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Motivations of Leaders: Leigh Petersen

Tue, October 10, 2017 8:38 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


What makes Prospect Development a great career?

APRA-IL is asking local and national industry leaders what the field means to them and why and how they have pursued success in Prospect Development. Through this blog series we will explore what drives industry leaders to propel their careers and Prospect Development forward.

For this month's piece, Joan Ogwumike, APRA-IL member and volunteer, interviews Leigh Petersen, former Apra-IL President and Senior Director of Advancement Services and Operations at Southwestern University.


Working with non-profits for over 15 years, Leigh Petersen is currently the Senior Director of Advancement Services and Operations at Southwestern University. She previously worked as the Director of Prospect Development at Harvard Business School where she developed the prospect management, analytics, and research teams. Prior to Harvard, Leigh served as Director of Prospect Development at Loyola University Chicago. Leigh chaired the 2017 Apra Data Analytics Symposium and served in leadership roles with Apra-IL. Leigh earned her MBA in Information Systems Management with a certificate in Data Warehousing from Loyola University Chicago and a BA in Music Performance from Doane College (Crete, NE). She enjoys singing with the Round Rock Community Choir, running Ragnar Relays, traveling worldwide, and nerding out with data.

Apra-IL: Describe your motivations to build your career in Prospect Development, and what keeps you engaged.

Petersen: Like many others, I fell into Prospect Development by accident. My career started in arts management, moved to working in finance, and landed in planned giving. As a gift officer, I enjoyed the donor stories, but found myself more interested in the big picture of prospect identification. Around the same time, I started my MBA at Loyola University Chicago and found my data classes to be very intriguing, which peaked my curiosity in this field. With the techniques learned as a gift officer paired with the data concepts from my MBA class, it felt very natural to transition into the Director of Prospect Development role at Loyola. 

The Prospect Development professionals whom I have met through Apra and AASP or colleagues whom I've worked with at Loyola, Harvard Business School, or Southwestern University (as well as many other non-profits) continue to amaze me. These individuals continue to ask new questions of our field while taking the time to teach those around them. These wonderful people are why I stay engaged in this area of nonprofits.

Apra-IL: What impact does your work, and the overall field of Prospect Development, have (and could you describe who you believe your audience is)?

Petersen: Prospect Development's impact is enormous - locally in our organizations and globally across organizations of all types. Generally, I'm a person who wants to create improvements in my day-to-day role for not only myself, but the environment around me. It's greatly satisfying to know that even a small change in a process or a tiny update in a data point can lead to better productivity and growing results for the entire team and organization. Too often the unsung heroes, Prospect Development professionals, improve the data, processes, flows, relationships, etc. that help raise money in supporting noble efforts. Though it's very difficult to measure our direct impact, I can only estimate (with my experience in capital campaigns) that our impact is in the hundreds of billions of dollars across the industry.

Apra-IL: Please share a piece of advice with the readers on what you have gained during your professional development.

Petersen: I'd recommend readers build a network of 3-5 honest and fun people in the profession who can provide straight feedback, push you to be better, and cheer for you along the journey. There were plenty of times when I doubted decisions or walked unknown paths, but these individuals helped guide and support my efforts through constructive conversations. They are also super fun individuals who can handle chilling with a beer and not talking work if that's what's needed.

Next, I'd recommend learning how to be an expert in something. Whether it's prospect staging, data visualizations, or real estate valuation, find something and become the go-to person on the topic. I've found my passion and success in turning around departments and building teams and processes from scratch. Each situation has been different and extremely challenging, but also very rewarding, especially when you see staff who you've hired move to amazing, successful careers.

Apra-IL: What is next for you? Is there anything you would like to accomplish or a challenge you hope to overcome?  

Petersen: It was an honor presenting at CASE Asia in Hong Kong in 2016 with Josh Birkholz. Speaking somewhere outside the US is on my short to-do list. Next, I recently purchased www.leighpetersen.com, so I guess I had better do something with that webpage! I want it to be more than just a blog, so feel free to send me any suggestions of what you're interested in seeing from me. Also, I'm continually intrigued by the power of analytics, so I'm currently investigating some online course options since I need more training in that area. Finally, I love donuts, so those continue to stay in my future.



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