I often start personal projects and never complete them... and this "journey" is an example of that. The funny thing is that most of this journey was written many months ago and I just never got around to posting it all.
There are lots of reasons for that. Part of me has never been entirely comfortable with sharing my story. I've gone back and forth in my mind about whether or not it was a good idea.
Well, here I am again. I don't know if anyone continues to check this blog for updates, but it doesn't really matter. Time to pick up where I last left off...
My first interview was a phone interview with Chapman University. This actually occurred prior to my leave of absence from UCI. I talked with Delite Travis who was the AVP of Strategic Engagement and Development at the time.
During the interview, I asked her what prompted her to interview me and she said, “You wrote a great cover letter.” It was nice to hear and gave me much needed confidence in my approach.
Well, I bombed on the phone interview. Again, you have to keep in mind that in the previous 15 years, I hadn’t had a lot of experience interviewing. This all took place, while I sat in my car in the parking lot outside of my office at UCI.
It was my first big step and even though I failed, I was all in. I knew I would learn from that experience and I was ready to move forward.
I knew I would get interviews because I knew my cover letter would open some doors. Chapman University was validation of that and even though I failed in my first interview, I was confident I was going to get interviews and if I could get in front of enough people, someone would eventually give me the opportunity to prove myself.
I was fully committed. I didn’t care how many nonprofits I had to reach out to or how many interviews I’d have to go on. I knew I’d get better at the process with each attempt. I was going to make it happen.
June through August of 2015 is somewhat of
a blur to me now. I don’t quite remember the chronological order of events, but
I do remember the events themselves.
The order of things isn’t really important
now. So, let’s move on, but please keep in mind all of this took place during a
period of 3-4 months and in no particular order…
One of the things I did early on was reach
out to Christy Cates at Cal-Tech to seek out her advice. Christy had recruited
me to UCI and I valued her professional experience and opinion. When Christy
left UCI, I wrote her a note thanking her for all she did while at UCI and for
her role in recruiting not only me, but all of the others who were trying to
make an impact for UCI.
I sought out Christy’s perspective for my
situation and she was gracious with her time. She recommended I talk to Andrea
Taylor, who was the VP of University Relations and Development at my alma mater
– Cal-State Long Beach (CSULB). It was a great suggestion.
Utilizing my connection to Christy and the
fact I was actually at CSULB alumnus, I connected with Andrea. We met one
afternoon off campus and she provided great insights and advice. She also
suggested I talk to Pamela Hillman, who was the former VP of Development at
CSUF. Our conversation also laid the ground work for an opportunity that would
come about a little bit later.
When an opportunity for a DO position
opened up at CSULB, I reached out to Andrea and she encouraged me to apply. I
interviewed with the AVP, Kevin Crowe and I believe I had a shot at landing a
position there. This happened in the later part of my search and would I would
eventually withdraw my name from consideration. More on that to come.
Andrea and I have remained in contact since
that time. I would later send her the name of a CSULB alum, who I came across
while at a dinner honoring my wife’s boss. This would end up being a person not
on the CSULB’s radar and she was appreciative of the lead. That dinner – would
also prove to be another dot connecting story, but more about that later.
Andrea has since retired from CSULB, but remains
active as a consultant. I believe she even reads my blog from time to time. We continue to stay in touch and she’s been a
great resource not only for me, but for others I’ve connected to her.
Who knows what might have happened if the
timing of things might have been different. I very well might have ended up at
CSULB as a gift officer. At least, I’d like to think so.
I also met with Pamela per Andrea’s
suggestion and she had tons of advice and a willingness to reach out to her
colleagues on my behalf. This included Kevin Crowe at CSULB among others. Her willingness to spend time with me and
offer herself as a resource is something I’ll never forget.
Pamela is still active today, most recently
serving as the VP of Development at Northern Arizona University. We keep in
touch to this day.
