Preparing for Opportunities through Patouillet Consulting’s Career Management Services for Higher Education Professionals

By Susan Stewart, Senior Communications Consultant, Patouillet Consulting, LLC (PCLLC)

As we approach the midpoint of the first quarter of 2016, some of us are struggling to keep New Year’s resolutions—so often related to exercise, healthy eating and other crucial pillars of health and well-being. However, among the many things competing for our attention and focus are the economic realities of a volatile stock market, world turmoil, and a changing job market across all arenas, including higher education.

As anyone looking for a job or a job change in higher education might sense, the number of positions in this field has declined in recent years. In addition, it is widely cited that individuals today make an average of twelve job changes in the course of their working years; even more if they change career focus one or more times. Professionals in higher education are increasingly in a job search mode whether voluntarily or not. Many are not ready for the rigorous process.

Dennis Barden_D_250x300Dennis Barden, senior partner for the higher-education division at the executive-search firm Witt/Keiffer and Patouillet Consulting Advisory Board member stated, “We definitely see a need for resources to assist higher-education candidates in navigating the employment process. Individuals often ask us for help with interviewing skills and resume review. As a search firm working for hiring institutions, we are not equipped to assist individuals. Affordable outside career resources tailored to the particular industry with a menu of services, from which the individual can choose, however, can be very useful in helping candidates prepare to navigate the process more successfully and more thoroughly than they are generally able to do on their own.”

After conferring with PCLLC advisory board members, other colleagues involved in executive search, talent management and human resources, Patouillet Consulting is responding to the higher education job market by expanding the firm’s Confidential Executive Coaching and Career Management Services. Working with experts in human resources from both the private sector and from within higher education, we are pleased to introduce the following services offered in various packages to meet individual needs and budgets.

  • Executive Coaching
  • Career Counseling
  • Professional Resume and Document Review
  • Implications and Interpretations of Workplace Personality Test Results
  • Interview Preparation and Practice

Mary Persky - Executive Coaching and Career Management ServicesPCLLC’s Executive Coaching and Career Management Services practice is led by Mary E. Persky, a seasoned Human Resources practitioner and a certified Senior Professional in HR (SPHR) and Global Professional in HR (GPHR) with more than 30 years of experience. Ms. Persky has worked in both higher education and the private sector. From her perspective she states that higher education, in recent years, is facing hiring and career issues that are similar to what corporate America has dealt with for a longer time. Both higher education and the private sector currently experience sometimes drastic budget cuts, the need to update approaches to competition, the process of staying current or ahead of the technology curve and dealing with the changes and opportunities that social media brings to the workplace.

Charting a Bold New Course for the Georgia State University (GSU) Alumni Association: A Case Study in Strategic Planning

Most alumni organizations today recognize that in order to meet their long-term goals and objectives in an effective and efficient way, they must have a plan to follow—a map to lead them to their desired destination. Whether an association is considering development of their first strategic plan like GSU was, or is a veteran of several completed plans, the process can be a daunting one.

Brad Ferrer
2009-2012 President, GSU Alumni Association
Brad is immediate past president of the GSU Alumni Association, and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration at Cable News Network. Mr. Ferrer led the association during the development of the GSU Alumni Association strategic plan.

Christina Million
Exectuive Director, GSU Alumni Association
Christina serves as the Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations and Executive Director of the GSU Alumni Association.

Note: Mr. Ferrer, Ms. Million, and Dr. Lee Patouillet  of Patouillet Consulting LLC are presenting a session on the GSU Alumni Association Strategic Planning Process: Challenges and Opportunities at the CASE III Conference—Atlanta, GA in February, 2013.

Patouillet Consulting LLC assisted Georgia State University in developing its newly implemented strategic plan. Christina Million (CM) and Brad Ferrer (BF) answer questions about the plan and the process.

1.    Why did you do a strategic plan for the Georgia State University Alumni Association?

BF: We wanted to tie our planning efforts to the GSU Strategic Plan; so once the school’s plan was ratified by the University Senate during early 2011, we began our planning efforts so we could align our mission, values and vision with the university’s strategic plan.

CM: Since the GSU Alumni Association had never completed a strategic plan, it was perfect timing to develop one to provide direction for the entire organization and to support the university’s goals.

2.    What role did your consultant play in assisting you in developing the plan?

CM: PCLLC was integral to the process. Lee helped direct us and kept us focused on the common goal. It is easy to get lost in details and forget the big picture, and he was able to keep everything on track. He provided great examples and materials to spark conversation and discussion. Also, his expertise was invaluable, and he provided great insight in the most effective way to present ourselves and the completed plan. Lee made my job so much easier, and I am thankful for all his guidance from start to finish.

