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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

  • Fri, December 12, 2014 2:34 PM | Anonymous

    By Catherine Cefalu, Lead Prospect Research Analyst at University of Chicago

    The holidays are a time for coming together and deepening the connections with your family and friends. With that in mind, I'd like to talk a little about relationships: specifically, relationships between prospective donors.

    Side note: I was interviewed recently for an article on the topic for The Chronicle of Philanthropy ("Nonprofits Find New Donors With Databases That Track Connections"; 11/16/2014 [subscription only]).

    In fundraising, we tend to focus a lot on a prospect's relationship with our organization, but there are other relationships at play, too. While building a relationship with a prospect, it is also important to acknowledge and leverage the relationships that the prospect already has with other individuals connected with your organization. These friends and colleagues can deepen a prospect's engagement, provide opportunities for giving (nothing says "friendship" quite like naming a building in someone's honor!), and generally enhance the positive things that a prospect feels about your organization.

    Additionally, leveraging a donor's relationships can be a great tool for proactive identification of new donors. The anxiety that some gift officers feel about "cold-calling" a prospect is averted: you already have someone who can make an introduction. As a bonus, the donor making the introduction has a greater level of involvement with your organization.

    So now we have the "why"; let's look at the "how".

    First, as technology has evolved, there are now many more vendor options for relationship discovery and mapping than there were even five years ago. Mostly consisting of large databases of names with connections between individuals, several of these companies are now making the leap into customized searches, news alerts, and even automated reports. While these services aren't cheap, you get some serious bang for your buck. Many of these vendors have extensive trial periods where you can upload a list of top individuals connected to your organization so that you can test out the kinds of results you would get.

    If you decide to go that route, here are some things to consider when choosing a service: the price (obviously); the size of the database; how accurate, robust, and transparent the data is; the available search options and functionality; the quality of reports and how well they mesh with your own internal data; and what kinds of training and assistance are available.

    Another way to gather relationship information is through good old-fashioned research legwork. This can involve clipping lists of board memberships and employee lists, sorting through news items, and mining data from your own database (for example, we had a number of major donors who all lived in the same high-rise building). While this can be time consuming, it's a good way to confirm that you have the most up-to-date and relevant data.

    A third way to get relationship information is through your organization's gift officers. Talk to them, read through contact reports, look at event attendee lists. One great way to collaborate with your gift officers is to work together on a peer screening project for your top donors. Put together a list of people your organization wants to connect with, and put that list in front of your most involved volunteers and donors. Ask who they would be willing to introduce you to (and if you want to get them really involved, ask for their help in soliciting!). This kind of first-hand information can yield connections and details that you would not have been able to find otherwise.

    Now, once you get all of this great information, what do you do with it? The first thing to remember is: if it isn't in the database, it didn't happen! Have a way to code these relationships and refer back to them in the future.

    Additionally, have a way to display these connections. All of this data is useless if no one looks at it. There are lots of great data visualization tools that can help you illustrate relationships. There's a reason why it's called relationship mapping: visuals are important!

    Finally, go back to the "why": remember your end goal. You're doing all of this work for a reason! Having a plan and a goal will inform your deliverables, the resources you put into gathering the information, and will help you plan your next steps in the upcoming year (introductions, solicitations, event invitations, etc.)

    From all of us at APRA-IL, we wish you (and your prospects!) a happy holiday season.

  • Fri, October 31, 2014 8:41 AM | Anonymous

    By Elisa Shoenberger

    No one reads the obituaries except maybe Prospect Management and Research.  It’s an interesting world in our field especially since people are always talking about “big data” and “analytics.” Obituaries seem the definition of antiquated, old-fashioned, and dull. It’s not a lot of fun reading through the obituaries day in and day out. My colleagues and I believe that the next billion-dollar idea is for someone to create a reliable obituary reading system.

    I digress. Obituaries, I’ll admit, have their place. They are probably one of the more reliable sources for family connections. From my experience with writing and editing an obituary for my family, I learned that the families or a representative of the family have to review the obituary. Mistakes are the result of family error or proofing errors. For me, this makes me feel pretty confident of obituaries as a source for family connections. Finding an obituary for someone in a family has solved so many mysteries of people’s relationships to each other. It is actually disappointing when I cannot find one when researching someone when a question comes up about their family.

    Obituaries can help accomplish your organization’s mission. This is the heart of why Prospect Management and Research go over the obituaries every day. We want to acknowledge the passing of alumni, friends and their loved ones. Plus it is unfortunate when an institution keeps mailing to people who have passed away.  No need to accidentally salt a wound. Moreover, Loyola has priests on staff that can reach out to the families to provide pastoral care. Some of the priests even preside over funerals. So it’s essential for us to continue in fulfilling our mission.

    In addition to aiding in cause of mission, obituaries surprisingly can be a wealth indicator. Obituaries are not cheap; the longer the obituary, the pricier they get. We are talking about a couple hundred dollars if not thousands of dollars. Moreover, if someone is in the New York Times, it is really a big deal. At least a thousand dollars for a short death notice. For many newspapers, the picture is extra too. Curiously, the Chicago Tribune will give you a deal, if you run the obituary for multiple days. Of course, you have to be careful about the way you promote a lead when there has been a death in the family.

    While obituaries mark sad and serious occasions, they can definitely reveal quirky and sometimes humorous aspects about the deceased and/or their family. Several obituaries have referred to “granddoggers,” a term to refer to the deceased’s beloved dogs. Sometimes you find interesting hobbies about the deceased from obituaries. One obituary mentions a person’s love of raising chickens in the city nonetheless and acupuncture. Independently, these activities would be mildly unusual but not special. Together, they are unique. Some euphemisms for death are curious, such as suggesting that the deceased had been promoted to the heavenly baker of the sky.

    Sometimes you get a window into the family dynamics. For instance, in one obituary, one of the children was referred to as “the favorite son.” And yes, there were multiple children listed. One obituary made mention about how one child and her husband took such loving care of their parents and then proceeded to mention the other children.  Another obituary got a little more scandalous than is common. It used the phrase “Her shimmering hips led to” and then named the couple’s children. Another obituary mentioned how the living spouse survived the marriage. That’s one way to put it.

     One obituary noted how the deceased and her husband eloped and got married in Las Vegas. It is neat to see that some people have actually done this; it is not just something you see in Hollywood movies. And there was the recent obituary written by the deceased that has gone viral. You have to read it to fully appreciate it.

    Obituaries have their place in our big data world. They are great for family relationships. Moreover, they can help your organization fulfill its mission. The costs related to obituaries make them a bit of an unexpected wealth indicator. Finally, there can be some interesting and quirky aspects to obituaries.

  • Tue, October 07, 2014 9:51 AM | Anonymous

    Written by Elisa Shoenberger

    What a datapalooza! The APRA IL Fall Conference was a blast. We had the three rock star data analytics gurus, Josh Birkholz, Peter Wylie, and Kevin McDonnell instruct and inspire us in the wonderful world of data analytics. We had attendees from all over the US and even a few from Canada! We here at APRA IL are so pleased at the quality of attendees and speeches of the event.

    To give a brief recap, we began with networking roundtables over breakfast. I hosted one table roundtable where we brainstormed about new ways to find prospects and how to implement data analytics into our everyday jobs. This gave us a chance to learn from our peers about their challenges and successes. Upstairs, we had a photographer taking professional headshots so we could spruce up our profiles.

    Josh Birkholz and attendees

    Our first speaker, Josh Birkholz, a principal at Bentz Whaley Flessner (BWF), gave a wonderful talk on the state of data analytics in the business and the nonprofit worlds. Big companies like Target and UPS have made extensive use of analytics to segment their customers or to predict future engine failures. Target has even put microchips in some shopping carts to see how people move them around the store! Fundraising shops can benefit significantly from employing data analytics in their operations. Josh Birkholz outlined five ways that analytics can be used to gain business insight. First, you can profile your constituents to get a descriptive analysis of your constituents. This would be traditional market research. Second, you can conduct a descriptive analysis at the program level. Third, you can make your data accessible through data visualizations. After all, we have to sell the data. Fourth, you can conduct predictive modeling to predict constituents and process outcomes. Fifth, you can forecast or simulate future business outcomes like future cash in or campaigns. That’s powerful for any organization. From BWF research of organizations that have implemented analytics, 91% of established programs have observed positive results while the rest have not had enough time to see the benefits. Very compelling argument for the power of analytics! Josh Birkholz ended with the apt quotation from Hal Varian: “I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. And I’m not kidding.”

    In the afternoon, Peter Wylie and Kevin McDonnell, coauthors of Score!, walked us through a model that they created. They worked with Rush University Medical Center to model patients and alumni for this presentation. In order to create a predictive model, three things are needed: a data file, statistics software, and something to predict.  It’s important to have a solid question before you go into the data. They began by walking us through a simple scoring model to predict lifetime giving on the data set from Rush University Medical Center. They walked us through some easy data transformations where we changed data to 1s and 0s to indicate if we had data or not. We then looked the various variables in statistical software and created a score based on our findings. It was a great opportunity to see “behind the curtain” of modeling. Too often we get caught up on how complex things can be, so it was nice to see how a model was done.

    Peter Wylie

    The dynamic data duo pointed out some useful tips for individuals who want to start implementing data analytics. First, do not let messy data get in the way of modeling. Clean data is obviously better but you do not want to wait for the perfect conditions to learn how to make your own models. No time like the present to start. Second, never get rid of data; old data is useful! Third, it may be useful to look back at old models. Kevin McDonnell talked about how he’ll revisit past models in six months to a year to see how effective it was and build on that knowledge. The more you do it, the better (hopefully) you get. Fourth, no matter what you do, research should look at the individuals before they get rolled out to gift officers. We’ve all learned hard lessons about sending spreadsheets to gift officers. We have look at the individuals that score well and determine the next steps with them. Do not blindly push people out, at least at the Major Gift Level.

    Kevin McDonnell

    That’s just a taste of the magic at the conference! I can’t wait for our next conference! Hope to see you there!

    (Photo Credits: Rodney Young)


  • Wed, September 24, 2014 2:46 PM | Anonymous

    Written by Elisa Shoenberger

    Uncle Sam Wants You at the Data Analytics Conference!

    The temperatures are falling. The trees are exploding in rainbows. It’s that special time of year. Yes, it’s APRA IL’s Data Analytics Conference! We are eagerly crossing off the days in anticipation of this event with renowned speakers: Josh Birkholz of BWF and Peter Wylie and Kevin McDonnell, authors of Score!

    But the big question is why analytics? Why is it important for researchers like you and me? As you may know, Big Data is the buzzword of the year, if not the decade. With the monumental increases in technology, we live in an age where an unprecedented amount of data can be collected and analyzed. Now, this might seem very scary to some people, especially with recent revelations about the NSA or scarily accurate predictive modeling by Target.

    Despite these challenges, this new world order of data presents a lot of opportunities for researchers in the fundraising world. Analytics can help us make smarter decisions as a research department, as a fundraising department, and ultimately as an organization. In Josh Birkholz’s Fundraising Analytics, he writes: “Analytics is a suite of metrical tools and techniques for understanding the past and projecting the future. We can use analytics to understand our fundraising programs.” Faön M. Mahunik, Director of Research Analytics, writes that analytics can help you spot patterns in your data. He uses the example of a museum that tracks its members and people who attend events. Is there any relationship between people who attend events and people who become members? Data mining can help figure it out.

    Analytics can help us figure out if we are spending the right money on the right donors. In a recent article about donor retention, Helen Brown talked about how analytics can help identify new donors that are the most likely to renew and make sure that those people are effectively stewarded.   Think of how much money could be raised and saved on direct mail if you only mailed to donors that are likely to renew!

    While analytics is particularly helpful for annual giving, there are important applications at the major gift level. Birkholz continues on and says, “We can use analytics of pave our road for the future. Which prospects will be our top donors 10 years from now?” Analytics can be used to determine: What do our major donors look like as a whole? Maybe they all live in Oak Brook or live in the Gold Coast of Chicago. But most importantly, analytics can help you figure out who else in your database also looks like a major gift donor. Maybe that’s the next person I should research. I know that I’ve used Major Gift Scores from modeling projects to help me prioritize my work. These modeling scores are critical to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of our researcher work. This is just another example of the power of analytics. All in all, data analytics, to paraphrase from Josh Birkholz, can inform the fundraising strategy, which is the core of our research work.

    So, come on, come all to APRA IL’s Data Analytics Conference and find out how you can join the data effort!

    Josh Birkholz, Fundraising Analytics, John Wiley * Sons, Inc, 2008, 2.

    Faön M. Mahunik, “How Analytics Impacts Fundraising,” CCS Philanthropy 360, 5/17/11, accessed 9/22/14, http://ccsfundraising.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/how-analytics-impacts-fundraising/

    Helen Brown, “Prospect identification: 4 ways to help retain new donors,” Helen Brown Group, 9/18/14, accessed 9/22/14, http://www.helenbrowngroup.com/prospect-identification-4-ways-help-retain-new-donors/.

    Josh Birkholz, Fundraising Analytics, John Wiley * Sons, Inc, 2008, 2.

  • Tue, September 16, 2014 8:48 PM | Anonymous

    Written by Rodney Young



    Joshua Birkholz is a national leader in fundraising data consulting and analytics.  He is a principal at Bentz Whaley Flessner and author of the widely acclaimed book, “Fundraising Analytics: Using Data to Guide Strategy.”  Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Joshua about some of the material from his book.  Joshua will be one of our main session speakers at our 2014 Data Analytics Fall Conference on October 3rd, 2014!  Read our interview to get a sneak peek at what he’ll be sharing with us!

    Rodney: Your book, Fundraising Analytics: Using Data to Guide Strategy, has made waves in the nonprofit fundraising world!  What has been some of the feedback, especially from higher education institutions, on the book and its impact on higher education fundraising strategy overall?

    Joshua: The reception has been surprising positive for what seemed to be a very niche topic in 2008.  Today, data science is everywhere including our beloved world of nonprofit fundraising.  The book was a matter of being at the right place at the right time.  I was fortunate to have had several years conducting analytics for fundraising before it became a “thing.”  Certainly, there are many people who know so much more than I do about statistics.  But, I had an odd balance of statistics and fundraising.  This seemed to strike a chord that resonated in the community.  I’ve had professors use the text in their classroom, chief development officers buy copies for all of their employees, and countless contacts from researchers saying my little book helped advance their career.  It is a great honor.

    Rodney: In the book, you mentioned how donors are approaching philanthropy differently and more thoughtfully, and that it makes the case for shifting to using data to guide fundraising strategy.  Tell me about how and when you noticed this shift in organizations?

    Joshua: In this generation, we are seeing the transition from the establishment of fundraising programs to the transition into truly professional organizations.  Of course we should say fundraising is really just relationships.  How can you argue with that?  The challenge is scaling relationship building for multi-billion dollar campaigns.  In reality, we need to build integrated organizations actively producing and prioritizing relationship building.  Analytics describes both a toolkit and a mindset for building a big fundraising machine. 

    In the prospecting world, this is most apparent in the shift from primarily liaison-based research as a service programs to distributed prospect development structures.  Now some people filter the lists, manage macro level data extraction and acquisition, and produce pools while others vet these pools and feed smart-allocation systems of assignments.  Some people manage the inventory of portfolios and study metrics from a production (rather than benchmarking) perspective and others have moved beyond collecting facts to analyzing the economics of our industry and the industries of prospects.  They are able to forecast asset growth and liquidity.

    There really is no specific when.  All of these changes are simply natural evolution tied to the accessibility of new technologies.  We embrace data because we can and it works.

    Rodney: Why do you feel some organizations resist the idea of data-driven fundraising strategy?  What are things you've seen that help to convince them of the value of it?

    Joshua: Self-preservation by the path of least resistance.  Many people simply want to survive.  Others want to be amazing.  As Peter Drucker said, “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”  Resistance to something that so universally disrupted all major industries for the better can only be explained by fear.  In these cases, I focus on:

    • 1.       We can really do this!  It is within our reach! And…
    • 2.       We will be extraordinary!  

    I deliver these messages in an inside-outside approach.  Here are a few ideas:

    • 1.       Do a small project on your own time on your own dime.  It’s cheaper than looking for a new job.  And your mission is worth your generosity.
    • 2.       Find internal champions.  There is strength in numbers.
    • 3.       Find external examples.  Ignore the “we are nothing like x” or “Y has so many more donors, etc.”  Just keep flooding with examples.  Size doesn’t matter nearly as much as everyone says it does.  What does matter is people who care enough about their organizations to make them better.  You can be that person.

    Rodney: We're looking forward to you speaking at the APRA-IL Data Analytics Fall Conference!  What are just a few things we can look forward to learning in your session?

    Joshua: You will leave excited about analytics.  More importantly, you will see that all of this great data science is perfect for our industry and our industry is worth it.

    Rodney: Thanks so much Joshua - we look forward to seeing you here in Chicago on October 3rd, 2014 at the conference! 


    Follow Joshua’s blog at www.joshbirkholz.com and be sure to see him at the upcoming APRA-IL 2014 Data Analytics Conference on October 3rd, 2014!  Register TODAY at www.apraillinois.org!

  • Sat, September 06, 2014 1:44 PM | Anonymous

    Written by Sabine Schuller, Sr. Research Specialist, Rotary International

    There must be a million resources about data analytics and statistics ranging from high school textbooks to blog posts commenting on the “big data” trend.  By comparison, advice on non-profit oriented data analytics, never mind fundraising, is few and far between.  For that reason alone Kevin MacDonell and Peter Wylie’s book Score!  Data-Driven Success for Your Advancement is a welcome addition.  

    I see this book as a blueprint and encouragement for non-profits to use their data more effectively as they strive to improve their fundraising efforts.  I appreciate the book’s emphasis on how to best introduce or increase data-driven fundraising decisions in a culture that might be new to data analytics and predictive models.  What sets it apart from a statistics textbook is that in addition to providing mathematical background and case studies, it is also a primer on managing change.  Best of all, it’s written in an engaging and absorbing way.

    Score! paints a vibrant picture of fundraising office dynamics and its potential challenges, based both on Peter Wylie’s long consulting career and Kevin MacDonell’s personal experience growing into a full time data analytics position.  While Peter Wylie has some strong opinions about the non-profit sector’s pace of adopting data analytics, the authors give credit where credit is due.  They hold up the frontline fundraisers as master storytellers while spotlighting those who play with their nonprofit organization data like it was their personal sandbox.  Score! discusses several ways to communicate a potentially new and disruptive idea to people who may not be data oriented. The authors want the technically skilled data evangelists to be successful and wisely highlight using interpersonal and communication skills in addition to facts.  They also recommend evolutionary, not revolutionary steps. 

    Another of the book’s strengths is that it doesn’t just preach to the choir drinking the Kool-Aid.  It also addresses the managers – those responsible for the big fundraising picture.  The accessible writing style and content organized by area of responsibility helps busy managers absorb the content.  Score! is also very good at anticipating and addressing counter arguments, and a manager might have several.  For example, it discusses the pros and cons of options such as hiring a data analyst from the outside the organization, “growing your own”, or using an outside vendor. 

    The last part of the book focuses on case studies to explore potential data analysis projects for alumni as well as annual, major, and planned gifts.  In this section, you may wish to pace yourself as there are many figures, tables, and graphs to absorb.  The authors build their chapters carefully and clearly.  They start with fundamental statistical concepts, build a simple example, follow with more advanced ideas, and only at the end talk about exceptions.  Try limiting yourself to one chapter per day (or week) to make sure you can absorb it all and explain the concepts to others.  You should also be aware that all of the nonprofit examples are from higher education.  Their choice is understandable.  Colleges and universities have the most resources and data available for this kind of work and the book is published by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).  While that can make it challenging for those in other non-profit sectors, here are several workarounds.  One possible solution is to mentally substitute the name of your industry whenever you see “higher ed” and “donor” instead of “alumni”.  Another possibility is to be open minded and learn about how a different kind of non-profit operates.

    With its combination of a strong writing style and unique content, Score! is a book well worth reading, even if you have to do it on your time off.  A current or hopeful non-profit data analyst, would enjoy and learn from all parts of the book.  Fundraising directors and other decision makers in upper management would also profit, though they may choose to read the chapters which most pertain to their areas of responsibility.  It’s even good for “experts” as a reminder that not all have their depth of knowledge and that everyone benefits when they stretch to bridge their organizations’ and co-workers’ gaps.  Most importantly it provides encouragement and strategies for those who want to grow their nonprofits using data oriented strategies.

    Want to learn more?  Come to APRA Illinois’ Fall Conference October 3rd and learn from the authors how to put data analytics in practice for your organization!


    Other reviews of the book:

  • Fri, August 22, 2014 3:34 PM | Anonymous

    Written by Elisa Shoenberger, Prospect Management and Research Analyst at Loyola University Chicago

    What a wonderful 26th annual APRA International Conference! It was a fantastic four days of conference learning and getting to know our peers at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. People came from all over the US and even the world to attend the fifty-four education sessions in six different tracks, from Prospect Research to Campaigns.

    While I attended many fascinating and insightful presentations, my favorite session was “Venturing into High-Tech Research” by Christopher Haight from Cornell University. Mr. Haight talked about the high tech industry focusing on both individual players and companies themselves. He outlined five groups of individuals that researchers should think about for prospecting: Investors, Founders, Early Employees, Bankers, and Lawyers. With respect to founders, he pointed out that they are often quite young when they get their big payout and exit the company. These founders may be disinclined to give a gift. Moreover, they may have sold many shares of their own company to get the financing for it to expand or go public. Mr. Haight suggested that organizations change the way they ask for gifts or imagine a gift’s structure. Instead of asking for outright gifts, organizations can ask for shares in a company. Imagine if your institution had asked for 1% or even 0.50% of Facebook! I believe his session was recorded so you may be able to check it out for yourself in the near future.

    We also participated in great roundtable discussions in conjunction with APRA talks, our version of TED talks. Before the roundtable discussion, we heard three short talks on leadership. Josh Birkholz from Bentz Whaley Flessner presented his research about the power of leadership with character for companies’ bottom lines.  Sandra Campero of Arizona State University talked about trusting your own instincts and helping other people become leaders in their own right. John McBride from the University of Chicago talked about having the confidence in oneself to succeed. After these insightful presentations, we had the opportunity to discuss leadership in general and in our specific shops with our fellow researchers. One fellow researcher mentioned that he brought his dog to work! He said that bringing his dog to meetings helped to reduce the overall anxiety of his fellow colleagues. What a fantastic idea!

    In addition to attending these fabulous sessions, this was a special APRA conference for me personally. Not only was it my third conference, but I was also fortunate to be asked to speak on a pre-conference panel  called “Managing Planned Giving Relationships,” which promoted a dialogue between gift officers and researchers to facilitate and expand planned giving programs in our respective organizations. My fellow panelists were Lawrence Henze, Principle Consultant at Target Analytics, Camille Licklider, Executive Director of Gift Planning at Northwestern University, and Tina Pugh of Nature Conservancy. Our panel suggested that organizations steward planned giving prospects when they give an annual gift, not when they are identified as a planned giving prospect. The message of the moment: stewardship, stewardship, stewardship! It was also fascinating to learn how some factors correlate with certain planned giving types. For instance, people who tend to give political contributions tend to elect for annuities while people with stronger giving to religious organizations more often choose bequests.

    The conference wasn’t only mind-blowing ideas; we also had opportunity to get to know our fellow researchers. APRA IL hosted a happy hour on Thursday after sessions at the Cosmopolitan’s fancy Chandelier Bar, where we had the opportunity to meet many of the colleagues we’ve talked to via phone for APRA IL meetings.

    During our happy hour, we each shared our favorite parts of conference so far. Catherine Cefalu, Lead Prospect Research Analyst at University of Chicago, noted that her favorite part was geeking out over keynote speaker Una Osili, Director of Research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Amelia Aldred, Prospect Research Analyst at University of Chicago, fondly recalled following the APRA 2014 Twitter feed. She said, “I liked hearing people’s thoughts about different sessions and I introduced myself to several prospect researchers simply because I liked their Twitter feed so much.” She also noted how much fun she had following #APRAhooligans, a “fun joke Twitter feed about APRA, full of pirates and ninjas and even Carmen Sandiego. So much geeky fun.” She also had a blast “walking the Las Vegas Strip with my colleague Sarah Johnson. She is an organized crime history enthusiast, so we went to a bunch of sites where famous mobsters worked and cut dealsundefinedvery fun!”

    APRA International Conference is the only way to do Vegas!

    Until next year!


  • Sun, July 20, 2014 12:16 PM | Anonymous

    Written by Elisa Shoenberger, Prospect Management & Research Analyst, Loyola University Chicago

    We’re counting down the days to the 27th International APRA Convention in Las Vegas. We here at APRA-IL are very excited about the upcoming conference. It’s four glorious days of lectures, workshops, networking, and socializing. In order to prepare for the conference, we have asked our fellow APRA-IL members to reflect on their memories of and lessons from conferences past.

    Rodney Young, Prospect Data Project Coordinator at DePaul University, wrote, “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the APRA International Conference 2012 in Minneapolis!  It was a great time to connect with Prospect Research & Management professionals across the nation.  I learned about best practices, innovative ideas, and challenges in different types of institutions.  The connections made at APRA International led me to join the APRA-IL chapter and get involved.  I highly recommend APRA International for anyone who wants to take their career to the next level!”

    Elisa Shoenberger, Prospect Management and Research Analyst for Loyola University Chicago and presenter at this year’s conference, wrote about her memories of her first conference in 2012: “At APRA International Conference 2012 in Minneapolis, I was really gratified to meet other people in my field. I met people whose experience varied widely. Some people had been in their roles for years while others just started. The environment was so positive and collaborative. At ‘The New Researchers Symposium’, I remember asking for help on international research. One of the session leaders was willing to help; she shared a PDF of international resources, such as websites and tips! It was really useful! While I was getting wonderful advice and insight, I remember explaining what a donor pipeline was to a researcher I met on the bus. Even I had something to share with my follower APRA conference goers. But it’s not all about work either! There are a lot of great social opportunities. I remember taking a 6:00am walking tour of Minneapolis with my fellow researchers. We wandered over to the Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center to see the giant spoon and cherry sculpture. I can’t wait to go this year!”

    Amelia Aldred, Research Analyst at University of Chicago, wrote about her best memories of APRA International 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland. She had a great time “meeting lots of new researchers at the New Researcher Symposium and comparing notes on how we got into prospect research.” She reflected on one session in particular: I went to “a session about family trees at the time, I thought, ‘This is interesting, but when will I use it?’  Then the week after APRA, I was assigned to create a family tree of one of our main donor families!” She also had a blast eating Baltimore crabs with her team and generally "geeking out."

    Catherine Cefalu, Lead Prospect Research Analyst at the University of Chicago and presenter at this year’s conference, made some helpful recommendations to first time conference goers:

    “This year is going to be my fifth time attending the APRA conference, and my second time presenting at a session. Here are some of the things I've learned over the years:

