How Emerson College is developing a sophisticated advancement program through strategic recruitment

Internationally recognized for its specialty studies, Emerson College is the only higher learning institute in the United States that focuses exclusively on the study of communication and the arts. Located in Boston, MA, Emerson College is ranked #8 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 Best Regional Universities in the North, #10 on the list of Best Film Schools in the country by The Hollywood Reporter, and top journalism program in the country by College Factual. Over the years, the institution has evolved from a small New England school of oratory to a multifaceted college offering an interdisciplinary curriculum. Today, it has campuses in Boston, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands and degree programs in Boston, Paris, and Lugano, Switzerland.

In 2020, Emerson partnered with Development Guild to conduct two executive searches: Associate Dean for Development, School of the Arts and Associate Dean for Development, School of Communication. These searches were launched during a new era of exciting, impactful fundraising at Emerson. Under the leadership of President Lee Pelton, recently named Vice President of Institutional Advancement John Malcom, and in collaboration with the Board, Emerson was preparing to significantly expand their philanthropic program.

For the School of the Arts position, we concentrated on engaging sophisticated, experienced fundraisers who had proven success in establishing and building a major gifts program. Furthermore, we sought candidates who would be adept at building trust and with alumni, as well as with faculty and leadership across the school. Historically, the School of the Arts’ development office had operated separately from the school, both in terms of location and function; forging a path forward would require greater collaboration. With these criteria in mind, we presented a highly qualified, diverse pool, and Emerson hired Isaac W. K. Thweatt, the former Executive Director of Individual Giving at Columbia University Business School, to the role.

Similarly, for the Associate Dean for Development, School of Communications role, we strove to identify and engage candidates with deep philanthropic experience. The role required a skilled leader, who could effectively strengthen and steward current relationships with faculty and alumni. Emerson welcomed Robin Elkins, former Vice President, Development at the New England Aquarium to the role. Concurrently with the two Associate Dean searches, we partnered with Emerson in the hiring of their new Director, Parent and International Philanthropy, Rennie Washburn, who previously held the role of Chief Advancement Officer at Marlboro College. Click to learn more about Emerson and Marlboro’s merge.

With each search, Emerson’s leadership was deeply invested in identifying the best candidates to bring their philanthropic program to the next level, while creating strong ties with alumni and staff college-wide. This focused approach, coupled with our long-standing relationship and clear understanding of the ideal candidate profile, allowed for an accelerated process, in which we were able to deliver a qualified pool in a short period. Furthermore, as the final stages of the search overlapped with the emergence of COVID-19, we prioritized streamlining and accelerating the decision-making process to ensure successful hires and onboarding. Today, Emerson is embarking on a promising path to develop a sophisticated advancement program.

There are lots of search firms to choose from but when I needed to build my advancement team, I chose Development Guild. Their ability to identify and engage talent who not only have the required professional experience but are also a strong culture fit is unparalleled. I can always count on Development Guild to represent us well to candidates; I look forward to partnering with them again for future searches.

- John Malcolm, Vice President, Institutional Advancement

Contact us to learn more about our executive search services.

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