BF: Our consultant was a key facilitator who had a broad range of very relevant experience. His experience was invaluable as options were considered and context for decision-making was needed.

 3.    What kind of process did you use to develop your plan?

CM: We wanted a lot of input from the association’s key stakeholders, so they would be invested in the plan. We started with a retreat for the full board, and then worked with a strategic planning committee within the board. The University President and the VP for Development and Alumni Affairs provided input to make sure it would correlate well with the university. The timing was great, and it lent plenty of opportunity for input.

BF: It was important to build in sufficient time to allow for data-gathering, debate and discussion, and follow-up research in order to have a more fully supported final proposal.

4. How did you involve the staff and board in this process?

BF: We depended upon the staff to complete much of the detailed work, including discussion preparation, research, and initial proposals—all of which facilitated board discussion. The board was engaged throughout the process to provide guidance to the staff, consider the initial staff proposals, recommend their own proposals, and ultimately approve the work product from each phase.

5. How did your plan relate to the university’s goals and objectives?

CM:  It relates closely to the university’s goals and objectives, which was the point of the entire process. The university is the reason we exist, so we should all be working for common goals and objectives. Our plan represents that well, and we can definitely benchmark plan to plan to see how we are succeeding.

6. How did you involve the alumni population in general in this process?

CM: As part of the strategic planning process, we conducted the first comprehensive alumni survey in the history of the university. We did separate surveys to university alumni and to faculty/staff alumni. We had 4556 responses, which was over 12% for the two groups. We were very pleased with the phenomenal response rate. We got great information that can be used for programming and events, and it has already been incorporated in a number of things we are doing. By listening to our alumni, we can determine what we really need to be striving to do in order to be good stewards of our alumni base.

7. What were some of your key findings from your alumni survey?

BF: We received very helpful guidance on alumni priorities, which were segregated by key demographics, and also on alumni attitudes towards GSU, which should prove helpful in the development effort.

CM: Specific findings included:

  • Equity of degree is a core driver for alumni.
  • Career services are important to our alumni.
  • Targeted communications focusing on successful outcomes are needed.
  • We must continue to focus on improved public opinion of GSU and the association as source of information about GSU.
  • We should build campus coalitions around alumni by sharing and discussing data.

8.   What were some of the benefits of developing this plan?

BF: This plan gives the GSU Alumni Association specific focus when establishing goals, it aligns the association’s plan with the larger university plan which is essential to success, and it helped unify the board in reaching consensus regarding plan specifics.

9.   What were some of the challenges in creating your plan and how did you address them?

CM: It is difficult to gain consensus on the importance of an organization from a large number of people. There were many different points of view regarding why the association exists and how it should operate in serving the alumni of GSU. The first few meetings were necessary to craft the message, and then the rest of the plan could follow. Once there was consensus on the actual message of the organization, it was easier to understand what to highlight in the plan.

10. What advice would you have for others contemplating the development of a strategic plan for their alumni association?                                            

BF: It is essential to tie this planning process to the university’s planning process, to fully engage the board in the development of the plan, and to also involve the alumni population in the plan.

CM: When people have been heard in the process, they are much more likely to believe in the plan, take ownership of it, and live by it. The strategic planning process was also of great benefit to the alumni staff because they worked toward essential organizational goals, and now they will be able to see the results and track our progress.

ROI is King

It’s all about integration.

My colleagues and I support a lot of searches for advancement leaders across the country – big universities, regional institutions, liberal arts colleges, specialty institutions, just about every kind of 4-year institution there is. We talk to a lot of presidents and chancellors, board chairs, foundation leadership, alumni association leaders, and campaign chairs. We write a lot of position descriptions with a lot of different wants and needs. By and large, they have two things in common. One is that the institution wants to raise more money. The second is that they want to do it in a way that is seamless, coordinated, and rational.

What they want is an integrated advancement program.

Gone are the days of friend-raising (only) by alumni professionals and fund-raising (only) by development professionals. What were once two relatively distinct missions has become one continuum, and all advancement professionals – whatever their tactical responsibilities – are being measured and held accountable for deliverables. Those deliverables vary, of course, depending upon the specific responsibilities of the job, but the chief advancement officer – and the chief alumni and development officers – are first and foremost being judged by the bottom line of what the advancement program as a whole delivers in support of the institution’s mission.

My colleagues and I had been hearing this for years, but the moment that I knew that times had really changed came about three or four years ago when I was invited to speak to the Council of Alumni Association Executives at their annual conference. A search consultant from another firm and I were asked to speak about the future of leadership in alumni relations. My co-presenter and I agreed to give it to the group straight, without nuance, whatever the reaction.

