As with other career fields, corporate philanthropy professionals must possess certain skill sets to be successful. But while other vocations might require someone with specialized training in a single subject—for example, a master’s in business finance for a position in the banking industry, or a communications degree for a career in marketing—experts say corporate giving officers need a much more expansive and rounded knowledge base to be effective.
According to Maryann Fiala, communications and marketing director at the Association of Corporate Contributions Professionals, the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities for any given position in the sector will vary due to a number of factors.
“Because the position is truly integrated across the business and those working in the profession must be able to understand and work with all departments across a company, it truly is a matter of what that person will be doing within the program,” she told Corporate Philanthropy Report.
That being said, those who have risen to leadership positions within the field tend to share certain traits.
“First, they understand their company’s mission,” Fiala said.
“Second, they are passionate about finding ways to improve a societal ill in a manner that complements their company’s mission. Last, they can articulate to internal and external stakeholders the business case for the company’s involvement in a specific cause.”
A business background is a natural starting point for laying a solid foundation, Fiala said.
“A broad-based understanding of business and finance is critical to allow them to make good decisions about how to allocate their company’s resources,” she said. “They also need to be able to identify projects or causes to fund that fit within their company’s mission, goals and objectives. Being able to make a business case for what you are doing/recommending is essential.”
Further, she said, being able to “think analytically and critically through issues; manage people, processes, budgets and projects; and do projections are all integral to the profession.”
On top of that, experience in human resources is highly valuable, especially since corporate giving programs are increasingly incorporating employee giving and volunteerism.
“Understanding how to motivate employees and how to match employee skills with opportunities can lead to very successful outcomes for both the cause you are supporting and for the company you represent,” Fiala explained. “Studies abound that link engaged employees to higher employee performance, higher employee satisfaction and higher employee retention. Given the cost to recruit and train new employees, employers are looking for ways to provide employees with meaningful engagements, and skills-based volunteering is quickly becoming a hot commodity. People with HR skills are well positioned for this task.”
Communications and marketing experience are also critical and come into play in many ways, Fiala said.
“Being able to articulate your program successes, relate the cause to the business goals in a meaningful and impactful way and communicate with your c-suite executives are skills that are required for success,” she said.
Just as important is the ability to communicate a company’s community investments and subsequent accomplishments—the impact the firm is having, she said.
“Being able to tell a story that can relate across internal and external stakeholders is instrumental,” Fiala said.
Knowing how all of the pieces fit together—the donations, the volunteerism, the nonprofit partners and the social issues at the center of it all—is also increasingly important, Fiala said.
“In the last several years, the ability of a corporation to understand the impact of corporate donations—cash, product and in-kind—has become a priority. Companies want to understand how donations are solving challenges, want to understand the business impacts of contributions and also want to be able to assess how to maximize impact,” she added.
In the end, she said, people need to excel at working with other people, need to be able to communicate effectively and must have a passion for helping others to do well in this field.
For more information, visit the ACCP website at www.accprof.org.