I also did an informational phone interview
with Theresa Duncan, thanks to a recommendation from my friend, Joe. Theresa
was at the Aquarium of the Pacific at the time.
I also engaged with Claudia Looney, the
former head of development at CHLA with the help of Suzanne Szalay. Claudia
became yet another great resource and door opener for me. She forwarded job
opportunities my way and offered advice whenever I needed some.
In each and every recruitment process, I
made a point to connect with anyone I talked to by following up on LinkedIn. I
did this routinely and haven’t stopped ever since. In many cases, I’ve been
able to develop a relationship and engage with people as a result of that
effort. I never closed the door on making a possible connection and that
mindset has served me well over the years.
During my search, I would do phone
interviews with The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, The Red Cross, and
others. I also applied to numerous organizations that I never heard back from.
I really put forth a great deal of effort, knowing if I did the work – I would
eventually get results.
I had face to face interviews with Mission
Hospital, Long Beach Memorial Hospital, Olive Crest, Habitat for Humanity,
Whittier College, UCLA (for a Donor Relations position), and Concordia
More on all of those experiences in a bit.
In June of 2015, I applied for the College
of Liberal Arts and Sciences Development Officer position at Azusa Pacific
University. Yes, you read that right, APU. It’s when I first made contact and
ultimately a connection with the VP, Corbin Hoornbeek.
We had a phone conversation, one June
morning and in the course of our conversation, we talked about our faith and
fundraising. It wasn’t your typical interview conversation by any means. Faith
had never come up before in any of my interviews.
I was doing my best to make a case for an
opportunity as a gift officer, but Corbin focused on my experience in prospect
development instead. Our conversations
would take place on and off through the beginning of August of 2015.
At that point, Corbin sent an email telling
me even though he understood my interest in a major gift role, he was primarily
interesting in exploring what I might bring to the table in prospect
development. He said, if a leadership position ever opened up at APU in this area,
he would be interested in talking with me.
Corbin would reach out again at some point
to see if I was interested in doing some consulting. I wasn’t able to take him
up on the offer at that time, but ended up referring friend and colleague Angie
Thieman, who was the former Director of Development Services at UC San Diego
(UCSD) and was working as a consultant at the time.
I have yet another dot connecting story
about this that I’ll get to later.
The chain of events that surrounded my APU
adventure would prove valuable later on. I keep saying this over and over
again, but it’s true – it’s a small world and our journeys are unique in so
many ways. You never know how connections and contacts and life’s experiences
can play a role at different times in your life.
As I went through the process, I gained
more confidence with every opportunity to interview. I believed if I could secure
interviews, I could also secure visits with donors and potential donors. I saw
the experience as relevant to what I wanted to do as a fundraiser.
Unfortunately, the hiring managers wouldn’t see the benefit of my effort. Then
again, they had no way of doing that.
In every case, I tried to find a connection
to the organization or the cause. Each effort was unique that way. One such example would come with Mission
Hospital in Mission Viejo.
My recruitment process with Mission
Hospital had a special significance to me. It’s where my mom spent her last
days. The idea of working at a hospital where my mom spent her last days and received
great care was appealing to me. I viewed it as a special place.
I was invited to interview at Mission
Hospital, where I would meet a host of individuals, including Gwen Anderson –
who was the Executive Director of Development at the time. During the process I
reached out to Kathleen Kane, who agreed to reach out to their Chief
Development Officer on my behalf (her name escapes me).
I felt like I had a lot of good things
going for me in this case, but despite it all, I didn’t get the job. I guess my
connection to the hospital didn’t resonate with the hiring committee.
One of my colleagues who made a successful
transition from prospect development to front line fundraiser is Jennifer Wise.
I reached out to her during this period and applied for a position with Habitat
for Humanity, where Jennifer was the VP of Resource Development at the time. I
interviewed with Les Fujimoto who was the Director of Leadership Gifts and
I wasn’t able to convince Les that I could
handle the role. I would later wonder if perhaps my interview was more out of
courtesy because I never got the impression Les took me seriously.
