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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. 

We also enjoy reading other blogs and may contact you to share a guest post. 

Current Apra-IL Blog Series

October 2018: Tales of Terror: The Prospect Development Edition

Dear Analyst

Motivations of Leaders

Completed in 2018  True Life: A Day in Prospect Development

Completed in 2018 - 50 Shades of Prospect Development

  • Mon, April 18, 2016 9:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Elisa Shoenberger, Senior Prospect Management and Research Analyst, Loyola University Chicago

    Dear Analyst,

    I’ve been living the prospect researcher’s dream. I’ve been doing a lot of proactive research and finding a lot of great new leads for my organization. But none of the gift officers seem to be as excited as me. How do I get them interested in these new people?


    Excited but Frustrated Researcher

    Dear Excited,

    That’s super great that you are finding great leads to feed into your organization’s pipeline. But as you are finding out, that’s only half the battle. As researchers and prospect managers, we have to help convince gift officers that new leads are as great as we think they are. We have to market the leads so they go out and see them. That process can be very frustrating.

    There’s a lot of different ways that you can do that. First, there’s the evaluation itself. What information are you including? How are you communicating what is awesome about a prospect in your written work? Does the person have a lot of securities, or a snazzy house with a giant mosaic covered pool? Is that in there? Does the person give a lot of money to their other alma maters? Or do they live in a coop in NYC or own a plane? These details can help explain why the person is so great. Make sure you write down what’s in your brain so there’s a record of it.

    The next step is delivering the information. There’s a couple of ways of doing it but the effectiveness depends on the gift officer. For instance, I’ve heard over and over that giving a list of prospect leads on a spreadsheet is the kiss of death. A long list of people in a spreadsheet can be daunting but a small one might be okay. It really depends on the comfort level of the gift officer. If they like spreadsheets and are comfortable with data, then I think it can work. But I’d make sure that list is short. And maybe include a sentence on why they were included.

    Another option is to send one off emails. You can make a case for why the lead is awesome in an email. It’s a direct way of marketing the person to a gift officer. However, it’s extra work to write one email for every person you find. You could try 2-3 but it’s still another email. Plus emails can get lost in the quagmire of one’s mailbox.

    Recently we implemented a new report called the “New Prospect Report” that helps spread the word on leads. This report records all new research analysis in a time frame who are not assigned to a gift officer. It includes the name of the person, city, state, degrees, the research note, and their rating. It’s like a semi-monthly email that goes out to all the gift officers. Then gift officers can see all the wonderful work you’ve been doing. And then, they can let you know who they want assigned!

    However, I think the best thing you can do to market your new finds are meetings. Yes, I believe that is the solution for a lot of problems but that’s because face to face communication is really effective. I think it would be great to meet the gift officer with a list of a few individuals that you think they should take a look at. Or if you have a pre-existing meeting, just add it the agenda. That way, you can tell the gift officer why you think someone is great. Hopefully, that’ll result in some new additions to their portfolio!

    These are just a few suggestions. If you have more, please let us know at APRAIL@gmail.com

    Have a burning question for Dear Analyst? Send your questions and queries to APRAIL@gmail.com

    Photo Credit Julia Mc Gannon. Featured Elisa Shoenberger and Erin Gernon

  • Thu, March 24, 2016 3:09 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    APRA-IL member Carolyn Hersch shared a piece she wrote for C.A.L.L.’s (Chicago Association of Law Librarians) newsletter regarding her work with APRA-IL and bridging gaps between development professionals and librarians. APRA-IL President Katie Ingrao also provides her thoughts on APRA-IL’s first webinar and the positive impact of partnering with Carolyn and outside organizations like C.A.L.L.


    Last fall, I attended a daylong conference hosted by APRA-IL, which focused on hot topics in prospect research.  APRA-IL is an organization for prospect development professionals in the Chicagoland area.  Prospect research involves researching, managing, and analyzing data with the goal of gaining donors for non-profit organizations. Librarians are getting hired in this field, as the skill set matches neatly with the profession. The majority of prospect development positions can be found with universities and hospitals, although the field is growing.