We told those present – many of them friends and some of them people we had placed in their jobs – that times had changed. Colleges and universities could no longer support alumni programs that simply made alumni feel good or that had as their primary goal providing deliverables for the alumni. From this point on, we said, it was deliverables for the institution that were going to be the measure of success. It was still, as it had always been, the job of the alumni relations professional to create meaningful, substantive, and lasting engagement between alumni and their alma mater, but that engagement alone will no longer be sufficient to claim success. Something of value was going to have to be provided to further the institution’s mission, and it was going to have to be measured.

Understand, I am a former development professional. I have been going to CASE and other conferences for a very long time. I have lived through and with the tensions between development and alumni relations, and I knew what the reaction to this message could be, especially from someone with my background. My co-conspirator and I had our bags packed and the cars running at the door, expecting torches and pitchforks, if not tar and feathers, to greet our apostasy.

It didn’t happen that way.

It turns out that we were largely preaching to the choir. The senior alumni professionals present had already identified the trend and were working on how to move their programs in that direction. I was relieved. More than that, I was impressed. But I shouldn’t have been surprised.

As I noted, we write a lot of position descriptions, and I have done a lot of searches for chief alumni relations officers. For those of you who aspire to leadership of an alumni program, plan on seeing this in your job description.

• “Integration” of the advancement program, with a seamless approach to external relations that includes not only alumni relations and development, but also communications and marketing, enrollment management, and even student affairs – regardless of to whom those operations report

• “Deliverables” for the college or university, one of which will always be money but some of which will always be other things of value – recruitment of students, jobs for graduates, contacts for faculty, and/or public advocacy to name only the most obvious

• “Metrics” to measure those deliverables

• “ROI” to measure the value of those deliverables relative to the cost of producing them – i.e. return on investment

It is a new world out there for advancement professionals, one in which ROI will indeed be king. The advancement leaders of the future will understand this, maximize it, and be rewarded for it.

Good luck.

Crisis Communication: Plan Now to Live Through a Crisis Later

From “Crisis Communication in the Health Sector” from the book “Health Industry Communication” – Published by Jones and Bartlett Learning 2011 (chapter on crisis communication by Jeff Molter and Richard Puff)

By Jeff Molter

You don’t wake up every day and expect to be engulfed in a crisis. But no matter what business you are in: higher education, healthcare or drilling oil from the sea, you have to plan for the unexpected.

A crisis has been described as a significant business disruption that gets media coverage. The public scrutiny that follows will affect your organization’s normal operations and could have a political, legal, financial and government impact.

The important issues to remember when faced with a crisis are the following: crises happen, you have to deal with them, your company or institution must deal with them, and you must strive to help recover your institution’s reputation as soon as possible.

We had a crisis at Duke University Medical Center in February 2003. A teenage girl received a heart and lung transplant at our institution. Unfortunately, an unthinkable mistake had happened; the transplanted organs were the wrong blood type. A media firestorm erupted placing the university, its doctors and staff into its most severe crisis to that date.

This tragic medical error began a difficult time for Duke and its communicators. However, Duke’s media team helped the institution restore public confidence and trust by collectively facing the hard questions from hundreds of news media across the globe, including 60 Minutes and US News and World Report. In fact, Duke’s response to this situation even resulted in improvements to the nation’s organ donor and transplant systems.

How did the institution recover?  To learn the entire story, it would be wise to take some time and read the entire chapter (see link below).

But if you take anything away from reading this, it should be that preparation is essential to survive and thrive in a crisis.  The leaders of many institutions think that bad things will never happen to them. Even when a crisis occurs, the prevailing thought by many is that they can “control” the situation and continue to go about their regular work.  Too often it’s thought that the situation will “fly under the radar.”

In a crisis, there are many things (and some people) you won’t have control of. You must be prepared in advance to have a game plan, and you must persevere to keep your institution true to that game plan.

Your game plan should include:

Prepare a crisis response plan

Prevent crisis situations before they happen

Know your company, client, or institution’s “culture”

Know your media spokespersons

There are many good crisis plans out there to review; do some homework and find a couple from various institutions to learn from.  Colleagues from your industry are often a good place to start to find solid crisis plans to study and emulate.

Many crisis situations can be managed or even avoided with persuasive public relations counsel. This doesn’t mean communications expertise can make the problem magically disappear; it means provide counsel to deal with an issue immediately, provide the necessary information to the media and others if necessary, and manage the issue into becoming a one- or two-day story instead of a problem that drags on and becomes a crisis, or even eliminate the situation before it escalates into a true crisis.

What kind of “culture” do you work in? Is your company public, private, government; open and transparent, or tightly held and close-lipped; polite or bullish? It is important to understand your organization’s culture and not let it get in the way of dealing with a crisis. You can’t change the culture, but you can alter how the outside world perceives you during a crisis.