Funny story (yet again), when I went to
work at PanCAN, I would meet and work with Sasha Muraoka, who I would learn
worked at Habitat for Humanity prior to her joining PanCAN. We would both agree
that Jennifer Wise should be recruited to PanCAN for a leadership role… That
never happened… but I did make that outreach.
One of the more interesting recruitment processes
came with Olive Crest. I interviewed with Bill Furey, who was the Regional
Human Resources Director and Jaime Zavala, the Executive Director of the Los
Bill would tell me how compelling my background
was, but like most everyone else, he wasn’t sure I could transition into a
fundraising role. Jaime was possibly a little more open minded about the idea
and I would eventually be invited back for a second interview at their
headquarters in Santa Ana. I would interview with Jacqui Groseth, their Chief
Development Officer and Donald Verleur, their CEO.
A couple of interesting things about Olive
Crest. One, I would run into another former COH colleague during my first
interview. She was leaving, just as I was about to be interviewed. She saw me
out of the corner of her eye, but didn’t say anything.
The moment left me a little stunned since
it was totally unexpected. The look I had on my face must have stuck, because
Bill and Jaime would later comment about that look. They were thinking this guy
can’t possibly handle a fundraising role. When I explained that I knew the
person who had just interviewed before me, it all made sense to them and we had
a good laugh about it.
Jaime and I have remained connected ever
When I took the job at APU, I somehow discovered
that Jaime was an APU alum. After arriving at APU, I reached to Jaime and he
ended up coming to campus for a visit. Jaime also happens to know several
people in my office and is also friends with my predecessor, Kristin Albright.
They’re good friends, in fact.
Our connection doesn’t stop there.
There’s a young lady who works at my wife
and my favorite restaurant. It’s a place we frequent often and we’ve gotten to
know the people there over the years. We’re talking everyone from the servers,
to the cooks to the bus boys, dishwashers, etc. We’ve been going there for more
than 20 years and we have strong relationships with many of the people there.
As is my nature, and that of Cheryl’s – we
always take an interest in the people there. Many of them are young – some are
in high school, in college, recently out of college and at all different stages
of their lives.
One of our all-time favorites is a young
lady named Mayra. She graduated from CSULB with a degree in Social Work. One
day in the not too distant past, she told us about an internship she was about
to start at… Olive Crest.
Here we go again…
I told her that I knew the Executive
Director there and at the time, she had yet to meet him. I reached out to Jaime
to let him know he had to make a point of meeting this intern. He did. He would
soon learn how awesome she was and Mayra ended up being an incredible intern
and volunteer for Olive Crest. She even took a job there after graduating from
CSULB. She’s no longer working there
because she went on to pursue her Masters’ at UCLA and recently graduated. She is destined to do great things.
All of the dots that were connected through
Olive Crest is a direct result of my staying engaged with Jaime even though I
didn’t get the job there. This is an example of what I’ve done throughout my
Jaime left Olive Crest in 2019 and is now
the Executive Director at artworxLA.
These are the kinds of stories that continue
to make me smile. I’m not anyone special. I’ve just always been willing to
engage with people. I’ve done this without any expectations or hidden agendas. It
really is genuine. As a result, good things have come of it not only for me,
but for others as well.
I know that my efforts to stay in touch
with the people I’ve worked or met through other channels over the years is
sometimes met with skepticism. In many cases – those relationships end up
fading away. Fortunately, enough of them do continue on and I’m thankful when
Back to the journey…
My interview at Long Beach Memorial has a CARA connection to it. With each application, I would look to see if I could figure out who the decision maker was. If I could somehow enhance the normal recruitment process by reaching out directly to a hiring manager, I would. I know that’s not always a good idea, but I decided this would be my approach. Whenever I found that key person I would check my LinkedIn account to see if I knew anyone who was connected to the person I wanted to reach out to.