    According to APRA, Prospect Development has evolved to include the following roles and responsibilities:

    ·     Prospect identification and research: discovering and evaluating prospective donors, and their interests, relationships, inclination to give and philanthropic capacity to inform and support an organization’s fundraising strategies and outreach efforts

    ·     Relationship management: managing, tracking, and reporting on an organization’s activity with its constituent and prospect pools, and making recommendations to positively influence fundraiser and campaign activity

    ·     Data analytics: supporting an information-driven decision culture by deriving conclusions and identifying trends through the statistical analysis of internal and external data

    The skills that our prospect research counterparts have are important for librarians to be aware of, regardless of the work setting.  Future attorneys and law firms need to know how to research whether prospective or existing clients have the means to pay them. Law schools have fundraising arms.  Law firms like to understand what strategic advantages they can get.

    One of the connections I made was with APRA-IL President, Katie Ingrao. Katie is the Assistant Director of Prospect Management at Rush University Medical Center. From our meeting came CALL’s first collaborative webinar. On February 17th, CALL, APRA-IL, and APRA-MN presented a webinar comparing and contrasting competitive intelligence with prospect research. Over 50 participants from the three organizations listened in. Jerry Burch, from Latham Watkins and Darren Cooper from the Mayo Clinic discussed competitive intelligence and its non-profit sibling, prospect research. Jerry and Darren each presented on their respective fields and then held a panel discussion comparing the type of research they do, ethical questions, skills, tools, intricacies of both professions, and the divide of nonprofit vs. for profit organizations.


    APRA-IL hosted its first webinar on February 17th and we partnered with APRA-MN and C.A.L.L. (Chicago Association of Law Librarians). Our topic focused on the fields of prospect research and competitive intelligence. My goal with this webinar was to explore professional fields beyond development that are relatable to prospect researchers and can be sources of inspiration, motivation, and collaboration for us. This was a goal easily met since competitive intelligence professionals are so relatable in their methods, techniques, and general purpose within their organization. Besides starting to build a network beyond development, I took away two important lessons from the process of putting this webinar together.

    I found this webinar to be extremely helpful to prospect development professionals in making connections to positions in the corporate world. It’s always smart to be aware of what you are qualified to do and who values your skills beyond your current situation.  The competitive intelligence field is our corporate sibling and has great potential for prospect researchers looking to break out of the nonprofit bubble.

    The second lesson that I took away from the webinar and entire experience of collaborating with outside professionals was there are big rewards when I think outside of my little prospect development box. Talking to a professional from a related field can be great for your critical thinking skills. Competitive intelligence professionals approach their job from a corporate mentality but share technics and a common purpose with prospect researchers. Their ultimate goal is to gather, analyze, and advise on data for their organization’s leadership. Listening to CIs talk shop helped me think about how I approach my work and can use different tools or technics to improve my results.

    I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with APRA_MN and C.A.L.L. on this webinar and look forward to more like it! Be sure to register for our next webinar by Namrata Padhi on Researching Start Up Companies on April 26th at 12 p.m. https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5553718267221333249

  • Tue, March 15, 2016 10:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Elisa Shoenberger, Senior Prospect Management and Research Analyst, Loyola University Chicago and Katherine Ingrao, Assistant Director of Prospect Management at Rush University Medical Center

    Dear Analyst,

    When I’m meeting with gift officers and leadership, I’m often told just to go google information for them. People at work seem to think that I just use Google all day and cut and paste information. Sometimes I get really weird requests about finding information on movie stars and stuff. People don’t seem to realize that prospect research isn’t a research desk! How do I explain to them that there is so much more that I do and could be doing for them?


