Oh, how time flies. It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since we launched The Great Rethink series. Originally, the series was sparked by our belief that – coming out of the pandemic and historic national protests around issues of social justice – talk of the great resignation failed to capture what was really happening in the job market. People weren’t quitting their jobs just to quit, or go after the next higher title or salary tier.
We believed that, particularly in the advancement profession, job market instability was driven by candidates and hiring organizations deliberately stepping back in new and unprecedented ways to take time for thoughtful reflection on their personal and professional core values.
After a year of writing, talking, and reflecting, and after hosting many events and discussions with advancement colleagues, our belief was confirmed many times over. The profession has entered a new era in which many of our most basic expectations are being reassessed, from how and where we work, to how we all benefit from including diverse perspectives and experiences in our work, to how we value people not just for their professional skills, but also for their personal contributions to an organization’s culture, mission, and impact.
Exploring these topics with thousands of readers has been immensely gratifying, and we are especially grateful to more than 30 professional colleagues who participated in this series as content contributors, including those who so generously and openly shared personal experiences with readers in our Q&A panel discussions.
There is no substitute for peers in advancement hearing from each other, about their successes and struggles, to help bring these issues down to earth—that is, how they apply in our daily personal and professional lives. This honest sharing continued among the hundreds of professionals who attended our The Great Rethink dinners around the country, who found a safe and caring place for productive discussions that now have the potential to spark real change.
As we bring The Great Rethink series to a close, my colleagues and I would offer the following observations about what lessons ALG, in partnership with so many of you, unearthed during this year of exploration:
First, we were impressed by the sheer volume of new ideas surfaced in our dialogue with advancement professionals, at all levels. It should give us all hope that the field of advancement can not only weather our current challenges, but thrive and become better as a result of hard work, innovative thinking, and a willingness to embrace new approaches. We are hearing from people throughout the profession – and not just senior leaders – that they are willing to try new things, and to experiment, and even fail, in an effort to create more cohesive and effective fundraising teams. As long as we stay open to new ideas, I believe that advancement will only benefit and become stronger for it.
Second, we must embrace everyone’s stage of the journey, without judgment. Each philanthropic organization and each individual professional is on a different path, each potentially at a different stage of evolution with regard to workplace models, equity and inclusivity practices, and approaches to recognizing value. One person or organization may have successfully resolved difficult workplace issues, but may be struggling with inclusion. Another may have made tremendous progress on inclusion and is now trying to tackle issues around equity and how to value each team member’s contributions. As we continue along this evolutionary journey as a profession, it’s important that we recognize the uniqueness of that journey for each of us, and offer each other whatever help we can, based on lessons we have learned in our own lives.
Third, we have seen first-hand the importance of sharing: the joy, gratitude, inspiration, and sometimes sheer relief in hearing the stories of others, often because it feels like a revelation to know that we are not alone. Especially at The Great Rethink dinners, there was a palpable sense of relief that, finally, participants had a place where they could be fully authentic and honest about their challenges and struggles. If there is one key lesson to take away from these experiences – and a practice we would heartily encourage – it’s that advancement professionals need and deserve more venues for personal sharing and uninhibited discussion. It was an honor to facilitate such events, and we’re committed to do our part to ensure that we all continue to have these opportunities in the future.
Finally, I want to say a word about discussion versus action. Even as we kept up the momentum behind this wide-ranging, year-long project, all of us at ALG still had to keep up with our day jobs as search professionals: and what we can report is that the profession is committed to action on each of the key items covered in The Great Rethink. We continue to be impressed that many in the profession are not only willing to discuss and explore these important topics but are acting on these issues as well. In search after search, we work with candidates and hiring organizations that are willing address these issues head on, breaking down barriers, finding new paths toward alignment on core values, and doing it with respect and dignity. Discussion and reflection are important, but they mean very little without action, and we are inspired by the efforts being put forth to create demonstrable, tangible change.
Again, this has been an amazing experience, and it would not have been possible without all of you—those of you who contributed, those of you who took time to read and reach out for continued dialogue, and those of you who took some of these ideas to your teams for further discussion and action. We offer you our most sincere thanks as we close this series and begin planning for a new thought leadership program expected to launch later in the year. In the meantime, we will be leaving all The Great Rethink articles up and accessible through our website, so anyone can read, bookmark, or share.
All of us at Aspen Leadership Group send best wishes to you and your families for a happy and healthy summer. Thanks again for going on this journey with us. See you in the fall!
Are you a new subscriber to The Great Rethink? Welcome, and read our inaugural article here.
Ron Schiller, Founding Partner and Senior Consultant, Aspen Leadership Group