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Apra-IL Blog

You Should Write a Blog About That!

As part of our goal to share industry and career-related information to colleagues in the fundraising development field, we encourage you to contact us if you would like to contribute to our blog. 

Current 2022 Blog Series:

T.R.U.S.T - What Does Collaboration Mean to You?

Completed in 2021/2020: 

The Research Rabbit Hole

The Hot Seat

The Prospect Development Professional's Haven

Questions, Questions, Read all About the Answers!

Placing a Seat at the Table

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  • Thu, December 29, 2022 2:05 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Since we have a brand new board, we've decided to resurrect this series so you can get to know us a little better. Today's post is with Peter Kotowski, Associate Director of Prospect Management & Research at Loyola University Chicago and Apra-IL's President.


    1.       What is the superpower that you use often at work?

    Database knowledge! For the last three years, I’ve been one of the two members of Advancement responsible for training new hires on our CRM. Not only has this been a great way to begin establishing trust with fundraisers, a strong knowledge of the CRM has made it easier to extract data when prospecting or building portfolios.

    2.       What is one thing Apra has done for you?

    The networking has been so helpful, especially when I was new to the field. The members of Apra-IL have always been so welcoming and happy to offer advice, suggestions, or benchmarking information. Being able to connect with such a wonderful network has been the best part of Apra-IL.

    3.       If the annual Apra International conference could be anywhere in the world, where would you want it to be?

    Somewhere cold! After having to suffer through a summer conference in Phoenix, I’m ready to fight the tyranny of the heat and have an Apra International hosted somewhere cold in January. Maybe Yellowknife, Canada?

    4.       How do you explain your role to people outside of Development?

    I tell folks I work in fundraising operations, supporting parts of the division who have to go and interact with alumni and donors.

    5.       If you were not in Prospect Research, what career would you have?

    Academics. I spent over half my life planning on being a history professor. Now I just moonlight as an adjunct once or twice a year at Chicagoland universities.

    6.       If you could tell your 15-year-old self about your job, what would you say?

    Don’t give up on math class once you get out of high school.

    7.       Why did you join the Apra-Illinois board?

    The chapter was so helpful when I was an newcomer to the industry that I wanted to help provide the same networking, mentorship, and support to other newbies.

    8.       Why do you think Apra-Illinois and all of the local Apra chapters matter?

    Sometimes the national chapter can be distant (and expensive). The local chapters often provide more immediate and helpful information.

    9.       What is your #1 productivity tip?

    Lists. I’m a geriatric millennial so I love getting pen and paper and writing out my to-do list for the day/week.

    10.   Best advice ever received?

    From a professor in grad school: “There’s no good writing. Only good rewriting.”

    11.   If you wrote a book about prospect development what would it be called?

    My Neighbor Makes How Much?!: Ethics and Boundaries in Prospect Development

    12.   If you wrote a memoir on your life, what would it be called?

    Alone in the Archives

    13.   What book are you reading right now?

    My brother recommended Tenth of December, a collection of short stories by George Saunders that is weird and eclectic and nothing like what I expected.

    14.   Currently, what is your favorite restaurant in your city?

    Passero

    15.   What is your favorite social platform to connect with people?

    I still enjoy the manic energy of Twitter, especially around a big sporting event.

    16.   What is the last movie you watched?

    A Christmas Story Christmas. A poor nostalgia grab that nonetheless had one or two heartwarming moments.

    17.   If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would it be?

    Tolkien and Lewis. I don’t even need dinner. Just let me eavesdrop while they spend an hour at the pub.

    18.   What is your hobby?

    I try to read when I have the spare time. Lately I’ve been trying to take up fly tying.

    19.   Are you a texter or a caller?

    Texter.

    20.   Who or what inspires you?

    I am inspired by people who continue to advocate for positive change in the face of unrelenting opposition.


  • Wed, October 26, 2022 9:53 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Since we have a brand new board, we've decided to resurrect this series so you can get to know us a little better. Today's post is with Julia Dimick, Senior Development Analyst with the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and Apra-IL's Director of Marketing.

    1. What is the superpower that you use often at work?

      I remember weird things about people, which comes in handy when dealing with prospects. Usually, if I can remember the quirky detail about someone, I can remember a lot more about them. This has proved very helpful as there has been some prospect crossover between the organizations I’ve worked at. 
    2. What is one thing Apra has done for you?