    Not a Professional Googler

    Dear NPG,

    Prospect Research is more than putting someone’s name in Google. It’s a common misconception of the field. It’s true that part of the role is finding information. But it’s more than just a Google search. We find a lot of our wealth information on specialized websites and reports like county assessor’s offices, real estate websites, and much more. Information on those sites aren’t easily found via Google. It requires knowledge of what resources to use. We spend a lot of time at conferences, etc. exchanging ideas for new place to find information and that’s just a small part of the story. We have to take our training and expertise, and our intuition to understand the information that we find. Is it accurate? What does it really mean about the prospect? And then we unite that knowledge with the information we know as an institution by looking at old research, contact reports and even giving. It’s so much more complicated than a Google search. We assist in determining strategy for the gift officers. We help them figure out what motivates the prospect. We can even help with ask amounts!

    But there’s even more that Prospect Research can do! We have to find leads for the organization, to build the prospect pool. That takes a lot of discernment and cleverness to find people who may be interested in your mission. Schools have the natural pool of their alumni as possible prospects but researchers still have to find them out. We spend hours looking at SEC documents, news articles, reviewing top business lists, LinkedIn, and so much more. Again, new prospects aren’t something you can just Google.

    And finally, we can help overall strategy for a school or program. We can look at the entire data set and help gift officers make decisions about their donors. Where events should be held? How should we split up the US between gift officers? There’s so much that prospect research can do since we are in the data all the time.

    Now, you are probably thinking: That’s great, Dear Analyst. I know we do so much. How do I communicate that to my colleagues and leadership? That’s the tricky part. Often times, we as researchers have to continually make the case about what prospect research can do. In many shops, it has been helpful for a research team to hold Prospect Research 101 trainings for all staff to start the education process and to reinforce it. It also helps if you have a good advocate at the leadership level who understands what your department can do. They can appeal to other members in the leadership team about what research can do for your institution.

    Regular meetings with gift officers can also be a strategy. Maintaining a regular rapport helps gift officers and researchers stay connected and working together to find ways to collaborate. These conversations and meetings allow for the opportunity of researchers to offer gift officers different ways in which they can help them in their fundraising goals. Do they need assistance prioritizing their suspects? Do they want to know where their alumni live? These meetings demonstrate the depth and breadth of what a prospect researcher can do. Of course, it’s also important to remember that you don’t want to overpromise and get overwhelmed with side projects. Your main objective is to educate and inform the gift officers who you work with not entertain every demand. A good balance is always key.

    And finally, you can advocate for research by identifying opportunities your gift officers may be missing. We are the hunters, gatherers, and disseminators of our organization’s information and many times are in the best position to point out a strategy, prospect, or opportunity being overlooked. Does the person seem to like giving to health organizations and scholarships? Maybe they might be interested in supporting scholarships at a medical school?

    These are just a few ways that prospect researchers can make a case for their department. Dear Analyst would love to hear the different ways you and your department have helped make the case too. We’ll post responses in the next Dear Analyst column!

    Author Unknown
  • Fri, March 04, 2016 9:43 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Elisa Shoenberger, Senior Prospect Management and Research Analyst, Loyola University Chicago

    When I first started as a prospect researcher and attended my first APRA conference, a few people I met described their work as “professional stalker.” That description felt very wrong to me from the beginning. I like to avoid using the word “stalker” in any context, especially professional one. I was determined to come up with a better short description of the field that had a more positive ring to it. Or make people laugh without all the self-deprecation. I settled on “Treasure Hunter” since everyone loves pirates, right? It felt a lot better to say.

    When I talk to people who don’t know about fundraising, I have to explain that prospect research and management is its own niche field. I try to explain that fundraising is its own industry as well with its big competitors and startups.  I try to emphasize how much prospect research and management is a field. An impressive one at that.  I’ve been fortunate to have gone to several local and international APRA conferences and seen the beauty and organization of our industry. I think it is incredible that researchers present their work to us all, write articles about the profession on many blogs, and even advise newcomers and fellow researchers in the field. At my first APRA conference, so many people were willing to lend a hand to one another. Even as a newcomer, I was able to help other people I’ve met who were even newer to the field. That commitment to sharing and helping each other succeed is amazing. What a passionate, thoughtful industry we are in!

