clearly highlight and feature their translatable experience and skills in their materials. It is also important that they be aware they may need to take a step laterally or back in terms of title in order to acquire new and relevant skills and experience.

Ashley: Identify what skills you bring to the table and apply them to the specific responsibilities of the position or role that you seek. Connect the dots for the hiring manager. Share your personal connections to the institution and its mission.

Felicia: If you have a personal connection to the mission, that will make your candidacy so much stronger. Institutions are willing to consider non-traditional candidates or candidates making a transition, but they want to know that you can supplement your skillset with passion and commitment.

Michael: What if a candidate’s position is secure but they are dissatisfied? Perhaps they were considering a move but now does not feel like the right time.

Ashley: Now is the time to invest in yourself. With the job market becoming more competitive, it is important to continue to develop both your soft and technical skills. Have you done all that you can do in your current role? Think creatively. Hone your virtual skill set. Expand your institutional reach by engaging with colleagues in other areas. Focus on your career, not your job. Can your present position provide you with a platform for learning more or refining your current skill set? While taking a higher paying role might pay off in the short term, consider where that role will lead you. While the future is uncertain for everyone, making impulsive decisions that only focus on your job and not on your career will not serve you well.

Jeanette: I encourage candidates who may not be quite ready to begin their searches to explore what resources their current employer offers for professional development. There can often be hidden gems offered by Human Resources, or funds for professional opportunities that go unused simply because employees are unaware that they exist. A candidate may want to consider talking with their current supervisor and having a frank conversation about their career goals and why they might feel dissatisfied. A supportive manager will welcome such a conversation, and it could bring about a positive change within the framework of their current institution.

Rekindle professional relationships

Michael: If a candidate has not focused on their professional network and they do so now, will they look disingenuous? How should candidates reach out to people that they have lost contact with?

Jeanette: People understand the difference between a professional and a personal network. Former colleagues and supervisors understand that they may hear from you less frequently. Now is a very natural time to rekindle professional relationships. Candidates also shouldn’t hesitate to check in with us or reply to the outreach they received from us in the past. We recognize that responses may be delayed, or people may find themselves in a very different place than they were two months ago.

Ashley: Take the time to reconnect now. Don’t worry about not having connected in the past. Send personalized messages. Be genuine in your outreach. With nearly everyone being home, people might have more time and wish to connect with others. We get dozens of messages every day, letting us know that people are grateful for the contact. Assume that people want to connect.

Felicia: Now is the perfect time to connect with people who you haven’t communicated with in a long time. It’s happening all over the world–people are reconnecting with long-lost friends and are even making new connections. During this time, people are seeking human connection, we are being kinder to each other, and we all want to be in a position to help other people.

Michael: What about candidates that don’t have strong networks for one reason or another? Can a network be built quickly? What makes a strong network?

Felicia: You can start building a network by asking development professionals you know if they know anyone who would be willing to talk for just 15 minutes – you could ask that person about the job market, you could ask them to review your résumé, or you could ask them what their organization needs the most right now. Finding creative ways to connect with people is the goal, even if it doesn’t result in anything right away.

Ashley: People want to help, if they can. LinkedIn is a great place to get started. Join groups that are associated with your professional network. If you’re not sure where to start, look at the profile of a few of your mentors and see what groups they are in. Share your interests with a small group of close colleagues or friends. Let ALG know of your interests. Keep your Philanthropy Career Network profile updated so that you can share not only what you have done, but what you wish to do.

Most desired skills

Michael: What are the most desirable skills to have right now? If one doesn’t have them, can they acquire them? 

Ashley: Candidates need to be focused, attentive to detail, and able to craft “cases” for their own candidacy. Be prepared to answer questions about an institution’s mission in a thoughtful way. Clients are looking for someone to join their team that can inspire top donors and who can add value to the institution.

Jeanette: The ability to solve problems is important, especially during a crisis. Proactivity. Strong communication skills, both written and verbal. An ability to work independently coupled with a commitment to teamwork. Innovation. An ability to inspire.

Felicia: During conversations, organizations and hiring managers are looking for enthusiasm, perseverance, a good listener, and the ability to work with all different types of people. I agree with Ashley and Jeanette–hiring managers want to be inspired. An unexpected response or an element of surprise can really impress a client. Also, something that is highly valuable is a diverse perspective and bringing a diversity of ideas to the table. What better way to enter a new world than with new ideas?


Thank you, Ashley, Felicia, and Jeanette. We want candidates to know that we are there for them, and also remind them that we have a wealth of materials on our website and the Philanthropy Career Network that can help them craft effective résumés and cover letters that will resonate with institutions, as well as fine-tune their interviewing skills. We have also developed a comprehensive suite of COVID-19 resources including briefings on fundraising; strategies for remote work, hiring, and interviewing; and leadership through crisis.

Please reach out to us–we would love to hear from you–and be well.

Michael Vann, Ashley Buderus, Felicia Garcia-Hartstein, and Jeanette Rivera-Watts

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