A journey in to Development Services: Jennie Moule, Director of Strategy and Operations, UCL

How did you end up in the career you have now? For many, it’s not planned. Jennie Moule tracks her career and how she found her home in development services.

I often find myself talking about how I ended up working in Development Services. “Was it a strategic career move?” people ask me, “is this what you always wanted to do?” Well, no. Like many people in our world, this job kind-of found me.

Our sector was quite different then and I knew nothing of university fundraising let alone that there was a specific bit called Development Services. I left university in 1998 with an interesting but not very practical degree in Ancient History and a proficiency in those universally helpful languages: Latin and Ancient Greek.

I soon found that my love of Herodotus wasn’t going to get me very far and I started working in a recruitment consultancy back in my home town.

After a few years, I moved to a management training firm and spent my time working with clients all across the UK on their staff development programmes. And then, in 2002 when I moved to Exeter (for a short-lived and depressingly unfulfilling romantic affair), I got a job at the University as an events manager in their Business Relations Office and realised that I had finally found my professional home.

To say I love universities is an understatement. I am passionate about our sector. I am an annoying evangelist telling everyone who’ll listen how we are changing the world every single day. Even now, my Facebook status updates are more usually about UCL than my children…!

A step up in to development services

When the time came to move on again, this time to London, and I was wondering what sort of job I might look for next, Exeter’s Development Director suggested that I might be interested in a Development Services role. By now I was heading up a small operations team supporting a big professional services department at Exeter and she thought it would be a good skills fit for me. I knew nothing about fundraising but the more I read the more I thought it was the perfect place for me. A department who’s mission is to create lifelong mutually-beneficial relationships with alumni and friends and support university priorities? What’s not to like about that?!

As fate would have it, UCL had just completed a review that had recommended they create a new lead operations post: Deputy Director and Head of Operations and Development Services.

The job description included the following:

The post of Deputy Director (Operations and Development Services) has been established to strengthen the co-ordination of all D&CCO activities, and to ensure that the fund-raising, alumni and corporate communications structure which has been put in place, is adequately supported with efficient and appropriate administrative services An important aspect of this post is the utilisation of effective planning techniques across all the work of the D&CCO and responsibility for the day to day management of the support areas.

It seemed like a real stretch for me at the time. I only had direct experience of about half of the duties and there were even some words in the job description that I didn’t really understand, but I went for it anyway.

Reader, I got that job.

It’s funny now, 10 years later looking back at that job description. My job is still pretty much the same but I have watched the rest of the sector catch up to the foresight that UCL’s consultants had in recommending the creation of this role.

Credit: UCL

Learning curve

When I turned up on day one, (20th April 2006 in case you’re interested), I was so green. I still had very little idea about university development and had only ever managed a much smaller team. I soon learned though that the experience I had gained in recruitment, staff development and events early on in my career was absolutely vital for this role: attention to detail, valuing people, partnering with others, delivering on promises, prioritising, being a pragmatic problem solver, being can-do rather than will-not.

I looked around in those first few months to find my peer network and discovered that I didn’t have one. UCL seemed to be the only university at that time with an operations post on the leadership team. Development Services was very much seen as a ‘back-office’ function that provided a service to the rest of the office. A reactive function, secondary in importance to the business of fundraising and relationship-building. In fact, few offices even had a defined development services team.

More often than not, there were a few admin posts scattered around the office reporting into Alumni Relations or Major Gifts teams. What our consultants had helped us to see is that it takes a different set of skills to run an effective operations function — you need someone who’s more about the numbers, data and detail, than about people, places and parties. As our Finance Director once explained to me: more Excel and less PowerPoint.

Building and cultivating a network through CASE

I attended the CASE Summer Institute in Advancement Services in 2008 and came away inspired to help develop the Development Services profession in the UK. CASE were keen and invited me to chair the inaugural Development Services Conference in October 2008. Our programme included a list of topics that are still relevant today, all this time later.

Over the years I have gone out of my way to raise the profile of our profession and, in particular, to promote us as partners not providers. I quickly changed the name of my team at UCL from Development Services to Development Operations, because I felt that more accurately reflected our mission and the value that we could bring to the table. The Development Services annual conference (I haven’t quite persuaded CASE to change the name yet!!) is now CASE Europe’s second biggest and I am so proud to have seen both the growth in capacity and capability within our bit of the development world.

The levels of sophistication and ambition in our teams are incredible — I am so impressed with the data analytics work I have seen, and with some of the creative prospect development work too. You only have to look at the calibre of presentations on offer at this year’s conference to see what I mean.

Raising the profile of development services

I think people are starting to see Development Operations as a profession now and I am proud of the part I have played in that. Almost all of the larger universities have an operations post on their leadership team now, and there are very few development offices without at least a few dedicated operations posts. Our Finance Director was partly right about Excel and Powerpoint, but two of the things that really set a high-performing development operations function apart are strategy and communications.

You have to understand the big picture — to see why the part you are playing is important and really get that data isn’t data — its people.

You also have to be really good at communicating with the wider development team — listening, influencing, shaping, giving them what they need, not what they asked for, in a format that works for them. We can’t be all Excel — we have to be the whole Office package.

Moving on…

This year marks a big change for me. I am leaving UCL at Christmas after 10 wonderful years to launch my own consultancy and coaching business. It’ll be hard to leave this fabulous place and the team here, but I am very excited to use my experience to help build capacity in some other institutions. I am fascinated to see how the sector will rise to the opportunities that face us: GDPR, FPS, BREXIT, globalisation, digital engagement. One thing I’m sure of is that DevOps will be right at the centre of the solution.

Jennie Moule is Director of Strategy and Operations at UCL and is the recipient of a CASE Crystal Apple for Excellence in Teaching. Jennie is on the stellar scoring faculty of the CASE Spring Institute in Educational Fundraising, which will take place 24–28 April 2017.

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