Smithsonian Institution Case Study

The Challenge

The Smithsonian Institution creates a new position for a Chief Advancement and External Affairs Officer, Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is a research institute of the Smithsonian Institution headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it is joined with the Harvard College Observatory to form the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The complexities for this new position include: raising $100M from an unaffiliated prospect donor base which has yet to be engaged or cultivated, so that the Observatory can have 10% time with the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile. The Chief Advancement Officer will work alongside Dr. Charles Alcock, Director, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Professor of Astronomy, Harvard University and report into central development at the Smithsonian Headquarters in Washington, D.C.


The Approach

Higher Talent was retained by the Smithsonian Institution to identify, engage, and recruit top talent from across the country.  After the site visit, Higher Talent prepared a detailed and informative position prospectus, designed the candidate research strategy, and began proactively reaching out to potential candidates and individuals for networking.

Strategic candidate research included:

  • Who will have the skills and gravitas to work effectively across a multifaceted institution?
  • Where will this individual be currently employed?
    • We researched prospective candidates from university science-related schools and units; and
    • Other nonprofits where there is not a natural constituency from which to raise money.
  • Utilizing our network, combined with original research, we reached out to more than 420 individuals, had informational and telephone screening calls with 12, personally interviewed 7, and presented three as Higher Talent recommended shortlist candidates including:
    • One from a large public research university with a highly regarded astrophysicist as the Dean of the College of Natural Sciences
    • One from a conservation-related nonprofit
    • One from a private research university and highly ranked science-focused institution.

The Result

The Astrophysical Observatory hired Sharon Allen from Texas A&M Foundation where she had raised money for their College of Science, working alongside world-renowned research experts in atmospheric and environmental chemistry, astronomy, and other related fields of study.