    And in the past few years, it’s been incredible to see the rise of analytics within our field. We’ve been attending lectures and workshops about how we could use Big Data for several years. And then it seems that everyone (outside of research) was talking about it! It’s been incredible to see how our field continues to grow and keeps up with the changes in the world.

    But the biggest point of pride for me has been the work itself. We help drive the strategy of fundraising at our institutions. I love that my research takes me to new and interesting places each day. One day, I’ll be working on evaluating the value of an art collection and the next day, I’ll be researching a foundation’s work in fostering democracy. I get to be a mini-expert on lots of little areas. Moreover, I’m extremely proud that research I’ve done has helped align donors with a particular field of interest for them! And even better, I’ve been able to help to increase the size of the gifts. Those moments are precious to me. Helping my organization grow is what it is all about. So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m more than a treasure hunter. I don’t just find the treasure, I help give gift officers with the shovel? Okay, that metaphor is getting a bit tortured.

    So what am I? I’m a researcher. #researchpride

    Now it’s your turn! Tell us why you are proud to be a researcher! Email us at apraillinois@gmail.com or tweet at us at @APRAIllinois

    Photo Credit Erin Gernon

  • Fri, February 26, 2016 9:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Elisa Shoenberger, Senior Prospect Management and Research Analyst, Loyola University Chicago

    The issue of social media is paramount in our field. Pew Research Studies reported that 74% of online adults use social networking. People use social media for both professional and social purposes. Online people reveal so much about their lives, their preferences, and sometimes even their philanthropic inclination. Social media provides prospect researchers with new opportunities and new challenges! In 2013, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture on LinkedIn at APRA International in Baltimore, MD. The session was really critical in talking about the ethics of using LinkedIn in a professional capacity and also to understand how other shops were using the tool. The issue arose again back in May 2015 over the ethics of using LinkedIn for prospect research on PROSPECT_L – a listhost for prospect research, management and analytics--and resulted in APRA International issuing a formal statement on LinkedIn. Read about APRA’s LinkedIn guidelines here: http://www.aprahome.org/d/do/3217  Last summer, one of our vendors offered social media as a new option for research with our prospects.

    Earlier this month I was asked to review Jennifer Filla and Sarah Bernstein’s Prospect Research Perspectives on Social Media and I have found it be essential reading about social media and the prospect research/management field. The book explores how do prospect researchers and managers handle the wealth of information and deal with the ethics of using that information. Aimed at prospect researchers, prospect managers, and data analysts (and maybe even gift officers), this publication provides thoughtful and sometimes provocative analysis about social media in our field. It tackles social media from a lot of diverse angles from an effective Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis for using social media in fundraising and research to analyzing the ALS Ice Bucket challenge.

    The publication helped me think about social media in a broad sense from the ethics of using social media to how to use the information as a researcher. The publication includes a series of articles by Filla and Bernstein who have interviewed several people throughout the field. Their articles contain information from people at three Milwaukee based charities and Justin Ware, Vice President of Digital Fundraising Strategy at ScaleFunder. I really appreciated the article of the three Wisconsin based charities that explored how these three charities with different structures and missions each used social media to aid in their fundraising.  For instance, Lawrence University “Lawrence has been tracking every social media comment for several years now, tallying the comments by fiscal year in their database (Banner). As Ziegler describes it, Lawrence was then able to “use this existing data to identify volunteers, and send them a private Facebook message with a link to the social media toolkit for Giving Day” (p18). Justin Ware of ScaleFunder pointed out, “enthusiastic online advocates often include at least a few of your major donors” (p11).