      Helped me figure out what prospect research was all about! I went to a new researcher’s symposium when I was starting out and it was incredibly useful. I recommend them to anyone new to the profession.
    3. If the annual Apra International conference could be anywhere in the world, where would you want it to be?

      Greece! 
    4. How do you explain your role to people outside of Development?

      I generally say I work behind the scenes in fundraising, both helping the front line fundraisers find new donors and find information on existing donors.
    5. If you were not in Prospect Research, what career would you have?

      I started out as a lawyer, so if I hadn’t stumbled into prospect research, I’d probably still be doing that. But I would love to own a bookstore.
    6. If you could tell your 15-year-old self about your job, what would you say?

      You get to stalk people and get paid for it! Seriously though, I’d tell myself that I get to do something extremely fun that is often very challenging.
    7. Why did you join the Apra-Illinois board?

      I wanted to get involved more with Apra locally, and this provided a great opportunity.
    8. Why do you think Apra-Illinois and all of the local Apra chapters matter?

      Because having a network you can reach out to for help or advice is incredibly useful as a professional, particularly if you don’t have colleagues you can ask.
    9. What is your #1 productivity tip?

      Lists! I make a list every day of what I want to get done. Sometimes the day throws me a curveball, but my list usually keeps me on track. 
    10. Best advice ever received?

      “The worst that can happen is they’ll say no,” which is advice from my dad, given to me when I was younger and freaking out about asking a teacher for a letter of recommendation for a college application. The sentiment always helps me when I’m overthinking something.
    11. If you wrote a book about prospect development what would it be called?

      “Don’t Hit the Add Friend Button: Tales from a Professional Internet Stalker”
    12. If you wrote a memoir on your life, what would it be called?

      “I Was Being Sarcastic…Or Was I?”
    13. What book are you reading right now?

      The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova. It’s basically a historical thriller about the folklore surrounding Dracula. I’ve read it a few times before, and thought it would be a fun re-read around Halloween.
    14. Currently, what is your favorite restaurant in your city?

      Athenian Room
    15. What is your favorite social platform to connect with people?

      I guess it’s still Instagram, since I love taking pictures, but I liked it better before Facebook bought it.
    16. What is the last movie you watched?

      I think it was “The Curse of La Llorona.” I’ve been on a scary movie kick in October. 
    17. If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would it be?

      RBG. I would love to talk to her about the law and her general awesomeness and to thank her for all the amazing things she did for women.
    18. What is your hobby?

      I like to read, and usually have two books going at once. I also attempt crafty projects every couple of years, till I am reminded that I am not a crafty person. I'm currently convinced I can crochet. (I cannot.)
    19. Are you a texter or a caller?

      A texter, unless a call is unavoidable.
    20. Who or what inspires you?

      People who remain positive despite facing immeasurable hardships.

  • Wed, March 30, 2022 8:41 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    T.R.U.S.T - What Does Collaboration Mean to You? Jessica Boudakian, Associate Director of Prospect Development at CHOP Foundation and Joan Ogwumike, Blogger and Prospect Researcher at the Obama Foundation are delving into the Apra Illinois inbox. They are answering questions and giving advice on relationship building in prospect development between frontline fundraisers and PD professionals, and so much more. If you want to submit a question please email us at apraillinois@gmail.com (you can be anonymous as well, we are here to help).

    Anonymous Question: How can prospect development professionals gently encourage major gift officers to be better about qualifying the prospects we bring to them? There’s a constant refrain of needing new prospects, and yet, little work done when we provide the prospects. Since we’re obviously not their managers, what kind of “enforcement” can we do?

    Jessica: My suggestion is to do a mix of leaning on the data you have and meeting the gift officers where they are, when possible.

    First, go back to the basics and make sure that every record has contact information. Additional data could be as simple as having a list of their prospects in qualification along with a data point of when their last outreach occurred. I also like to see how many times each constituent in their portfolio has been contacted. Monthly action reports can also be helpful for gift officers so they can see their work outside of their portfolio. These data points combined will give you a more complete picture of their work, and the gift officers will be able to see if they are contacting the “right” prospects. Are they maximizing their time by doing outreach to these prospective donors, and what will have the highest return? Are they spending too much time with the prospects they know will return their calls, and not enough time qualifying new prospects?

