To bring to life the concepts and ideas discussed in The Great Rethink series, we bring together experts in the field, who can offer first-hand experience and important insights on these topics. This Q&A focuses on how changing “Workplace” policies are impacting the job search process. It features two leaders with decades of experience, who are both recent placements and hiring managers:
Jennifer Dunn recently joined Mothers Against Drunk Driving as the Chief Development Officer. Prior to this role, she served as Executive Director, Individual Giving at NPR and before that, spent more than twenty years at the VH1 Save The Music Foundation. A founding member of the Foundation, Jennifer was honored with a BizBash Event Innovator Award, as well as with an Emmy Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, a George Foster Peabody Award, and two Beacon Awards.
Elizabeth “Liz” Balcom is a Senior Director of Development at University of California San Diego’s Rady School of Management. Previously she spent seven years at Bryn Mawr College, rising from Development Officer to Director of Major Gifts. Before joining Bryn Mawr, Liz spend nearly five years at University of Pennsylvania in a variety of fundraising roles.
This roundtable discussion was moderated by Anne Johnson, Vice President and Senior Consultant at Aspen Leadership Group.
AJ: So you’re both recent placements, and certainly as candidates you’ve both just recently been through this process of thinking through what’s important to you, including workplace flexibility. It’s a big topic in the world right now, and certainly in the recruiting world. You’re also both now in senior roles where you’re hiring staff.
So, when you think about the past two years of experience with remote and hybrid work, how big an impact has it had on the enterprise of philanthropy? How big an impact on your own searches, and now on the recruiting process?
LB: When it came to my own search, remote or hybrid options weren’t the deciding factor for me, because I had gotten used to being back in an office five days a week. In my previous position, we had returned full-time to the office earlier than many, which caused mixed feelings for many across that team who felt a loss of flexibility.
But more than workplace flexibility, I was really looking for, and hungry for, a deeper sense of balance in my life around the things that I felt really were really important. My marriage. My personal life. The way that I wanted to balance my time, and the experiences I was seeking outside of work, while also doing the job really well. And I think if any of us learned anything, it is that you can continue to do this work successfully in a remote landscape.
So I certainly was hungry for that flexibility, and that was my experience hiring others in the COVID landscape as well. In my last position, the expectation of being on campus five days a week in the traditional model did create pause for some candidates.
JD: I was remote prior to the pandemic. My team was spread around the country and I would take the train back and forth to DC every other week to meet with a handful of my teammates and colleagues. Prior to everyone going remote, there was a bit of an equity issue in that some people were able to have that work/life balance at home, while others were sitting in the office. We’d have meetings and there’d be one person in a conference room and everyone else would be virtual. That caused somewhat of a divide.
So I think that the ability to work remotely has leveled the playing field especially in philanthropy. And because the profession is so metrics-based, you’re able to see through the numbers how people are succeeding at their jobs even though they’re not in an office. So while I think we need to be present for in-person when necessary, like closing a big gift, we can absolutely do our work remotely. The pandemic showed that it works well.
LB: Can I add something to that? I thought one of my most important lessons managing a major gift team at that point was figuring out how to be nimble and flexible around metrics. Working remotely forced us to think, ‘Okay, it’s not just traditional in-person visits – how do we measure activity across the board differently?’
So on my team, we shifted to measuring total outreach, which was not something we had done previously. And we focused more on how fundraisers are advancing the overall gift conversation, rather than measuring individual emails, calls, and meetings. It was a good moment to be flexible in our approach to metrics.
…candidates are looking for that deep sense of connection to the mission or alignment with the values of the organization. This alignment could be found in the goal it is working towards, as well as in the way the organization values its people. – Liz Balcom
AJ: That’s a really good point, and it’s great that you were able to be flexible and not just stick to a predetermined script. As a manager, you had to shift as your direct reports were shifting as well. That makes a lot of sense.
How do you think that things have changed for you as you think about the job search and recruiting process? Do you feel like we’re still emerging into a new world and trying to define that, or do you feel like you’ve got a pretty good sense of that?
JD: It’s interesting for me, as I’m only a month into this job. However, through my colleagues I’ve seen the downsizing of offices and employers are offering dynamic work environments, where some people are coming in two days a week, or three days a week, or working fully remote. And regarding the job search, I’m about to hire for two positions and they will both be remote. I’m trying to create a virtual team, which will cast the widest net as I search for the strongest candidates for each job.
AJ: That’s great. You’re just going out full force with the remote workplace?
JD: Going full force with a remote team. And looking for creative candidates who are innovative and nimble to join me in building a Development shop for an amazing heritage organization from the top down.
AJ: Good for you.
LB: I also think there’s a logistical piece to recognize, in that I don’t think we’ll ever go back to in-person first round interviews. It’s just very convenient and easy to do initial screening via Zoom.