    One of the surprising suggestions was for prospect researchers to look for social media influencers. In our field, the focus has long been major gift prospects. And there’s definitely potential with social media to aid in that mission. Jen Filla and Sarah Bernstein talk about how social media can help researchers understand the interests and affinity of major gift prospects…or even find new major gift donors, like young tech millionaires, that traditional wealth screenings don’t find. But they added this idea of identifying folks who are influencers. They can help champion your organization’s message, maybe even with a gift attached! They write: “Social media influencers offer us this same opportunity. If we can identify who among our large group of annual appeal donors has influence, we can ask them to give more of their influence to our organization and its mission” (p33). This is something I’ve never thought about doing. I’m already dreaming up schemes to capture that information! But in addition to this incredible insight, there’s some really important suggestions to how to make use of it, like the data collection and other partnerships needed to be able to affectively accomplish this. I also valued their comments about the importance of data tracking and possibilities with analytics.

    I also appreciated that their publication talked about how we can use social media in the advancement of our careers as well.  One provocative thought was the idea of mastering one or two social networks. How many social networks have you looked at today? How many do you actively use? Filla also states the importance of being active and not overexerting yourself. Work it into your daily routine.

    So I highly recommend this publication for those of you who contemplate the ramifications of this plethora of social media in the prospect research and prospect management field.  

    Picture credit- Jason Howe

    Photo link: Jason Howe. http://tinyurl.com/jaa3n2z

  • Fri, February 19, 2016 9:59 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Joan Ogwumike, Development Coordinator, Mikva Challenge

    We had the First Salon of the year and it was amazing! As a new member of APRA-IL, I joined for the exposure, networking opportunities, and the plethora of knowledge. And at this event, I was not disappointed!

    The setting was in a lounge area adjacent Café Cito, and seated on a long L-shaped couch was our three Corporate and Foundation relations panelists- Lindsey Rogers, University of Chicago, Kara Moore, Northwestern University, and Meredith Dorneker,Northwestern University.

    It was an informal Q&A with stimulating questions from the panelists to the attendants; we all wanted to learn from each other! Conversations stemmed from sponsorship relations with corporations, marking-up a prospect strategy for engagement, systems for prioritizing prospects, ratings for corporate and foundations, giving strategies in terms of ratings, the variety of databases used, and more.

    From the event, I noticed the designated presence of prospect researchers within higher education institutions, and the necessary position of research in other areas within the public sector. Another takeaway was the reliance on different search engines, and the ways in which each one could lead to different outcomes.

    This event was a glimpse of prospect research as an independent profession, and the different backgrounds that can lead one into becoming a researcher. I believe there needs to be continuous dialogue within every organization regarding research and its presence. Knowing its presence means a reliance on new funding possibilities. 

    Panel by K. Ingrao Other salon participants by K. Ingrao

  • Fri, February 12, 2016 11:51 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Elisa Shoenberger, Senior Prospect Management and Research Analyst, Loyola University Chicago

    Happy Valentine’s Day from APRA-IL!

    This is the perfect season to introduce you all to our new blog series that we are calling “Dear Analyst”. This series of blogs is to pay homage to our secular sister “Dear Abby” but also will be an advocate, therapist, and coach to our prospect development members. We want you to write in with your issues and questions regarding prospect development work and we will post our thoughts and suggestions but we also will encourage members to provide their own perspective and ideas. This is meant to generate dialogue and collaboration among our members and also just a fun way to expand the topics and content of our blog, so enjoy!

    Dear Analyst,

    I’m a shiny new prospect researcher at my organization. I’ve been asked to find new prospects for the organization but I don’t know where to turn. Could you please help me?


    Lost in Prospect Land

    Dear Lost,

    Finding new prospects is a vital part of the job for prospect research! There’s a lot of different ways of going about it, which makes it great but also scary. Don’t worry. Remember that prospects come from a lot of new places. I’m going to talk about a few places but there are many more.

    One place that I like to start is the people who already have given to my organization. Are there people who have given a lot but haven’t been contacted and/or researched? Those might be gems for your organization. It might be a good practice to review all incoming gifts each week to pick up on those larger gifts like $1,000 gifts and up.

