Skip to content

Become a career (services) philanthropist

EACE Blog contribution by Teresa Olsen, Director of Operations and Strategic Planning at Colgate University Center for Career Services

Many career services professionals I encounter naturally demonstrate an overwhelmingly altruistic approach to their leadership. They are in continuous giving mode. I understand why. Many of us have gravitated to career services because it’s a helping profession. We are personally invested in our constituents. And we are conditioned to see the value in paying it forward, even if the ROI is years out. You may ask what’s wrong with altruism and putting others’ needs ahead of your own? At times, absolutely nothing. But the challenge arises that by design, you may be missing out on ways to strategically advance the priorities under which you are being evaluated.

I’d like to offer a reframing of leadership that captures the best parts of altruism and combines it with the realistic metric-driven nature of our profession: strategic philanthropy. What does philanthropy have to do with running an effective career center, you might ask? A great deal, as it turns out.

Let’s review. What do philanthropists do? They thoroughly research to ensure their interest aligns with the organization’s mission, leadership, and trajectory. Then they share their time, talent, and/or treasure under the conviction that their support advances an organization’s mission. Philanthropists are partners: through their involvement, they expect progress, outcomes, and accountability. But make no mistake; the relationship with the organization must also advance the philanthropist’s goals. Ultimately, a good philanthropic relationship is built not only on shared values, but also a symbiotic strategy that becomes a win for both sides.

To get started, outline your office’s objectives. At the end of your year, on what will you be measured? Next, go back to the areas in which you and your team excel, and where you fall short. Many directors will find themselves getting stuck here. But here’s where the concept of philanthropic strategy can make a big difference. Begin by answering the following three questions: First, which partners will benefit most directly from your department meeting your goals? These are your potential allies. Next, on what objectives are your allies measured? What are their goals and where do they struggle? You need to understand them well enough to speak their language and see their perspective from the inside out. Lastly, what time, talent, or treasure could your team contribute that will not overcommit you? Or even better, it may just be a small adjustment to what you already do or know that becomes a game changer for someone else.

In answering those questions, you will be able to derive the proverbial sweet spot – the middle of the Venn diagram. Let me give you a few examples: Communications is always looking to tell students’ success stories (the ones you are already hearing), and you can use the visibility for your user and donor bases. Admissions and faculty appreciates being able to relay how any student’s major is translatable into an outcome, and you could use a hand helping your students follow their passions, and not the herd. Athletics is hoping to recruit the best talent for their teams by helping families see what someone can do with your institution’s education after sports wraps up, and you could use the buy-in from coaches to push their athletes to use your services. Got it?

So go out there and start courting your partners. Remember, good philanthropy is built on each side giving and benefitting. So take time to be clear of your inputs and desired outputs, and talk it through with your partner how this relationship could potentially advance to land on both sets of objectives.

Lastly, remember that relationships, and the trust that they thrive upon, is built and built up over time. Start small and keep your momentum building. You will quickly find that not only will your goals and objectives become far more within reach, but that you may very well become the keystone to making someone else’s operation thrive.

Olsen-TeresaTeresa Olsen draws from over thirteen years of experience in career services at Colby College, Dartmouth College, and Indiana University prior to joining Colgate’s senior leadership team. In addition to her position at Colgate, she serves as the executive chair of the Liberal Arts Career NetWORK, a consortium of 37 selective liberal arts colleges, and is an independent external reviewer of career centers. She was recently awarded the 2014 NACE Excellence Award for Colgate’s SophoMORE Connections initiative. Teresa holds a BA from Colby College and an MS in higher education administration from Indiana University.  Her research interests include liberal arts students’ career launch, career development for student-athletes and underrepresented populations, and the assessment of career centers’ effectiveness. 


%d bloggers like this: