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 Preeti Gill, Associate Manager of Prospect Development at Covenant House Vancouver and Founder of Sole Searcher Strategies.
Preeti Gill is an experienced prospect development professional in Vancouver, Canada. She has re-energized research and prospect management programs in education, the community foundation movement, health care and social services. At Covenant House Vancouver, Preeti is employing a gender lens to create a new(ish) prospect development program that supports both an ambitious capital campaign and a growing major gift fundraising team. She recently joined the group of advisors at Women’s Giving Circles International.
Apra-IL: Preeti, you have been very vocal about advocacy and Women and People of Color in Philanthropy. Can you share with our readers what advocacy means to you? And why you focus on Women and People of Color?
Gill: Well, just look at me…
Let’s be honest and real: do you think a short brown girl from a small mill town will successfully secure millions from a middle-aged white corporate dude? I knew the answer early on in my career, whether subconsciously or otherwise. Instead, I managed to find a supportive space in prospect development (PD) and make a small contribution to institutional philanthropy as an alternative.
I don’t stop and think about advocacy as a concept. I’m just not afraid to speak up when I feel disrespected or when my work – when our work – is needlessly discredited due to uninformed opinion. I hope that you feel empowered to speak up, too.
If you’ve heard me speak at a conference or read my blog, you’ll know that advancing female philanthropy is a personal mission, born out of stories of generous women not being adequately acknowledged, simply put. Their stories motivated me to enhance my own understanding of different donor segments and advocate for them as viable major giving prospects from my place in PD.
Women continue to be ignored if they’re not purchasing yachts or making mega-gifts. Wealthy people of color are treated as a “new” and “emerging” group of prospects, when they’ve given back to their families, communities, mosques, temples (as well as the charities you and I support) forever.
I choose to deliberately and intentionally focus on women and POC donors in my PD practice because they give more than we think they do; and they deserve recognition for their philanthropic efforts. Also, we can’t afford to ignore them anymore since our current donor pool is shrinking.
Apra-IL: In hindsight, would you say that advocating for these topics has kept you motivated to continue to build your career in Prospect Development? What else has kept you going?
Gill: Of course! Information is power.
I’ve had many opportunities to grow and evolve in PD which I think is more diverse of a field than it’s given credit for. It’s from my place in PD that I’ve had the opportunity to build curiosity, think differently, and come up with creative strategies to advance certain donor segments, in collaboration with donor-facing colleagues.
Learning motivates me a great deal. There are so many ways to be a better researcher with no formal or standard training; and I’ve been fortunate to take advantage of many diverse learning opportunities. In 2019, I’m planning to take courses in financial planning and board leadership and attend conferences focused on women’s rights and advancement services. How’s that for variety?
I’ve always been motivated by the generous people I research. Following the stories of some successful people in the philanthropic sector have kept me going, especially on days when I felt like giving up and going away. Check out Hali Lee at the Asian Women’s Giving Circle. She has done ground breaking work developing a welcoming space for wealthy donors of color in philanthropy. Explore the major gifts that Neda Nobari has made her to alma mater San Francisco State University, to foster understanding of the Iranian American experience. Follow Virgil Roberts at the African American Board Leadership Institute which is connecting black professionals with non-profit boards who need their guidance and expertise.
All their efforts keep me going and motivate me to do my part in PD.
Apra-IL: What role has Apra played in your career?
Gill: Joining Apra-Canada early in my career was one of the best decisions, I must say. I began volunteering just a few months after joining, so I started to work alongside different people outside my organization which truly opened up my world. As a collaborative association, Apra warms my heart and soul.
I think Apra can do more to address diversity and inclusion issues in the future, but the board requires pressure by its membership to do so. One starting point is to simply acknowledge and appreciate our differences. For example, sometimes I get the feeling that PD professionals look down on researchers while looking up to data scientists. Our learning opportunities seem to be increasingly segregated, perhaps as a consequence. I’m not down with that. Often, it’s the stalwart researcher who draws on both technical and soft skills to communicate the results and meaning of raw data, right alongside our rock star analytics counterparts.
Apra-IL: As professionals in Prospect Development, do you think we should have a voice in the issue of Diversity and Inclusion in Fundraising? And for those reading, inspired by you, how can they become allies on this issue or begin their advocacy journey for the field of Prospect Development or Fundraising?
Gill: Why not? I have to ask you right back because for so long prospect research and what we now call Prospect Development was dominated (and may still be) by smart women. PD professional women are paid less than our male counterparts, as Apra’s salary survey clearly demonstrated. We need to address this inequity inside and outside of PD.
Why leave this complex issue up to front-line fundraisers especially since that field is dominated by white women asking white men for money. (Yes, I just said that.)
I suggest starting your own advocacy journey by assessing your own life and career goals. How are you feeling about your work, your co-workers, your organization’s mission? If you’re feeling good and optimistic about the future, keep going. If not, figure out what will make you more effective and happier. As a PD professional, you have many choices and a lot to offer the philanthropic sector, recognizing that change requires courageous confidence.
Also, hone your own perspective. No one really cares about how much you know about other people’s money. They care about your perspective, the one you’ve honed through formal education, countless hours researching and analyzing donors and working alongside front-line staff crafting meaningful donor engagement and ask strategies.
The best way to be an ally is to participate in philanthropy outside of your PD role. Volunteer your time for an organization you care about. Donate, no matter the amount. Join a giving circle. Learn how to set up a donor advised fund. Reach out to other fundraising professionals just to talk about the issues in your community. Participating more fully in philanthropy will make you a better researcher, but more importantly, contribute to social change which philanthropy seeks to address in the first place.
Apra-IL: Fill in the blank with a piece of advice you wish you had received in your first Prospect Development role: When in doubt, _________.
Gill: Don’t react. Plan and act!
Full disclosure: I saw this on a sign; it was part of an activism exhibit at the Cultural Center in Chicago. It’s such good advice that I’ve tried to adhere to since coming across it. It makes sense for those in our field, being the prudent, resourceful and thoughtful professionals that we are in PD.
I think it’s easier to react sometimes, whether it’s to a profile request or a feeling you get when you feel you’ve been treated a certain kind of way. May I suggest: breathe deep. Step back. Then figure out how to proceed. Your future self will be grateful, in my humble opinion.