At Long Beach Memorial, the hiring manager
was Jim Normandin, who at the time was the President of the Memorial Medical
Center Foundation. I saw on LinkedIn, a friend and colleague Rebecca Benard
knew Jim. Rebecca had provided professional management to the CARA Board while
I was a member. She was instrumental in our success and we did great work
during our time together. I asked her to reach out on my behalf and she was
more than happy to do so, even though we hadn’t spoken in years.
I never could have imagined how my
relationship with Rebecca would eventually open a door for me. That’s the
beauty of having a network. Rebecca is now a fundraiser herself, working as the
Director of Strategic Business Advancement for Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care
in Santa Barbara.
That interview didn’t lead to a job for me.
In fact, I don’t remember the details of any follow up after my interview. A
couple months after that, I would learn that Jim transitioned into a different
role. He currently works as a consultant.
As I was going through this process, I was
determined to make the transition into a fundraising role, but I also tried to
stay open to any and all opportunities. One of those opportunities came in the
form of a Director of Donor Relations position at UCLA.
The hiring manager was Carol Buge. I had
actually met Carol many years earlier when she came to speak at a CARA event. She
was presenting on Women in Philanthropy and best practices for working with
women donors. She presented with another long time, and now retired colleague –
Karen Howard. Needless to say, we knew a lot of people in common.
I know it’s crazy how I remember these
things, but I do.
The position was interesting to me because
writing was an important component of the position, as was building
relationships across campus. Despite those being strengths of mine, I didn’t
have enough tangible experience to convince Carol that I was right for the
position. I must admit, I find that a little funny – all things
considered. That’s not a slight against
Carol or UCLA – but if they only knew…
One of the things I remember about that day
(besides the long drive) was stopping by JVSLA on Wilshire to visit Randy Lapin
and Jorge Lazaro. We spent some time catching up (all the other COH alumni had
yet to begin working there) and spent some time reminiscing about the good old
days at COH.
It was a good opportunity to connect with
some old friends. Again, I try not to let people fade out of my community
I also interviewed for an Associate
Director position at Whittier College. I interviewed with Kurt Johnson, who was
the Sr. Director of Development and Alumni programs at the time and with Steve
Delgado, who was the VP for Advancement.
I had been to the campus years prior as one
of the first locations I used for one of our CARA Seminar Days. It was a little
funny to be back on campus for a different purpose.
One of the things that struck me about Kurt
right off the bat was his energy and enthusiasm. We had an interesting
interview. He had me do a bit of role playing with him. I played the role of a
major gift officer and he was a donor. I thought it was a great exercise and
I’m surprised more hiring managers don’t do this.
The feedback I got from the exercise was
constructive and Kurt said I did pretty well.
Whittier also happened to be the alma mater
of Kathleen Kane, and she also happened to be on their Board of Trustees. Of course, right? When I reached out to Kathleen she agreed to
reach out on my behalf.
It wasn’t enough though. I didn’t get that
job. Never-the-less, Kathleen’s willingness to help me was typical of who she
is and I appreciated her effort very much.
One of the final places I interviewed was
at Concordia University and I interviewed with Eron Jacobson, the Executive
Just before I took the job at PanCAN, I was
waiting to hear from Eron to see if I was going to get a second interview.
Before we ever got to that point, I let him know that I had accepted the job at
PanCAN. I never heard back from him.
One of the things I learned through this
entire process is that each recruitment was unique. Some go much better than
others. Often times, the communication is poor and in some cases, non-existent.
I could easily write about the process for days. Some organizations definitely
do a better job than others.
