This month marks the completion of my very first year working as a prospect researcher. Among the many things I learned from my research colleagues this year is the fact that I am not alone in the way I entered this profession – which was sort-of by accident!
One year ago, I joined a higher education fundraising team after having applied to a job announcement with a title that intrigued me, but which I had never heard of: “prospect research analyst.” Looking back now, I am happy to report that I not only understand what a prospect researcher does, but also that I have a good handle on the specific practices that produce effective prospect research. For me, this year’s learning process has looked a little something like this:
1. Mastering the basics
In the course of this year, I have come to see database maintenance, biographical profiles, and capacity screening summaries as the three essential building blocks of the support I provide to the front-line fundraisers and leaders on my team. Without a strong database – and the humans who are responsible for accurately maintaining and organizing the information held within it – no organization can effectively use its data. In addition to my organization’s donor database, constituent profiles and capacity screening summaries have become my go-to tools for communicating important donor information with front-line fundraisers. I have been using my organization’s existing templates to fulfill these requests, and I have gradually started adapting them to better fit the requirements of each request I receive.
2. Moving towards proactive research
To get a footing in prospect research, my first year in the profession was more weighted towards responding to the specific research requests I received from development officers and our university’s senior administrators. In the coming year, I hope to take a more proactive approach to research projects. So far, I have mostly relied on news sources and relevant corporate and government goings-on as my sources for uncovering information important to my organization. This year, I’d like to shift my approach and start using my organization’s wealth screening research tools in a proactive way, and to most effectively share the information I find with fundraisers.
3. Seeing the world through the lens of research
These days, I often catch myself inevitably and automatically asking research-oriented questions about any information I come across. Questions like, “where did this information come from?”, “what is this source’s track record in providing accurate information?”, or “where else could I find the information I’m seeking?” This process usually takes place when I’m off the clock, and I hear or read anything that captures my attention. A recent example of a story that sparked these questions for me was a November feature in The New York Times, “A Business With No End.” It’s partially an intriguing mystery, and partially a showcase of great visual and story design. But it is also a story that shines a spotlight on research legwork, and it reminded me of why I find our profession so fulfilling.
4. Joining a community
Above all, I can’t emphasize enough how helpful Apra and our very own Apra Mo/Kan chapter have been during each step of my introduction to the prospect research universe! In-person networking and professional development sessions allowed me to meet new colleagues and learn from their approaches to similar questions I have faced in my work. In the coming year, I hope I’ll see you too at one of these events and get the chance to hear all about everything you have learned, accomplished, and uncovered this year.
It’s that time of year when the board sends out a general appeal for our members to share their expertise and present at our conference. It is overlooked by many, perhaps no more than by those new to the profession. When I first started in the field, I remember thinking that I’d never know enough to possibly present, certainly not while I’m new. How very wrong I was. My mentor encouraged me to present with her, and it was not nearly as intimidating as my fear led me to believe. Your experiences, however brief, are just as valuable as those who have been in this field for decades. Don’t be afraid to share what you know and have learned with the group.
Your first professional presentation will undoubtedly be approached with a healthy dose of fear. Before you take those brave first steps up to the podium, you’ll probably start where I did, asking yourself, “What on earth do I even talk about? What could I possibly have to offer when I’ve been doing this for less than a year?” Spoiler, you can talk about anything! We have plenty of prospect development professionals that are new to our field attend our conferences. You can help them along by sharing your experiences. And for those of us who have been doing this awhile, sometimes you think of better ways of doing things that we would love to learn about. It’s also a nice reminder for us what challenges face new researchers.
Case studies are a great way to break into presenting. They are probably the easiest route to go because it’s just telling everyone how you went about solving a problem. It could be that the problem is a common one, but your approach was one you hadn’t read about. Or it could be a weird problem you searched for answers for but ultimately had to come up with a creative solution on your own. The problems you’re solving can be as broad (you didn’t have a system in place for tracking research requests) or specific (you had to provide capacity information on an author and had to research how royalties work) as you like – just as long as you have a story to tell about how you fixed it.