    Other ways to look at data includes doing a Gap Analysis to show the gift officers whether their current portfolio can meet their fundraising goal, and what solicitations are needed for the fiscal year. With this number on hand, you can then backfill the number of prospects they need to have in their portfolio. I’ve commonly heard that it takes four prospects to result in one successful solicitation, but on review of your data, you may find that your organization has a higher or lower success rate.

    A different approach is to try to understand why your gift officers believe they need new prospects. Are the prospects in their portfolio the hot potatoes that pass from team member to team member? You may want to do a strategy deep dive with your colleagues to see what thoughtful outreach can move the needle on this prospect and then Disqualify if there’s no response. Are they doing outreach with little success? They may need additional training and help to craft a better message. If they’re still hungry for more new prospects, I would offer them a targeted list of unassigned prospects for cold calls.

    You also must allow for the possibility that some of the prospects are not viable and should be removed from the portfolio. It helps to have a process in place so that the prospect will get some outreach, such as emails and direct mail. If they donate, great! Then, they can be reassigned as a warm lead. It may be difficult to hear that the prospect isn’t going to work for a gift officer but having a candid conversation can get you both on the same page. It is helpful to get input from the gift officer on characteristics of their ideal prospect, it could help you better understand their needs and find prospects that they are truly excited about doing outreach to!

    Joan: Thank you, Anonymous, your inquiry is something many in prospect development struggle with. Our frontline fundraisers tend to experience a scarcity mind-set, a feeling that they don’t have enough and/or need more. Realistically, they have everything they need so I must agree with Jessica on her advice, and I would suggest the following:

    • When the plea for more prospects is made, ask about the progress on the prospects already in need of qualification. This can be simply and professionally stated as, “Definitely, I can get you more prospects, however, I see that you have 30 still in need of qualifying? Is there anything that I can do to help you move that along?”
    • Set up strategy sessions for the most difficult prospects. This could be a case of needing a lot of what Jessica has already shared – contact information, a more engaging message, or simply coaching (there are times in which our fundraisers need an extra push of boost of confidence in their work).
    • Tell leadership, get buy-in from those in-charge because qualification is everyone’s shared responsibility. The leadership at your organization has to hold frontline fundraisers accountable, and this can be done by making qualification a yearly goal that they are held to.
    • If your organization permits – you can set up a policy in which prospects can only stay in the qualification stage for a set amount of time, if no action is completed by that time, the prospect is either given to another fundraiser or placed back into a prospect pool. This is the type of policy that not only equates to accountability, but it respects the prospect researcher’s time for sourcing the name, and it acknowledges the importance of qualification work. It is strict, but sometimes that is what is needed. For example, fundraiser Bob is assigned prospect, Helen James, on March 29th, if there is no engagement by August 29th then Helen is no longer a prospect for Bob. Some organizations have 6-month outreach policies, and within that, a check-in at the 3-month mark to gauge progress and to give a soft push concerning the removal of the prospect.

    Jessica and I have suggested strict and gentle enforcements that show seriousness in the qualification work, and partnership to get real work done. The real work requires for movement within a portfolio, rigid rules on the size of portfolios per fundraiser, and candid conversations on collecting prospects in portfolios. Collecting prospects means to exacerbate portfolios with little action or movement on prospects, they just sit there – this is unhelpful activity.


  • Fri, February 18, 2022 11:08 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    T.R.U.S.T - What Does Collaboration Mean to You? Jessica Boudakian, Associate Director of Prospect Development at CHOP Foundation and Joan Ogwumike, Blogger and Prospect Researcher at the Obama Foundation are delving into the Apra Illinois inbox. They are answering questions and giving advice on relationship building in prospect development between frontline fundraisers and PD professionals, and so much more. If you want to submit a question please email us at apraillinois@gmail.com (you can be anonymous as well, we are here to help).

    Anonymous Question: Hello, here is my question and dilemma: How do I communicate my prospect research and strategy projects and bandwidth to a fundraiser, when they have differing ideas and needs for the next few weeks? Personally, I don’t feel like the project they have requested is truly necessary at this time. I don’t want to come off disrespectful, difficult or unprofessional, however, this is a random project that just doesn’t seem like the best use of my time right now nor do I see it the best use of their time. I am struggling with how to explain my thought process on the value of projects. How would you handle this situation?

