By Elisa Shoenberger, Senior Prospect Management and Research Analyst, Loyola University Chicago
When I first started as a prospect researcher and attended my first APRA conference, a few people I met described their work as “professional stalker.” That description felt very wrong to me from the beginning. I like to avoid using the word “stalker” in any context, especially professional one. I was determined to come up with a better short description of the field that had a more positive ring to it. Or make people laugh without all the self-deprecation. I settled on “Treasure Hunter” since everyone loves pirates, right? It felt a lot better to say.
When I talk to people who don’t know about fundraising, I have to explain that prospect research and management is its own niche field. I try to explain that fundraising is its own industry as well with its big competitors and startups. I try to emphasize how much prospect research and management is a field. An impressive one at that. I’ve been fortunate to have gone to several local and international APRA conferences and seen the beauty and organization of our industry. I think it is incredible that researchers present their work to us all, write articles about the profession on many blogs, and even advise newcomers and fellow researchers in the field. At my first APRA conference, so many people were willing to lend a hand to one another. Even as a newcomer, I was able to help other people I’ve met who were even newer to the field. That commitment to sharing and helping each other succeed is amazing. What a passionate, thoughtful industry we are in!
And in the past few years, it’s been incredible to see the rise of analytics within our field. We’ve been attending lectures and workshops about how we could use Big Data for several years. And then it seems that everyone (outside of research) was talking about it! It’s been incredible to see how our field continues to grow and keeps up with the changes in the world.
But the biggest point of pride for me has been the work itself. We help drive the strategy of fundraising at our institutions. I love that my research takes me to new and interesting places each day. One day, I’ll be working on evaluating the value of an art collection and the next day, I’ll be researching a foundation’s work in fostering democracy. I get to be a mini-expert on lots of little areas. Moreover, I’m extremely proud that research I’ve done has helped align donors with a particular field of interest for them! And even better, I’ve been able to help to increase the size of the gifts. Those moments are precious to me. Helping my organization grow is what it is all about. So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m more than a treasure hunter. I don’t just find the treasure, I help give gift officers with the shovel? Okay, that metaphor is getting a bit tortured.
So what am I? I’m a researcher. #researchpride
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