    With cooperation from your senior staff, your organization could talk to board members about possible prospects that might be inclined towards your organization. It’s great to use these networks. Maybe they’ll offer to introduce us to the prospect.

    Another option is to conduct a wealth screening with a company like Blackbaud or Wealth Engine. These can be pricey so it’s a big step but you can find lots of new people this way. These screenings can help you identify people with a lot of assets who may be major gift prospects.

    Another place to look might be your own constituency. If your organization is a school, a hospital or a museum, you might have people who have an affinity to your organization already like alumni, grateful patients or members! You can look at business titles of people if you have the information or use news sources to look for your school. Google Alerts can be set up for keywords like “College University” that can help identify alumni who have moved jobs in press releases. Also, you can look at SEC documents too for your alumni.

    If you don’t fall under one of those categories, don’t fret! You can buy a mailing list from several organizations that can give you information on people who might be interested in your area of expertise, like the environment or poverty issues.

    Are you looking for new foundation or corporate leads? You can use Foundation Center and Foundation Search and look by keywords or even by grants. Both are paid subscriptions but public libraries may have licenses to both of them for your use! Also, it can also try looking at news articles about donations to organizations similar to yours!

    These are just a few places to find new prospects. I hope it helps!

    The best,

    Have a question about prospect relationships, research or anything else in the prospect realm? Feel free to email Dear Analyst at aprail@gmail.comwith the subject line Dear Analyst

    Julie, httptinyurl.comhflqauu

  • Fri, January 15, 2016 9:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jessica Szadziewicz, Prospect Information Analyst at Northwestern University

    Are you a corporate or foundation researcher? Or are you interested in learning more about corporate and foundation research? Then come to the first APRA-IL Salon of 2016! Our topic is all things corporate and foundation research. We will have special attendees from the C&F teams at both Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. They will be discussing how their organizations operate and manage its C&F research, in addition to answering any questions you may have. 

    The reading materials for this salon are a little different. Instead of traditional articles, participants are encouraged to review Elisa Shoenberger’s Corporate and Foundation Relations Survey, which appeared as a post on the APRA-IL blog in August 2015. In it, she asks shops from across the country a series of questions concerning corporate and foundation relations. We hope to ask corporate and foundation researchers some of these questions at the salon, and gain a better understanding of how different organizations operate.

    We hope to see you at 6:00pm on Wednesday, February 10th at Café Cito at 26 E Congress Parkway in Chicago.

  • Tue, January 12, 2016 1:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Katie Ingrao, APRA-IL President and Associate Director of Prospect Management at Rush University Medical Center

    New Year, new APRA-IL! 

    This year is all about revamping and refreshing our chapter and your career. We have an exciting year ahead of us with new events, a regional conference, and expanding partnerships in Chicago and beyond.

    This will be my second year as President and the last year in my term. From the beginning, I’ve been committed to engaging a larger segment of our membership in volunteering on our committees and expanding the variety of programming we provide. This coming year, I believe the hard work invested by the Board of Directors and current volunteers will pay off big. In an effort to find ways to increase the accessibility of our programming beyond the Chicagoland area, we have acquired software in a partnership with APRA-MN to host and record webinars.  This is an exciting development for us and will allow members to participate in events both in person and online. In addition to increasing accessibility to our members, the webinars will allow us to collaborate with professionals from other chapters and professions. Our first collaboration will be a webinar on competitive intelligence that we will run with APRA-MN and the Chicago Area Law Librarians during APRA International’s Share the Knowledge Week in February.

    We are also thrilled to host the first ARC (APRA Regional Conference) this June in Chicago. This event will allow our members access to a multi-day conference that will not break the professional development budget. The call for speakers has been extended until the 18th and I encourage you to consider submitting a presentation. We at APRA-IL have impressive members and institutions and this is a perfect platform to showcase that. 

    As we revamp our programming we also are preparing for a refresh of our website and social media accounts. If you don’t follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, be sure to do that so you won’t miss the roll out. We will be updating our website content, improving the resources available to members, providing a more streamlined schedule of messaging to our members, and finally increasing our presence on social media to keep our members up to date on the latest events and news.