    Thanks!

     

    Jessica: What a dilemma! I see two issues to tackle in your question: how to communicate your workload to the team and how to work with gift officers to ensure that you’re really meeting their information needs. 

    I have a couple basic suggestions for you: set a turnaround time for requests such as 10 business days from request date to deadline. Consider putting together a more detailed document on turnaround times for your most requested projects and/or streamlining which kinds of projects can be requested by prospect stage so that more time intensive requests (manual relationship mapping and full profiles, for example) are reserved for prospects who are farther along in the donor cycle. Next, make the effort to be overly communicative with your partners, and keep them updated on projects as you get closer to the deadline! And, as you’re tackling proactive research that will benefit them, let them know. This will help gift officers understand the type of work you do in addition to having more information on your workload.

    The second part of your question is a bit trickier. I recommend doing a basic reference interview for all time intensive or confusing requests that come in. A reference interview is a conversation where you use open-ended and clarifying questions to better understand what information need your gift officer is trying to meet. Colleagues will often ask questions that they believe will get them the results they need, but the language they use or the project they request doesn’t always match their real need. I’m sure many of us have delivered a project that met the request exactly, only to learn that it wasn’t what the gift officer needed. The National Archives has a copy of Guidelines of the Successful Reference Interview from American Library Association that will help you get started. You’ll notice the language is oriented towards librarian work; substitute appropriate language as needed.  

    I will also say that it’s not disrespectful or unprofessional to push back on projects! You’re a strategic partner, and if you think a requested project isn’t the best use of everyone’s time, there are ways to have that conversation. As an example, I had a conversation with a gift officer who was concerned about the size of their portfolio and wanted more new prospects. I was able to do a quick analysis that showed them that the majority of their portfolio is in Qualification. Clearly adding in new prospects wasn’t the answer here. We decided that they would focus on moving prospects from Qualification to Cultivation, and I would make sure all accounts had good contact information so that they could be contacted. Together we came to a solution that met both of our needs!

    Joan: Writer, thank you for trying to tackle this dilemma. That is the first step to the solution. Second step would be to make a side-by-side comparison of needs - list out the projects the fundraiser is requesting and then list out your own projects, and see whether there are correlations or through lines, and differences. For example, a fundraiser may say “I need 5 new prospects rated at $10 million.” But on your list, you already have a prospecting goal to find several highly-rated prospects. These two goals are needs you both share, however, it is being expressed and worded differently therefore, you can communicate, “yes, that is a great goal I already have a plan for that.” This method shows that you both are speaking to each other and thinking as a team, and working towards mutually beneficial results. When it comes to truly differing goals (or as you have stated, “a random project”) I would recommend asking for a deadline and for them to set the prioritization level for the task. Every thing cannot be a priority, therefore, what are they willing to shift around? Another question is, what is the purpose or end goal for this project? Really unpack this project with them so you both understand how they came up with it, and what they plan to do with it. A fundraiser can easily ask for something, and as they talk to you about it, they realize that it should look and feel completely different. There is nothing wrong with questioning what is being asked of you, because in the end, you want to make the best use of your time and talent.  

    Bandwidth is tricky, and I have to double down on Jessica’s sentiments. It is extremely important to vocalize how long research tasks take. If possible, create turnaround fact sheets and circulate to everyone in your department, for awareness.



  • Fri, January 14, 2022 12:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    T.R.U.S.T - What Does Collaboration Mean to You? Jessica Boudakian, Associate Director of Prospect Development at CHOP Foundation and Joan Ogwumike, Blogger and Prospect Researcher at the Obama Foundation are delving into the Apra Illinois inbox. They are answering questions and giving advice on relationship building in prospect development between frontline fundraisers and PD professionals, and so much more. If you want to submit a question please email us at apraillinois@gmail.com (you can be anonymous as well, we are here to help).

