Fundraising Today and Tomorrow: An Interview With Kevin Noller of Villanova University

This series of short conversations with advancement leaders gives us a peek into exciting new projects, their thoughts on the challenges facing our industry, and a vision of the future of fundraising.

Tell us who you are in 50 words or less.

My name is Kevin Noller, and I serve as the assistant vice president for major gifts at Villanova University. In my role, I oversee our college and regional fundraising teams and strategy. I’m a Villanova graduate who never left the area—meeting your wife at school will do that for you.


What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in advancement during your career?

The biggest thing I’m noticing now is the number of fundraising job opportunities out there, which is exciting for our field, but a challenge, too. Other schools are opening regional offices, campaigns are getting bigger, shops are getting bigger, and there are more trained fundraisers today than there were ever before. But while the industry grows, the search for talent can be a challenge. It is more important than ever to train and retain talent, and that starts with putting the right tools in place.

What’s your biggest challenge at the moment?

Finding and retaining talent. We do a good job of it here at Villanova (our turnover is less than at other schools), but replacing officers who leave is harder than before. In the year I’ve been in this position, we’ve never been fully staffed.

Using LinkedIn to find new fundraisers has been effective as of late to reach out to people who would be a good fit. Recently we’ve had better success there than our internal website and other nonprofit posting sites.

I just read an awesome EAB report about finding the right MGO. You read it and you think, “Wow, that describes some of our more successful officers here.“ In interviews, I always ask about relatable sales experience: When have you sold something? When have you been told, “No”? The biggest hurdle for being successful as a gift officer is getting meetings and overcoming objections, so I want the people who can think creatively about solving those problems.

Picture the advancement industry 10 to 15 years from now. Where are we headed? What emerging trends have stuck? Where should shops focus their energy?

Invest in professional development. We took one of our very successful officers and made it half of her job to run a homegrown professional development program. There are a ton of resources out there—conferences, webinars, etc.—but people don’t always choose to do that when they’re on the road. Having a person devoted to ongoing training allows us to look at our needs and figure out how to meet them.

We employ different delivery methods for this professional development. Sometimes it’s a half-day session, but usually it’s just one-hour training sessions or even 15-minute snippets. She has a list of topic ideas that’s five pages long. Some of those are her ideas, but a lot are in response to us asking our team what they need. We’re doing homegrown professional development professionally that way. We’re investing time in our people and making them better at their jobs.

This interview was conducted by Mike Nagel, associate director of advancement communications at Phillips Exeter Academy. If you enjoyed this article, check out his interview with Christine Tempesta, senior director of information systems and volunteer services at MIT. 

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