The buddy system is also a great way to present for the first time. My first presentation was with my mentor, and it made a huge difference having someone I knew up there with me. Did you develop a new approach to working one-on-one with gift officers? Bring one of them along! Did you and a fellow researcher work together to solve a problem? You both can talk about it! Maybe you and your supervisor worked on a big project together – you can tag team and each talk about the parts you worked on.
If you’ve managed to make it this far and you’re not new to the field, congratulations. We still need you. Many members of our chapter have years of experience and have never shared with us by presenting. It’s never too late to start sharing all the wealth of knowledge you’ve developed. Hopefully, some of the above information has triggered something in you and have you’ve had a lightbulb moment about a great idea on what to present. If I haven’t managed to convince how easy it can be to present, I hope at the very least we get to see you at our conference on March 21-22 in St. Louis.
Greetings Apra Mo/Kan!
It was amazing to see so many of you in Pittsburgh! Thank you for those who made it out early on Friday to have breakfast and network. Look at all these smiling faces!
What a great way to unofficially kick off our new Apra Mo/Kan year! This week several of our members in the Kansas City area are gathering to share insights from the Prospect Development conference. We’ll share some of the highlights on our Twitter for members in other areas of our territory. And don’t worry – our professional development committee has many plans in store for other cities including Wichita, Springfield, and mid-Missouri!
Our biggest event every year is always our spring conference. In 2019 we are heading back to St. Louis. Plans are still being made for date and location. If you are interested in helping plan the programming, solicit sponsorships or work on logistics, please contact me so we can get you on the 2019 Conference Committee. We’ll be having our first teleconference meeting sometime in early September, so please let me know by August 31 if you want to be in on the fun. It’s a great way to meet other Chapter members and help create some of our most meaningful programming!
I’m looking forward to seeing many of you next spring in St. Louis – and hopefully in the months in between at some of our other programs and of course on Twitter! Have an excellent end to summer!
July 1 kicked off a new board year for Apra Missouri/Kansas (Mo/Kan) and I am so excited to share some of the plans taking shape for 2018-2019!
Hopefully you joined us at our first ever joint conference with Apra Great Plains in March. We welcomed over 80 members from the Midwest for two days of networking and learning. It was an overwhelming success and based on survey responses, we will plan to do another joint conference in 2020 in the Great Plains Chapter area. Our next Chapter conference will be spring 2019 in St. Louis and more details will be coming this fall, as well as a call for presentations. If you are feeling particularly inspired after this year, please consider sharing your knowledge in St. Louis!
Your membership connects you to an amazing professional network of prospect development professionals across Missouri, Kansas and even some of our neighboring states. This year, we are ramping up the value of your membership by planning virtual educational opportunities and local networking events so you can meet more of your peers face-to-face outside of our annual conference. We also plan to communicate with you more via this blog on our website so our board and volunteers can share useful information about resources, events and opportunities to engage.
If you are going to be in Pittsburgh for Apra’s Prospect Development conference, you will have lots of fellow Apra Mo/Kan members to meet! Heidi Harmelik from University of Missouri is on the Data Analytics Symposium committee, so if you work in analytics or are just wanting to get started, consider adding this to your agenda and supporting the efforts of one of our members. I hope all of you in Pittsburgh will join me at an Apra Mo/Kan happy hour we are organizing. More details to come in a few weeks.
Increased programming takes many hands and we want YOU to be part of the fun! We need volunteers to help plan events in your local area, be a mentor to newer professionals, write for our blog and share knowledge and information through our social media. The time commitment varies but the reward of helping grow our Chapter into a more robust professional network is worth it. If you are interested in learning more or volunteering, please reach out to me at email@example.com.
I hope to engage with each of our members this year at some point, whether at a networking event or out in the Twittersphere. And I hope you will feel free to send your comments and suggestions to me or any board member about how we can add value to your professional development through Apra Missouri/Kansas. Thank you for being a member! And if you are not already a member, consider this my personal invitation to join us!