Mauria Brough


About Mauria

If you are a manager, anywhere in any profession, you know that finding people to hire is becoming more and more challenging. Throw in the nuances of development work and the “keep everybody happy” tightrope advancement professionals traverse daily, along with a dash of post-pandemic malaise and a sprinkle of our divided and divisive society in the mix, and you have the perfect recipe for workplace woes. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five strategies you can implement right now to nix the negativity in your shop.

First, let’s get a better understanding of the demographics of our workplace. You aren’t imagining that hiring is getting more difficult—it is more difficult. That’s because the number of workers available is shrinking in number while job opportunities are growing. Our newest hires are younger and more diverse, with 51% between the ages of 25–44. Boomers are retiring en masse, and those younger employees are having to step into managerial positions earlier than their Boomer and Gen X counterparts, causing a lot of stress and anxiety. This particular cohort of the workforce has higher expectations for psychological safety at work, expecting to participate in all aspects of your shop wholly without fearing repercussions. They don’t mind blurring the line between work and their personal life, and you can expect them to bring their whole selves to work, wonder and warts included.

Contrast the typical make-up of today’s workplace with that of today’s board. Even though they are slowly diversifying, boards are nearly 84% white and 65% male, with nearly two-thirds between the ages of 50–69. They have higher expectations for being able to influence or control what’s happening in the organizations they serve, and they appreciate a firm separation in their work-life balance. Because of that, it’s not surprising that they will participate remotely but prefer meeting face-to-face.

Polarizing world events can further divide organizations. Rather than engaging in open communication with people who hold different points of view, people generally prefer to stay firmly entrenched in their opinions. They seek out news sources that support, rather than challenge their thoughts, and quickly condemn those who see the world differently. Of course, AI and social media make this easier than ever before.

Given this complicated state of affairs, you might be tempted to throw up your hands in despair of ever being able to create a positive workplace culture. Despair not. Together with Alisa Robertson, President and Chief Advancement Officer of the Wisconsin Foundation & Alumni Association, and Matt White, the Vice President of Advancement and President of the Utah State University Foundation, we came up with five key strategies to create and maintain a positive professional workplace culture.

1. Establish clear values, code of conduct, policies, and procedures.

You’re going to need a foundation on which to build. Your workplace values, including clear directives about conduct and procedures, will make that foundation strong. Infuse these values into the life of your shop. Share them with applicants during the interview process and with those contemplating serving on your board, so there are no surprises later when the “fit” is not right. Make them visible—post them in public spaces, provide employees with a copy they can display in their workspaces, put them on every meeting agenda, and integrate them into your performance management process.

While selecting and living out the core values of your organization is serious business, you can make them fun, which helps further embed them into your office culture. Here at Advancement Resources, we take a moment at the end of our weekly company meetings to “drive” the Love Bus—a toy replica of a VW bus that our CEO picked up in an airport gift shop—to the desk of a team member who clearly demonstrated our core values during the previous week.

As you are crafting and refining your values and policies, be mindful that they align with federal and state legislation.

2. Provide training and support for foundation employees.

Onboarding is only the beginning. Training should continue throughout the employee’s life cycle and include a variety of methods—from formal workshops and courses to mentoring and informal networking opportunities. Build confidence for all members of your team by giving them the space and opportunity to practice through scenarios and examples of appropriate language to use.

Because of Title IV and other governmental mandates, many organizations spend a lot of time addressing what is and isn’t appropriate internally. Advancement work is unique in that it requires team members to build professional relationships often in settings outside an office with people who aren’t employees. Be sure your team members know that their safety is your organization’s top priority in all work-related environments. Support practices that reduce risk, such as team visits and meetings in public places during regular work hours, and provide clear direction in addressing situations that challenge their safety.

3. Equip supervisors with tools for success.

Remember, our team members are often stepping into management and leadership roles earlier than ever. When one of their direct reports encounters a problem, the manager is going to be the first to hear about it. In addition to making your supervisors aware of their mandatory reporting responsibilities and procedures for harassment, prepare them to be the first line of response when challenging situations arise that don’t cross legal boundaries. Put empathy and deep listening at the center of that training, and build their confidence through scenarios, role-playing, and examples of appropriate language.

4. Extend assistance to trustees, board members, and volunteers.

Bridge the generational gap by making sure that all your volunteers know their role in upholding organizational values and modeling positive professionalism. Offer training that helps define what their relationships should look like with foundation employees, their fellow volunteers, and other constituents. When volunteers work in a public-facing role, they may have to answer difficult questions, deal with constituents who don’t share their personal beliefs, or even manage inappropriate behavior. They, too, will benefit from practice using examples of appropriate language in different scenarios—and they’re often surprised to learn about some of the real situations that advancement professionals encounter in their work.

5. Follow through on situations that arise.

This is the tough part. You have to walk the talk. You’ve spent a lot of time crafting core values, policies, and procedures. Use them to navigate challenging situations and rely on them to make the hard decisions. You may need a team member or a board member to enroll in disciplinary training or to change the nature of their relationship with the organization for the greater good. As difficult as this might be, failing to do so can chip away at morale and foster the negativity you’ve worked so diligently to eliminate.

Of course, having clear values and a code of conduct will not solve every problem you might encounter in your workplace, but they will provide a roadmap for how to react in a positive, professional manner. They will be the firm foundation on which you can do the important work of advancing your organization in a complicated world.