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Arlen Bartsch, director of development at Canada's National Ballet School, 2011.
Arlen Bartsch, director of development at Canada's National Ballet School, 2011.

My Career

National Ballet director's best move was made mid-career Add to ...

Arlen Bartsch is director of development at Canada’s National Ballet School. He has held the position for four years.

Describe your current role

I’m a fundraiser and my responsibilities are for a staff of 10, who, as a not-for-profit organization, develop the school’s fundraising programs.

What’s your background and education?

I initially studied to go into not-for-profit work, primarily in the religious sector. I have a three-year degree in Christian education. And then I got bachelor of communications at the University of Ottawa, and left there to go into the high-tech sector. I spent the better part of 20 years building technology companies.

How did you get to your position?

What got me the job was my network. I helped Mike Cowpland build Corel Corporation, and then I went off and built my own company, sold it in California, and came back and helped a series of small start-ups raise profiles after their mezzanine round of financing.

I got this job when I was considered for a CEO position at one of those small start-ups. I was assessed by a company called Knights Bridge Human Capital Management and the consultants there stayed in touch with me and suggested that I get to know some of the people at the National Ballet School. The new executive director was looking for people who had business experience, and I happened to fit the bill.

What’s the best part of your job?

I get to spend my day helping other people make transformational gifts to charitable organizations. They’re at the point in their life where they want to do something meaningful and I get to hear their stories, I get to develop a rapport with them and I get to assist them in steering that gift into a meaningful end.

I enjoy coming to work. I work at a place where I get to see students from Gr. 6 through 12, who are emerging artists, kinesthetically gifted, pursue their dreams.

What’s the worst part of your job?

There are always things we’re not great at but we have to do. I think I’m good at initiating, opening doors, but there’s always the follow through that one has to manage. But those I see as challenges and opportunities.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

The challenge in fundraising, when you’re given targets by your finance committee, is to anticipate how you’re going to meet the gap or the goal. Part of what I do is basically identify with my team the prospective or existing donors who will help us reach those goals.

The other challenge is sharing the dream. We have to share those aspirational goal with donors, so it’s selling that dream, sharing that dream. And part of what I think I’m relatively good at is helping them understand that there’s a high level of comfort they can have when they bequeath their gifts to us. I think I’m relatively good at building trust with donors.

I’m new in this industry, having come from the profit marketplace. I was in business for many years. So making the transition into a new city means you have to cultivate a network, you have to build the confidence of your board, and you have to identify new individuals, corporations and foundations that want to participate. Those are my challenges, to do that in a new locale.

What has been your best career move?

This transition from building my own company was a wonderful segue because I am working with two very visionary individuals, Mavis Staines, our artistic director, and executive director Jeff Melanson, who is leaving here to become president of the Banff Centre.

This was my best move, and it was a mid-career move. I’m 52.

What about your worst career move?

Investing in an independent book store. I was very ambitious and wanted to support a small independent bookstore in a small market in Ontario, so I purchased that. And I also purchased a small ice cream parlour franchise. Those were two small business moves that I made. Let’s just say I learned a lot but I didn’t do as well financially as I had hoped.

What’s your next big career goal?

As projects go, I’m most interesting in continuing to work here and continue to build out the team and the aspirations of the school. But at some point in my career future, I’d like to participate in a large capital project.

What’s your best advice?

Beyond “do what you love,” it’s important to continue to cultivate your network, even when you’re gainfully employed. You can’t become laissez-faire. You really do need to continue to volunteer, to participate, because as economic conditions change, you want to have the broadest possible reach so you can make those kinds of aspirational moves.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Dianne Nice is The Globe and Mail’s Careers & Workplace Web Editor.

If you know a Canadian executive with an interesting career, contact Globe Careers .

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Follow on Twitter: @diannenice

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