That means engaging in media and platform training before a crisis occurs so you can help your spokesperson use the best of your culture, become a strong and coherent mouthpiece for your organization, and avoid parts of your institution’s culture that don’t translate well via the media in crisis situations.

Have a good, honest and close relationship with your leaders in advance of a crisis – and knowing who will be your key spokespersons or information providers – is key to surviving and thriving in a crisis. Who will be your lead spokesperson?  Will it be your CEO or others? Is he or she willing to do the job? Is he or she strong enough, tough enough and courageous enough to do the job? Will he or she do a good job? Will he or she be trusted by the company – or the board? Will he or she get the necessary help from others on the team to do a good job?

Have the proper spokespersons trained and ready for a crisis. Some leaders aren’t the best spokespersons. Make sure the CEO is trained and ready to go, but also plan to have others prepared, too. Ask the CEO to assure other spokespersons that this is a team effort and that they are supported as well.

Molter is a veteran health communications professional who has worked at JAMA, Duke University Medical Center, Emory Health Sciences Center and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Molter lives in Atlanta and is a member of the Patouillet Consulting LLC Advisory Board. For further information about crisis communications, contact the author @

Read the entire chapter at:

That Dirty Little Word

It starts with an F.  No, not that one.  The other one.  The one that is practically unmentionable in nonprofit and philanthropic circles – Failure.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of failure lately.   Working with numerous organizations that are looking for a means to sustainability, the question often arises – if we merge, does that mean we failed?  What if we choose to dissolve?  What does that say about us?

Recently, I worked with a client to explore the potential for a merger.  We researched numerous organizations, and found a prospective partner with mission alignment, financial stability, and a great deal of interest in partnering with my client.  We entered into discussions between the two agencies, and within a few weeks discovered a number of key factors that were prohibitive to the merger.  Discussions were discontinued, and although the client was gratified at having engaged in the exploration and due diligence, the question remained.  Did we fail?

Why?  What makes us so risk-averse, so uncomfortable with uncertainty?  Generally, risk-taking has always been taboo in the nonprofit sector, most likely because our agencies are “owned” by our communities, and thus we must be responsible with the investment (financial and otherwise) that the community makes in us.  But often, that aversion to risk may deter us from progress and innovation.

Recently, there has been a spate of articles exploring the concept of failure, and what it means to both for-profit and nonprofit business.  The Harvard Business Review dedicated an entire issue to the concept in April 2011. In March, the Nonprofit Quarterly published an article called Foundations Embrace Failure: Real Lessons Learned.  A big part of the debate is whether we feign tolerance for failure to appear entrepreneurial, or whether we are actually learning real, impactful lessons from our failures.

From a consultant’s perspective, mergers and partnerships are the most complicated and risk-fraught processes that we take on.  Although in recent years there has been a focus on mergers and partnerships as a salve for the stresses on nonprofits, the process certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. Numerous factors – finances, legal issues, organizational culture, and mutual trust, to name a few – can get in the way of achieving an alliance.  On day one of negotiations, there is no way we can assure stakeholders that a collaboration or merger is going to be successful.   That being said, I will most likely advise an organization to take the risk and enter into negotiation, if it potentially means greater long-term stability and mission impact.

This is not to say that we should not try to mitigate risk when possible.  That is the whole reason we conduct our due diligence when exploring a merger, or making some other kind of risky decision.  But avoiding uncertainty and risk altogether will leave us paralyzed, not safe.

We are awfully quick to label our efforts a failure if they don’t achieve the results we envisioned when we started.  Yet rather than assuming guilt or placing blame, the better option is to learn from our failures.   Often, we find a better path, one that engenders learning and growth, on the second or third try.   Even if the result feels catastrophic, there still are meaningful opportunities to learn and apply lessons in the future – ask the thousands of serial entrepreneurs in this country.  If we successfully manage expectations of what is “supposed to happen”, and are willing to take the leap, we leave ourselves open to greater opportunity.  The end result may not look traditional, or like what we thought; it may not leave our organizations with the same structure as they began; or happen within the timeline we set out.  But if we are open to exploration and risk, and ultimately the concept of failure, we may achieve even greater impact than we ever expected.

Kate Sphar’s work with Dewey & Kaye focuses on nonprofit financial sustainability, organizational planning, restructuring, and collaboration. For further information, contact Kate at

Two Timely Seminars

Patouillet Consulting LLC is pleased to present two seminars on July 26th in Pittsburgh, PA. The topics are: The Integration of Alumni and Development in Fundraising and Capital Campaigns & The Role of the Board Member in Resource Development. Additional information will be available soon on this site. For additional information, email

Patouillet Consulting LLC just completed an assignment for The Florida State University