Five minutes with…Karen Mutch, FIA Education Manager

Karen Mutch is FIA’s new education manager. We interviewed Karen about her wealth of experience in education and professional development, what she wants to achieve at FIA and her pastime rescuing in-distress boaters in the waters around Sydney.

You began your education career in sales management (which included Japanese language and customer service training) for DFS Australia Stores. What attracted you to this work?

At DFS Australia Stores, I trained sales staff as part of my role, and I wrote an operations manual to help educate and develop these employees in customer service because we were servicing the Japanese market where excellent customer experience is expected and highly valued.

I trained and integrated a strong sales and customer support team of 110, later 300, multicultural staff. I found I enjoyed training people, but I didn’t pursue this work seriously until after I had my kids.

You then went into quality assurance work. What was that like?

I worked in the HR industry conducting background checks and screening, which is highly regulated. I dealt with sensitive information, ensured clients were getting accurate information about their new hires and informed clients about best practice for on-boarding. I later moved from managing client accounts to business and product development where I focused on developing new products to include in quality background checks and in turn added value to the packages we could offer our clients.

You also worked with international students?

For several years, I taught international graduates a professional year in business English and the skills they would need for the Australian workplace. Working with international students is great because you’re dealing with people who have interesting backgrounds and are keen to advance. They just want to achieve in the Australian workplace and move into companies where they can make a substantial contribution. It was a great way to bring my business and sales experience together with education and training.

I taught topics such as business writing skills, presentation skills, communication skills, how to run meetings, project management and cultural competency and awareness. It was a very diverse program attached to a 12-week professional internship. It was a wonderful experience.

More recently, you worked at UNSW as an educational developer and as a senior education specialist at the Australian Film, TV and Radio School. Tell us more.

At the Australian Film, TV and Radio School, I worked to establish a new division in specialist programs where I created diplomas and advanced diplomas that could be delivered either online or in a blended learning environment encompassing both online learning and face-to-face teaching across a range of disciplines, as well as bring online a new learning management system.

It was exciting to work with the school’s highly experienced staff to develop these courses that met their industry’s needs. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed working with many highly passionate and collaborative people who are committed to their fields.

I later moved to UNSW to create a new honours degree program. I mapped their curriculum programs, so they could scaffold their courses and achieve a better student experience and outcomes for their degrees going forward. It was and is a process of continuous improvement which is necessary for all education and professional development programs.

What are the joys and challenges working in education?

There are many joys because the work is compelling and there’s always something new to learn. I like working with different content and subject matter experts and aiming to achieve high-quality outcomes. No two days are ever the same.

Besides, people in the field tend to be genuine. They look out for what is best for the learner and how to engage them, so the student is going to have a positive experience in the learning environment.

The challenges result from people and human nature. Life interferes with their learning, and some people always throw you these curveballs. Dealing with student management issues has its moments. Then there’s technology, which is continually changing. It’s a struggle to keep on top of that. Finally, there’s the need to keep up to date with best practice. There are always challenges in education!

What inspired you to take the education manager’s role at FIA?

I was attracted to FIA because the organisation operates in the not-for-profit space and the staff deal with people who are passionate about working for a cause to better their community and people’s lives. It was attractive that FIA is an organisation that supports those values and where the staff genuinely want to help the members to achieve their career aspirations.

What will be your key focus at FIA?

At this point, I still need to get to know the members and learn what their needs are. We will look to build on our core education courses and see how we can improve them as part of a continuous improvement process. We will also create interesting new short courses for our members based on their feedback. That’s my short-term focus into early next year

What new courses is FIA offering in 2019?

We have a few new short courses in development. We have a new storytelling course which is going to bring some creativity and freshness to the education program for our fundraisers. We have a new career transition course in the works as well. This is for people who are not from the sector and who would like to transition to a fundraising career. We will show them how to develop in their line of work to make that transition.

We also have a new one-day regulatory and compliance course, so people can understand their legal requirements and ensure they’re practising ethical fundraising.

Tell us about changes coming to the FIA mentoring program?

With the mentoring program, we’re looking to streamline and provide a bit more structure and consistency. We’re going to take a national approach where members can apply and register to be a mentor or mentee, or both. The mentees will be matched to someone from whom they can receive guidance on their current needs and future aspirations.

Would you like FIA to offer more online learning?

Online learning is very flexible. I can see us taking the FIA education program more into the online and blended learning space, so offering best practice in online learning and face-to-face instruction. But whatever we create for the online learning sphere must be fit-for-purpose and achievable for members to slot into their busy schedules.

In 2019, we will take our Gifts in Wills Fundamentals course online. This means people can access the course at any time. They will not have to wait for a class to be offered in their city. It also means regional fundraisers can be better catered for.

Obviously, you’re a believer in life-long education. Why should fundraisers keep upskilling?

Whether you take a course from inside your sector or outside, it’s good to upskill. There’s always transferable knowledge and skills you can bring to your career. If someone says they know it all, that’s the first red flag in my opinion, because people usually don’t.

It comes back to my belief about the need for continuous improvement. You can continually improve yourself, your team and your organisation because there are always new things to learn.

What are the challenges in developing a curriculum for fundraisers?

The challenges are mapping clear aims and outcomes and then following a pathway where you’re developing assessments, measurements and activities that are going to validate the content being taught. Planning out the curriculum and then pegging it to a quality framework is essential.

At FIA, I’ll be benchmarking international trends in education and programs in the sector because it’s vital that our offerings be current and relevant.

What are the challenges of an association education program?

It’s about standards and how we can create ones that align with our program for the sector and that meet the needs of members. It’s essential to ensure members are always receiving quality and credible courses in timeframes that are achievable amongst busy work schedules.

In your spare time, you volunteer with a marine rescue organisation. What does that entail?

In my spare time, I like to sail and volunteer with Marine Rescue NSW which rescues boaters in distress. The work can be as simple as towing a boat if the person has run out of fuel or has a mechanical program. More dramatically, there could be a search and rescue operation or the need to provide emergency medical assistance to someone offshore or inshore.

It can be difficult. I’ve been involved in search rescues where you don’t find the people after a boating accident. That’s sad.

On a happier note, not long ago I participated in a rescue off Little Box Head where some fishermen were rolled by a wave. A passing vessel radioed us that they’d found the people clinging to a channel marker. They rescued the people while we assisted with stopping their runabout which was doing doughnuts in the water. We managed to get the boat out of the channel, so it was no longer a navigational hazard!