    Anonymous Question: Thank you in advance for answering my question. I would like to know how to talk to my fundraisers about their lack of interest during our prospect management meetings. I know I can’t force interest, but this is my job, and I make their jobs better. How can I make them see that this is a necessary partnership? One of my fundraisers told me that although she believes “our prospect management meetings are important, it takes too much time.”  I work at a small K-12 private school and we have a total of 5 fundraisers, I am the sole prospect research and management specialist, and my role was newly introduced to the organization in 2017. In the last 3 to 4 years, it has been a real learning curve, so, any tips would be greatly appreciated.

    Jessica: I too have struggled with gift officers that are disinterested in prospect management meetings. Please continue to be enthusiastic about your work! Not only are you valuable to your organization, but colleagues can pick up on our enthusiasm. Our passion for our work can get them excited too!

    A couple of thoughts:

    • One of your fundraisers says that the meetings take too much time. Are your meetings too long? Personally, I find myself struggling to pay attention to anything over an hour long, no matter how much I enjoy the work. Zoom fatigue is real! 
    • Are you meeting too often? Find the right cadence to give your gift officers enough time to take action. This will hopefully stop you from reviewing the same data points over and over, and everyone will have enough time to make updates in the CRM. Consistently providing clean, accurate reporting will go a long way towards building trust between you and the gift officers you support.
    • What is the goal of the meeting? What is the ideal outcome? Think critically about what information needs to be covered and why. Consider taking a break from meetings. Pull down all meetings for a set period to see what is truly needed. 
    • Get back to the basics. Start and end meetings on time. Send an agenda in advance with a time frame added to each topic (for example: open solicitation review - 15 minutes; planned solicitation review - 10 minutes; new prospect discussion - 20 minutes; research request updates - 5 minutes; etc.). I like to include “could have been an email” type information at the bottom of the agenda for gift officers to review on their own time. 
    • Find a champion on the fundraising team that will advocate for you, and don’t be afraid to shine your own light. You are the expert on your work in your shop! If a prospect you identified gave a nice donation, don’t be afraid to let people know that you found them.
    • Teach your team how to use your work, and how to read data and find the actionable item. Some gift officers can receive prospect information and reporting and run with that, but others will need a little bit of coaching. 
    • Depending on your relationship, you might be able to have a candid and vulnerable conversation on what is and isn’t working. Ask for feedback! You can do this 1:1, via email, or even by an anonymous survey. Listen to the feedback you receive too. Often colleagues just want to be heard and acknowledged even if you can’t incorporate their ideas.
    • And finally, it might be time to ~let it go ~ Sometimes you will do everything right and still the team won’t see you as a partner. This is unfortunate, but it’s their loss. Continue to do excellent work that is integral to a well-functioning fundraising shop!

    Joan: Jessica has made phenomenal and practical points! My addition - Education is crucial to disinterest and partnership. Fundraisers shy away from learning the operational management of prospects, but they excel in cultivating relationships and asking for money. Which is exactly where we need them, but we have to communicate the need for portfolio cleanups, solicitation management, and prospect development. Both areas in the fundraising field need one another, and you are absolutely right, this is a necessary partnership. Stand in that truth!

    • Have you considered a training session that introduces or refreshes your fundraisers on the concept of prospect research and management? Sometimes, they know something is important but they don’t know why. Also, they may know something is important but not how it directly affects them.
    • Make sure your training session is not a presentation in which you are just talking at them, find a way to spice it up so you are having a conversation. If it is interactive, then they can feel involved in the experience.
    • Your experience with your fundraisers is a shared and relatable dance that far too many in prospect development have engaged in. But there is always an opportunity for enlightenment and change. Please try to not feel defeated by their attitude towards your great work because you are true to this, and they are simply new to it.


  • Thu, October 21, 2021 1:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Amy Tibbs, Development Research Associate at the National Audubon Society.

    My favorite kind of rabbit holes, which are born of the same cursed curiosity that leads to casual genealogy projects, a curiosity most people share in our line of work. My very favorite rabbit holes are the ones that uncover tawdry, pearl-clutching, gossip column fodder.