In many cases, I asked for constructive
feedback after not getting the job. I didn’t always get that. There were
definitely times when that made me feel like just a name on a piece of paper
and not an actual person in the eyes of the recruiters. Those are lost
opportunities not only for me, but also for those who manage the process (in my
One person who did provide constructive
feedback was Jacqui at Olive Crest. She was very honest with me and said my
lack of experience in actually asking for gifts, kept her from hiring me. I
hadn’t even asked friends to support a walk or do any type of actual
fundraising what-so-ever. I appreciated her feedback and would file that note
away for later use. She remains a contact today and we occasionally correspond.
During my journey, I saw an opening at USC
that was intriguing. It was a leadership position in prospect development, but
had other responsibilities. The job was titled AVP Relationship Management and
Data Sciences. They had or were about to transition to SalesForce as their
enterprise system and they were looking for someone who could engage
fundraisers in the process, among other things.
I believed my experience would easily
provide me an opportunity to interview. Well, much to my surprise that never
I did have a phone interview with a
recruiter and would later learn that he left the university shortly after. That
might have contributed to my not being invited to interview, but I really don’t
I found the decision maker and reached out
directly. I utilized my connection to Brenda Maceo, who had been Sr. VP of
Communications at COH and was the VP of Public Relations and Marketing at USC
at the time. That didn’t work. Nothing did.
I couldn’t understand how I couldn’t even
manage to get an interview.
Well, the role eventually went to Ashutosh
Nandeshwar and I have to tell you, there’s no way I could have competed with
him. I only recently put those dots together and when I did, I had to nod my
head and say… of course.
Ashutosh is a rock star and his background
in analytics for development in higher education is among the best in the
business. They were clearly looking for someone with experience far greater
than what I had to offer. They recruited him away from Cal-Tech.
The other dot related to Ashutosh is that
he was one of the individuals Karen Isble added to her analytics team at the
University of Michigan. At least I’m guessing he was. His career has been on an
incredible path ever since.
As you can see – my job search took me on
quite an adventure. For someone like me, who didn’t have a lot of experience in
looking for a job, it was a crash course on how to navigate those waters. It
was a great learning experience. I felt like I had earned my PH.D in job
searching during that time and I believe I could help anyone trying to do the
Well my search and my conversations with
friends and colleagues during this time would lead to my talking with Rick
Leonard, my longtime friend and colleague from COH. I reached out to Rick to
tell him about what I was up to and he responded by telling me about the
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN).
Much to my surprise, I had never heard of the organization.
Rick was about to become the VP of
Development there and was going to be building a team. He encouraged me to
investigate and ultimately apply for a role in prospect development. His enthusiasm
piqued my curiosity because he was incredibly excited about the organization.
I was 3 months into my journey and although
I was hopeful something was about to materialize with either Concordia, Long
Beach Memorial or CSULB, I decided to investigate. After all, prospect development
was what I knew and there was no harm in checking things out. Again, Jeremiah 29:11 came to mind. I had no
idea what God had planned for me, so I remained open to every opportunity.
The moment I walked off the elevator and
into the offices at PanCAN, I knew I wasn’t at just another non-profit. The
layout and the vibe (yes, there was a vibe) was unlike anything I had ever
experienced. My immediate thought was
that I had arrived at the Google of non-profits.
I’ve documented this complete experience on
my blog a few years back, but suffice it to say – I was more than intrigued
after the interview process.
The highlight of my interview came in
meeting the founder of the organization – Pamela Acosta Marquardt. I remember
thinking how often does one get to meet the founder of a nonprofit during the
interview process. Pam’s passion was infectious. I’ll never forget the words
she said to me. She said, “James, you will have a bigger impact here than any
place you’ve ever worked.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
How often have you ever heard that during
an interview process; especially the founder of an organization?
The opportunity that was being presented
was titled Manager, Prospect Research and Management. It was the first such
position that this organization would ever have. They were looking for someone
to build it from the ground up.
You can probably imagine what was going
through my mind (then again, maybe not). I had been a Sr. Director at my last
two organizations and built and led teams supporting dozens of fundraisers. In
this proposed role, I was going to be a one person shop (and all the things
that go along with being that) and aside from Rick, Pam was the only other
major gift fundraiser. There were plans to add staff, but the development team
was the smallest I had ever seen at a nonprofit.