Now, that doesn’t mean in-person interviews are over with. In my own search there was definitely a benefit, potentially even the deciding factor, to meet my current team in person and really get a sense for the school in person. I had been a candidate in another search, but being able to visit and interview for a full day in person helped me understand it was not as good a fit as I had thought. But I wasn’t able to assess that full fit until I spend time on campus.
So I do think, for candidates and employers, there will have to be a balance between how much can we accomplish with the efficiency of being online while also needing a deeper sense of the fit that might only be achieved in-person.
AJ: So going from here – as recent candidates and now as executives who are doing the hiring – what do you think are the key challenges in attracting talent? Are they the same challenges that you think we had two years ago before the pandemic or if not, you know, how are they different?
JD: I feel like the biggest challenge is competitive salary, and then how you package that with a mission-driven position and the opportunity to work remotely. But I think overall that the key factor is salary. While most people want to do something that they love, they also want to be rewarded based on their experience and their proven ability to contribute.
LB: I think the values piece, or the mission orientation that Jennifer mentioned, really sticks out for me. People are hungry for a different level of flexibility in terms of either being able to be fully remote or hybrid. And that will continue to be essential in the hiring conversation, potentially being a deciding factor for many candidates. I’m getting ready to launch a search myself, too, and I’m curious to see how this aspect of the conversation goes.
But I also think candidates are looking for that deep sense of connection to the mission or alignment with the values of the organization. This alignment could be found in the goal it is working towards, as well as in the way the organization values its people. Is there room for me to prioritize family? Is there room for me to prioritize other things in my life that I’m passionate about? How much is that taken seriously as a part of the search process? Do my personal values connect? These pieces are going to be a huge deciding factor because for so many of us, the pandemic gave clarity around what was most important in our lives.
AJ: So you think that shift happened as a result of the pandemic?
LB: Yes. That was certainly my own personal experience and growth coming through this process and coming through the pandemic, but I’ve seen and heard that from others as well.
JD: Anecdotally, I’ll add that there’s an open executive director position I’ve been called about many times over the past two years, by at least four different recruiters. The last time I was contacted I asked, ‘Why is this job still open?’ And she said, ‘Because they want you in the office five days a week.’ I guess it’s just really not attractive for people to go in. I don’t want to go into an office for five days a week.
AJ: And is that new, Jennifer, since the pandemic? And did the possibility of hybrid/remote work factor into decisions about the future of your own career? Was this on your mind as you considered different opportunities?
JD: My situation is a bit unique. As I mentioned, I was already working remotely before the pandemic living in NYC and traveling to DC every other week. While I don’t mind traveling I have really grown accustomed to working from home and have seen it done successfully. I’m also someone who moved during the pandemic, moving from Manhattan to Upstate New York. So that definitely narrows my potential opportunities and where I could actually commute to every day.
I do believe that these days, employers are being very thoughtful about dynamic work arrangements. My last employer and current employer are both concerned about what people have on their plate and what’s going on in their personal lives. They’re asking, ‘What would make a good environment for all employees so they can give back to the mission?’
AJ: And would you ever go back to a full-time office-based role?
JD: I have been working remotely for four years. So while I hate to say I’d never go back, it’s unlikely. For the perfect job, maybe. But I definitely think that these past couple years have shown that we can get this work done.
I’ve gotten into such a terrific routine. I send my kids off to school and then I sit down and I work. I am incredibly productive in a remote setting, but I can also throw in a load of laundry in between Zoom meetings if I need to, and get a little bit of my life back. And I’m not commuting anywhere. So I’m not spending hours on the train.
AJ: And for you, Liz?
LB: For me, the hybrid piece was one part of a bigger puzzle. My wife and I had been living in a small, dark, one-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia. I think my wife knows more about prospect management now than she ever expected! And the pandemic period helped us realize that we were ready to move on from Philadelphia. It was a place we both lived for a long time, and so there was a geographic factor for us in wanting to explore someplace new together.
But then you layer onto that relocation the idea that if you’re going to move somewhere new, you want some flexibility to be together in that new space in a different way – where we can enjoy being outdoors. Hybrid flexibility allows me to enjoy the beauty of this new place that we’ve landed and value that time a little bit differently.
…flexibility is great. But so is working for a company that invests in their employees and offers opportunity for growth. Ultimately, you’ll want to be part of an organization that you care about, one that values you and what you bring to the job. – Jennifer Dunn
AJ: Liz your new role at UCSD is hybrid permanently right? Just two days?
LB: Just two days, but we will ramp up to three days a week in the Fall. And I sit in an interesting position because, as I mentioned before, I was previously in an organization that was bolder in bringing people back full-time in the office. So it’s hard for me to say, ‘No, I would never go back.’ Because I already had do it faster than I think I anticipated.