    One that sticks with me involves the widow of a prominent developer known for his work turning a swampy southern city into a retreat for the ultra-wealthy. The widow was left a substantial estate in the 1910s and shortly after she was widowed, she reconnected with a former beau – a poor country lawyer, also recently widowed. They married after a brief courtship, and when she mysteriously died less than a year after their wedding, the whispers commenced. Despite swearing he would make no claims to her wealth, the poor country lawyer had been added to her will for a few million dollars, very upsetting to her relatives (note: she had no children, relatives were siblings, cousins, in-laws) who stood to inherit the lion’s share of the estate. What had he done? How can they prove there was foul play? Obviously an exhumation… and here’s where it gets wild. The family secretly assembled a team of high-profile doctors from all over the United States and transported them to the cemetery on private rail cars. Post-exhumation and examination, the family dropped their fight against his inheritance. BUT WHY??? While many rumors swirled, the results of the examination were never released. In the words of the wise Tootsie Roll owl, the world may never know. 

    Of course, often these stories are well-known to those at the family’s favored institutions. But they are new to me, and I would rather breathlessly pore over 25 Chrome tabs of century-old articles than click on a sanitized Wikipedia page any day. I think this Twitter thread from the great Rebecca Makkai, reveals bits and pieces of a mysterious relationship and death, excitedly I share these details as I learn them, in short bursts, with my poor husband: OKAY, mystery time…


  • Wed, September 22, 2021 2:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Joan Ogwumike, Prospect Research Associate at the Obama Foundation.

    Can we unanimously agree that prospecting begets research rabbit holes? We all know what happens when you’re told, “I’m interested in X prospects with Y philanthropic interest, within 3.5 miles from the city that I will be visiting.” The prospecting project (affectionately regarded here as a math formula) equates to several hours of work, compiling a list and verifying the right prospects for outreach.

    The wealth lists – 2021 Forbes 100 CEOs, Law 360’s Top Law Firms in the U.S., Top Tech Investors in New York – we are all familiar with them. We scour through them, and bookmark for “a quiet day.” How about the lists pulled from database reports, we can consider them mining expeditions. The typical prospecting process: you begin by intentionally carving out time to prospect, then the search per name via the web, begins. And, within moments, you suddenly switch to your 16th tab to open a research tool so you can find giving information, property, and hopefully a live email.

    Let’s talk about emails. Actually, let’s not, because there is no need to remind a prospect researcher of how long it takes to find, and verify, an email address. My success stories include the many moments when I found an email address buried in a person’s personal website – the photographer who puts their contact information in very tiny font on a random sub-page; the tech developer who has a “contact me” link on their personal website, and when you hover over link the email address appears; or the entrepreneur who is a part-time rockstar and you happen to stumble onto the band’s website just to find the entrepreneur’s email to their current VC firm. Sometimes, research tools are a success with emails and prospecting projects, and other times, Google is the undefeated source on what is current and needed.

    Well, as they say, it is all in a day’s work.


  • Mon, August 09, 2021 4:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Joan Ogwumike, Prospect Research Associate at the Obama Foundation.

    Throughout our tenures as prospect researchers, we experience and conduct a genealogical search at least once – you know, the search in which a family tree is uncovered, explained, and analyzed. Well, my most recent search was unlike any before it. It was the year 2021, the Summer was hot, and Covid 19 masks were optional. The research request was based on an email from a daughter inquiring on how to get her parents more philanthropically involved with the mission. From there, my quest began – who were her parents, and what was their capacity? First, I searched high and low for more information on the daughter, learning occupation, spouse, and aha, alma mater! By knowing her alma mater, I hoped that I could find a graduation roaster. If I could find that, somewhere in the depths of Vint Cerf and Beyonce’s internet, then I could find her maiden name which would help me find her parents.

    After an hour of selective keyword searches, I was able to find a scanned graduation program, and most importantly, the daughter’s maiden name. As I searched for any results on the name, I was able to find her grandmother and grandfather’s obituaries, which also listed her parents. This was a joyous moment, one of those moments when you sat back in your seat and felt accomplished because, finally, the parents were found.

    But yes, now you are realizing it too…I had spent all of that time figuring out the parents’ names. Hours, spent on names, meant that now the actual prospective research was to begin.

    Long story short, the parents were wealthy, what more could be said?


  • Mon, July 12, 2021 5:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Kathryn Thomas, Senior Prospect Identification Analyst at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.