I was at a crossroads. A million different
thoughts went through my head. First of all, I knew I wasn’t going back to UCI.
Second, I needed a job. But there were lots of…”but what about…” thoughts
running through my head.
I wasn’t so concerned about what I would
“get to do.” The job was pretty clear to me.
My concern was what I would “get” to do that work. I knew the pay wasn’t
going to be at the level I was used to. I had a suspicion that I wasn’t even
going to get an office and in all my years prior, I always had an office.
Remember how I previously mentioned that I
often followed the careers of my friends and colleagues with interest and
curiosity? One ego-centered thought that
came to mind was what would my peers think of this? My title didn’t sound like I was advancing,
it sounded like I was taking a giant step backwards and who, if anyone had ever
heard of PanCAN?
And the thought of being a one person shop
just seemed crazy to me. I hadn’t actually written a full profile in years. In
fact, so many of the researchers I hired, were far better researchers than I
ever was during my career. I was rusty. I mean, I knew I could handle the
responsibility, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
Again, a million things went through my mind.
Most of those thoughts would prove to be irrelevant.
I decided I wanted to work at PanCAN and that
meant leaving no stone unturned in the process. I knew I had an excellent
chance because of my relationship with Rick, but I also knew that you never
really know what the outcome of a recruitment process might be and I was going
to do everything I could to solidify my candidacy.
Using LinkedIn, once again – I saw that my
friend Jeffrey Rips knew the CFO – Abigail (Abby) Winston at PanCAN. Jeff and I
had become friends through Angels baseball. Yup, Angels baseball. When Cheryl and I purchased season tickets
back in 2004, we became acquainted with a large group of fans who shared our
section in the stadium. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Fever Pitch” with Jimmy
Fallon and Drew Barrymore, you might remember how Fallon’s character Ben
referred to the fans in his section as his “summer family.”
Well, that’s how we felt about the fans we
sat with game after game. One of those individuals would be Jeffrey and his
family. Jeffrey actually shared tickets with other people – but over the course
of a season and in the years to come – we would get to know Jeffrey, his wife
Lauren, their twin boys and daughter.
Our friendship would extend beyond Angel
games and include trips to spring training, a vacation in Yosemite, birthdays,
bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, graduations and more.
Jeffrey had worked with Abby and as he
would tell me, she was one of his favorite people. I asked him to reach out to
her on my behalf and he happily agreed.
During the interview process – Angel, who
would become my first supervisor told me she thought I was “over qualified.” In
my thank you letter to her, I challenged that notion and said, or… “Maybe, I’m
the right person at exactly the right time.”
I honestly believed I was exactly that. I
began to see myself at PanCAN and I was confident I would not only have an
impact, but that I could help them grow and as a result, advance my career at
the same time.
PanCAN made me an offer. They more than
just made an offer, they reclassified the opportunity to Sr. Manager and
offered me more salary than what was originally discussed. I really felt wanted
and I have to tell you, that was a nice feeling after all I had gone through.
Yes, it was going to be strange being a one
person shop again, but I was ambitious enough to believe I could make it work
and that in time, I would contribute to the monumental growth of PanCAN’s
fundraising future. And as far as what
others thought? I decided I didn’t really care.
PanCAN would prove to be an amazing
I loved my nearly 12 years at COH, but
PanCAN would prove to be the most rewarding experience of my career. It wasn’t
the place where I made the most money. I didn’t have a fancy title. I didn’t
even have an office.
It was simply the place where I felt the
most engaged. Those who know me best, know how I felt and continue to feel
about the organization and how I was “all in” when I worked there. My passion
for PanCAN became incredibly obvious with every conversation I had with friends
I felt like I was finally “home.”
More to come…