    • Do your research on the sessions and speakers, interesting places to eat near the hotel, and things to do in your spare time.
    • Bring your business cards: both for networking with colleagues, and for the WealthEngine Money Ball!
    • Dress in layers in the session rooms; the A/C tends to be pretty chilly.
    • It’s okay to spend time by yourself; I nearly ran myself ragged trying to Meet Everyone and Do Everything my first year.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask people to lunch or dinner, or to visit local APRA chapter happy hours. Last year, I had a great time hanging out with RIF UK.
    • You’ll probably lose your conference program at some point. Keep an extra one handy.
    • Plan carefully what you bring with you when you head down to the conference for the day the elevators are often mobbed after each session.
    • Not every session you sign up for has to be relevant to your current job or organization. I work in higher education, but like to attend at least one member/cause-related session per year.
    • It’s okay to leave a session if you think you might get more out of another one going on at the same time (unless it’s completely full -check at the registration desk if you’re unsure). I wouldn't recommend walking out of the New Researcher Symposium, though…
    • Take good notes so you can debrief with colleagues when you get home!
    • There is a sad tendency for some sessions to devolve into complaining about gift officers. Venting can be tempting, but don’t let yourself get sucked into a toxic conversation. Remember: partners in fundraising!
    • Visit the vendors and snag some swag! And pens. Get as many pens as you possibly can.
    • Plan adventures!”

    We can’t wait to see you all there and hear about your experiences. See you soon!

  • Thu, June 12, 2014 12:41 PM | Anonymous
    Written by Amelia Aldred, Research Analyst, University of Chicago 

    On June 6, 2014 at the Rotary International's World Headquarters in Evanston, APRA Illinois held their annual Basic Skills Workshop, a day-long seminar series designed for new and aspiring researchers, as well as NGO professionals who wear multiple hats.  The program included three lectures on prospect research basics, a panel discussion with seasoned researchers, and a networking lunch.  Attendees also received a copy of the book Prospect Research is a Verb by Meredith Hancks.  A happy hour at a nearby restaurant followed.

    The first session, "Wealth Screening," was given by Jennifer Fry, Director of Prospect Discovery and Information at Northwestern University.  Ms. Fry emphasized that wealth screening is a complicated endeavor that requires researchers to create a clear plan that defines their deliverables and outlines each step of the project.  In addition, researchers must communicate clearly to stakeholders both the value of the project and the working conditions necessary for the project to succeed.    Wealth screenings are often costly, in terms of both money and staff time but can allow a research team to discover and deliver a plethora of high quality prospects.  "Any opportunity that you have to do it, you want to do it as well as you can to show its value," Ms. Fry concluded.

    The second session, "Prospect Management vs. Prospect Research," was taught by Viviana Ramirez, Director of Prospect Management at Rush University Medical Center. The session detailed Ms. Ramirez's process of creating a prospect management policy from the ground up.  Like a good researcher, she started by asking questions and documenting how prospects were already cycling through gift officers, and then created a policy based on the gaps and pain points in this current system.   Ms. Ramirez stressed the importance of training gift officers and meeting regularly with all the stakeholders.    Throughout the session, she used the image of the Rube Goldberg machine as a metaphor for prospect management policy often cobbled together from multiple sources and stakeholders, but all working together to move a prospect through the development cycle.

    The third session, "The Hierarchy of Wealth," was presented by Rebekah O'Brien, Senior Prospect Management and Research Analyst at Loyola University Chicago.  Ms. O'Brien started with a brief overview of wealth and philanthropy in the United States and explained how general wealth and giving trends inform prospect research.  For example, while middle income donors tend to give away a larger proportion of their wealth than high income donors, the size of the high income prospects' gifts are still larger than those of middle income donors.  For that reason, prospect researchers will want to focus their efforts on the very wealthy, but still send any middle income donors to an annual giving team, in order to build a well-rounded portfolio of donors.   Ms. O'Brien also reviewed the difference between wealth and income, and the methods for finding publicly available information about wealth.  Several seasoned researchers chimed in with additional recommendations on information resources. 

    The afternoon panel fielded several interesting questions, including how to best prioritize time, calculate capacity ratings, and what they enjoy most about prospect research.

    After the sessions, participants went to Pete Miller's bar and restaurant, a local favorite, and swapped researching stories and tips over drinks and appetizers and was a wonderful way to end a full day of learning and sharing.

    Many thanks to Amelia for writing this post! If you would like to contribute or volunteer with APRA Illinois, give us a shout.

    Research Panel at recent Basic Skills Workshop

  • Tue, May 27, 2014 9:28 PM | Anonymous

    Chat with Viviana Ramirez about Prospect Management & Research in Health Care Institutions

    Written by Rodney Young | Prospect Data Project Coordinator, DePaul University

    Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with Viviana Ramirez, Director of Prospect Management at Rush University Medical Center.  Viviana will be one of the presenters at the upcoming APRA-IL Basic Skills Workshop on Friday June 6, 2014 (click HERE to register). Viviana has over 15 years of experience in Data Records Management, Prospect Research and Prospect Management, and has been instrumental in developing a robust, progressive Prospect Management system at Rush.  We had a great conversation talking about the unique challenges and opportunities in Prospect Management in the health care industry.  Here's an excerpt from our discussion - enjoy!