    How many of us in Prospect Research have done a biographical profile, capacity review, or contact update on Oprah Winfrey? How about Bill & Melinda Gates, MacKenzie Scott, or Sheryl Sandberg? And how many of our organizations have, in turn, received a gift from them? We all know, after working in this field for just days or weeks, that there are white whales of philanthropy. People whose names are quietly vetted by boards in closed conference rooms or lauded as program saviors in prospecting brainstorms.

    A request came through our research request queue that perfectly describes my relationship with this type of prospect. One of our campus units focused on environmental sustainability met with their board and a name had been floated as the perfect campaign lead. For the sake of this conversation, I’ll call him “Jack.” You may know Jack; he is infamous for his shenanigans in the middle of the ocean – dancing a jig, falling in love, and tragically drowning despite the availability of a perfectly good, floating raft-like device.

    Although his exploits in the ocean didn’t end well, Jack has a passion for clean water. Therefore, he was the perfect whale for our campus unit. The problem, from a researcher’s standpoint, wasn’t affinity, but access. Jack’s contact information wasn’t going to come up on LexisNexis or the YellowPages. His cell phone number and business numbers were as closely guarded as Rose’s grip on that door!

    At this point, I was ready for a little research treat (some cerebral junk food to balance out the healthy diet of easy-to-answer capacity review questions and address updates). So, despite knowing it was a longshot and anticipating my request would end up with a recommendation to reach out to Jack’s foundation through formal channels, the hunt was on! And let me tell you, Jack has formidable fans. Sometimes it’s scary how much information we’re able to discover about our prospects, but when researching a celebrity, the information skews less scary and more … odd. I was able to, within an hour, describe where Jack likes to lunch, how he takes his coffee, and his suit measurements. Within two hours, I could name every country he had visited for his philanthropic work, every woman he had ever looked at, and his childhood pet. And within three, I found several addresses, email address, and phone numbers.

    In the end, I did not share this contact information with our Development Officer. Not only would contacting Jack on his cell phone be unprofessional, I was certain it would also wig him out and not engender positive feelings toward the cause. But if ever we have dire (and relevant) need of another celebrity phone number, I know just the rabbit hole to jump down.

  • Mon, June 07, 2021 4:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Tesha Pittenger, Prospect Research Analyst at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.

    Prospects Who Invent Their Own Countries

    I’m relatively new to prospect research; August will mark my two-year anniversary in the field. One of the characteristics I love best about my work is its variability – you never know where a research request will lead. I’ve learned of the myriad ways wealth can be acquired (having a lumber baron for an ancestor, producing meat products, inventing just the right thing at just the right time) and stumbled across fascinating family histories (living in Nazi-occupied Holland, being a distant relative of a famous advice columnist, having a child who represented a country in the Winter Olympics in its first ever appearance). I can safely say, though, that I never expected to research royalty, much less the royal members of a country I had never heard of.

    Earlier this year, a development officer had received an inquiry from a micronation representative and asked the Research Team for more information. I volunteered for the request and thus encountered my deepest research rabbit hole: the world of micronations. Defined broadly, micronations are political and generally small or virtual entities that declare their independence but are not internationally recognized. They can range in size; the Kingdom of Lovely, created as part of the BBC show How to Start Your Own Country, had an East London flat as its official territory, while Sealand is a metal platform off the coast of England. Their motivations are equally varied. Karo Lyn started the Ambulatory Free States of Obsidia as a self-proclaimed “ridiculous project.” The Principality of Hutt River began as a dispute with the Australian government over wheat production quotas, and Giorgio Rosa created Rose Island as a symbol of freedom. Micronations have produced their own currencies, flags, governing documents, postal systems, holidays, citizen applications, and more, depending on their leaders’ ambitions and priorities. Primarily, established nations ignore them, but there are some notable exceptions – the Italian Navy seized control of Rose Island in 1968 and used explosives to dismantle it in 1969.

    As it pertains to development – though an individual can claim a country, announce that they are royalty, and express interest in making a gift – they may not be a good prospect. Cryptocurrency created by a fake nation certainly isn’t worth the same as Bitcoin…at least not yet. A kingdom may be more virtual than actual real estate assets. The title of “dictator” could evoke reputational risk concerns.

    Time will tell what the results of my specific research will yield; however, an assignment to delve into micronations epitomizes the kind of fun and diverse requests that a prospect researcher can encounter. I’m happy to have joined the team!



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