And I will say that being back in person five days a week did fill my heart in a different way. I was happy to be with my colleagues again, even amidst all the grumbling and frustration that many people felt. For example, it was challenging for a lot of people who were still managing kids at home with remote school and then they were expected to be back in the office. But even with all of those challenges, I was happy to be with my team.
And in fact, since coming to UCSD, while I’m only required to be there two days a week, I’m going in three days a week. My team is in on different days and I want to be there-especially as a new manager- to get to know as many people in-person as possible. While I have opted to be there a little bit extra, I wouldn’t want to give up those two days of remote work. I feel really comfortable and happy to be in the hybrid zone, and it has certainly made a major cross-country move a little bit easier!
AJ: Given all that we’ve discussed so far, what guidance or advice would you offer someone who’s just starting a job search, about how to balance workplace issues and factor those into the search process?
JD: Well, I wasn’t actually looking for a job. I was happy at NPR but when I was approached about MADD I became intrigued because I love what the organization does and the possibilities to grow such a well-known organization made me excited. My advice to someone starting out – do something that you’re passionate about. Through my search I realized that what’s most important to me is that I connect to the work and have the ability to innovate and to be creative.
I’d suggest that candidates ask themselves what interests and excites them. What are you passionate about? Are you excited to get up every day and do this job? Especially if you’re home. Because if you’re not, you’re going to sit in those pajamas and maybe not get the work done that’s needed.
AJ: And you think a remote/hybrid workplace gives you more of that opportunity?
JD: It sweetens the deal, for me.
AJ: And for you, Liz?
LB: What Jennifer was saying about that passion speaks to me as well. The idea of a ‘great rethink’ speaks to me deeply. Coming through the pandemic, I was processing the world around me in new and increasingly complex ways. It became a process of getting deeply aligned with my values. And to me that was a really wonderful exercise to go through, to get very clear on. Above all else, I asked myself what was driving me to show up both as an individual person and as a colleague every day.
I had been at my prior institution seven years. I was happy. I had grown. They had invested in me, and I was deeply grateful. I knew if I left it had to be for the right thing. It wasn’t just for any old move, just to go somewhere new. So I got very clear on wanting to find the next institution that was deeply aligned with my personal values, and the kind of work that I want to do in the world. And again, those values did include wanting a different kind of flexibility, seeking adventure in my life in a new way. So for me, it was all (like my advice to people would be) about getting really clear on your values and what drives you as a person. Staying rooted in those things is going to help you find the best fit.
AJ: That’s great. From this whole conversation I’m hearing the message that workplace flexibility is an essential part of evaluating any position, but the more important words are mission, passion, and values. Any closing thoughts about that for job candidates out there?
LB: The only other piece of advice I can offer comes from a previous manager, our chief development officer at Bryn Mawr. And that is, ‘How do we move from a major-gift mindset and into a principal-gift mindset, where you are aiming to close every gift and every dollar you possibly can, but in the most patient and thoughtful way?’
For me, that’s not about where you work. It’s about how you work. It’s about getting crystal clear on your priorities. That’s where we get to let go of sending 50,000 e-mails just to satisfy some generic metric about required touches. You have to be creative and self-directed about where to focus your energy, and set clear priorities around your top people what is really needed to drive those relationships forward. That’s where the deepest impact happens, and that’s what the job is about: meaningful impact. To me, that’s the most exciting and motivating part of our work.
JD: Just building on what Liz said earlier, for those candidates looking for new opportunities, flexibility is great. But so is working for a company that invests in their employees and offers opportunity for growth. Ultimately, you’ll want to be part of an organization that you care about, one that values you and what you bring to the job.
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Curious to learn more? Read the next article in our series here.
Coming August 3… a wrap-up of the Workplace module with practical action items and behavior changes aimed at helping job seekers and employers make the most of today’s Great Rethink of the Workplace.
Coming August 17… a leader Q&A focused on the performing arts, starting with orchestras and other performing arts organizations. We’ll talk with philanthropy leaders about whether changes in the nature of “Workplace” have brought particular challenges and/or benefits to these kinds of organizations.
Coming September 7… We open a new module in the Great Rethink series with an exploration of the concept of Inclusion. In particular we’ll be digging into ideas like “equal versus equitable,” “cultural fit,” and “diversity versus inclusion.” This module will run from September through December and offer a wealth of content for both employers and job seekers.
Coming September 21… a leader Q&A on inclusion, exploring how nonprofit organizations may be rethinking recruitment and retention practices, to ensure that they are making progress on on inclusion — for the health of their organizations, the good of their people, and the future of philanthropy.
Coming this Winter… a new Great Rethink module on “Value.”