    Rodney: Tell me about some of the differences in the environment at a health care organization that contrast with a college or university fundraising office.

    Viviana: Well, since we are also an academic medical institution, we still do alumni fundraising. Scholarships are still a big initiative, too.  However, with grateful patient fundraising, it's tougher.  An alum has a connection to the institution; but a patient has an experience... and that experience can be good or it can be bad.  Furthermore, we are not supposed to know about that experience because of
    HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).  Those regulations can create restrictions concerning what we can or cannot say, or what we are allowed to know about a patient's experience.

    We utilize our physicians; our fundraisers are partnering with key physicians so they can obtain relevant information.  We work with a physician as a partner to help with that qualification process.

    Rodney:  Wow, very interesting!  What do you enjoy about working in health care that's different than in higher education?

    Viviana:  Unlike fundraisers, I don't get to sit in on meetings where there are physicians talking about cutting edge research...there are some really mind-blowing things going on in health care today.  There are such great stories; for me, I sit and look at the hospital across the street and thinking, "Right now, there are miracles going on over there.  Right now, somebody's life is being saved." Whenever you have "one of those days", you can still say "I work at a pretty cool place."  The compelling stories are what make it worthwhile.

    Rodney:  Tell me a little about the relationship between your Prospect Management & Research team and the fundraising staff.

    Viviana:  Well, it's based on the state of a fundraiser's portfolio. If their portfolios are properly updated, they don't hear too much from us.  

    Rodney: What if their portfolios are not looking the right way?

    Viviana: We have more meetings to determine what strategies are being utilized, what haven't we looked at, and consider what other sources we should look at to improve the portfolio.

    Rodney: What's difficult when it comes to fundraiser relationships?

      It’s very similar to other institutions. When you're doing the work to add names to someone's portfolio, and they're not moving on them, that’s always the challenge!

    HIPPA is the other challenge. Just because we see patient information doesn't mean we're privileged to it.  We have to be mindful of the information we put into our centralized database so we are not violating HIPPA regulations.

    Rodney: Is Rush currently in a campaign?

    Viviana: Not now, but we are in year 4 of a 5-year strategic plan.  At the end of our campaign, we needed goals, so we developed a 5-year plan.  The goal is to be an office that can regularly raise $40 million per year.

    Rodney: What is the "post campaign" environment like for you guys?

    Viviana: It's interesting because we're getting close to the end of stewarding gifts that went towards the last campaign.  I think it's toughest on the fundraisers. There is a transition that occurs because their pitch for raising dollars goes away.  So now they have to rethink how to engage and excite donors when we're no longer working towards a campaign.  There are different initiatives, but some areas don't have an initiative.

    Rodney: So you're getting people ready for the next campaign as well, right?

    Viviana: Yes, we're thinking about our donors, especially the ones who give at a major gift level annually.  You also want to look for those people as they will be key in the next campaign.  

    Rodney:  What are some other post-campaign initiatives your team is working on?

    Viviana: Data collection is very important.  One of our initiatives is to develop a standard way for development officers to rate prospects beyond the wealth screenings and what research is doing.  As we start to build these gift tables, we want to make sure that there is some level of "truth", and people feel confident that those ratings make sense.

    Rodney: When it comes to tools for analytics, is that something your organization has not invested in yet?

    Viviana: After some investigation, I have decided to go with Tableau.  What I like about it is that there are different levels in which you can use it.  I am also interested in the other services that Tableau provides which allow other people in our office to use it; we really need that collaborative piece.  We have a couple of people in annual giving that are data heavy; they need a tool where they can segment and look at trends to forecast.

    Rodney: On a closing note, if there are people who are in higher education who want to transition into healthcare Prospect Research & Management, what would you suggest to them?

    Viviana: Learn about HIPPA regulations, that's very important.  Also learn about "grateful patient" strategies--there are so many out there.  Also, the world of research is changing; when I went to the APRA conference, I paid attention every time they talked about analytics.  Fundraisers and executives are always expecting somebody to do data analytics; that is business intelligence work. It requires a certain amount of database skills.  You have to go beyond the Excel spreadsheet and learn how data tables relate to each other.  Don't be afraid of Microsoft Access...make the leap!

    Rodney:  Yes, I totally agree!  It was a huge leap for me!

    Viviana: Also, for researchers, learn how to write great, concise briefs for when your executive people go on visits.  Know what THEY need to know; figure out what types of information is most helpful for each development officer.  Every fundraiser has their own way of connecting.

    Rodney: Well, thank you so much Viviana, for this great information!  I look forward to your presentation at the upcoming
    APRA-IL Basic Skills Workshop.

    Don't forget to register for the APRA-IL Basic Skills Workshop on Friday June 6, 2014!  Click HERE to register!

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