    I am very proud of our chapter and its members and I hope to meet you at our next event. The calendar for the year is now available on our website. The first event of the year is a field trip to The Adler Planetarium for their January “Adler After Dark” series. More information can be found on the event page. Tickets should be purchased through the planetarium, but be sure to RSVP through our site so we have a head count. I am looking forward to the changes coming in 2016 and I hope you are too! 

    Best Wishes and a Happy New Year,

    Katie Ingrao

    APRA-IL President

    By JFXie, Flickr

  • Thu, December 03, 2015 10:54 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

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

    Hi Nerds!

    As some of you may know, I am currently pursuing a master’s degree at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. I mention this partly to explain why I didn’t run for re-election as APRA-IL vice president, but also to enthuse about the field of philanthropic studies.

    My friends, there is a whole other world of research out there, and it is amazing.

    I did not have any classes this semester, so I took the opportunity to attend some conferences. In addition to the fantastic APRA-IL Fall Conference, I also attended the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Annual Symposium in Indianapolis and the Association of Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action’s Annual Conference in Chicago. Some things were the same as any APRA conference I’ve attended (swag and tote bags FTW); the main difference was the emphasis on theory over practice. The majority of attendees and presenters were academics who conducted research and studies on the field of philanthropy. Each session consisted of three speakers who each spent 10-15 minutes discussing their work (usually on a related topic), followed by questions and discussion with the audience. It’s a fascinating format, and it might be cool to try out at APRA.

    Photo Jonathon Cohen, Doorways

    I learned about some incredible work that is currently going on. While it’s too much to go into extensively, I did notice some common trends under discussion at both conferences:

    • Women and Philanthropy: The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is also home to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, which recently released its 2015 “WomenGive” study. I found it a fascinating counterpart to Jennifer Filla and Preeti Gill’s presentation at the APRA-IL Fall Conference. Much of the current academic research being done on gender and philanthropy is now focusing on inter-family dynamics: how do married couples negotiate household giving? Does education or income disparity influence who makes philanthropic decisions? How does the presence of children impact the giving preferences of mothers and/or fathers (and are there different effects for single-parent households)?
    • International Philanthropy: One of the aspects of academic philanthropic studies that I would love to see more of in APRA is the inclusion of more international perspectives. I don’t mean Americans talking about research in other countries, I mean people who are actually living and working in those countries. ARNOVA’s membership is incredibly diverse, with researchers attending from every part of the world (except Antarctica, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time…). I had a great discussion with some Dutch researchers at ARNOVA about our countries’ different attitudes toward naming gifts. I attended a session where the presenter, from Israel, talked about the ways in which mass media discusses philanthropy; in Israel, elite philanthropists are often framed as agents of one side or another in social issue conflicts, which seems worlds away from the way that American media talks about its high-profile philanthropists.
    • Corporate Giving and Transparency: Corporate giving, particularly outside the United States, varies widely in terms of the level of transparency provided by the organizations. One study by researchers from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the University of Maryland, looked at what factors impact the level of public disclosure by foundations in China, where transparency laws are largely absent or unenforced. Another study by a researcher at Centro de Investigación y Estudios sobre Sociedad Civil examined the state of corporate philanthropy in Mexico and how it aligned with a company’s corporate social responsibility practices; in many ways, the corporate foundations in Mexico seemed to be much more closely tied to the company’s private activities than corporate foundations in the U.S.
    • Giving Days and Other Non-Traditional Fundraising: At the Lilly Family Symposium, I attended a session that included a presentation by Barbara Newhouse, executive director of the ALS Association, who discussed the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge on the Association’s policies and practices; she particularly stressed the need to share donor data within the different chapters of the ALS Association. Una Osili (director of research at the Lilly Family School and the 2014 keynote speaker at APRA International!) gave a presentation on her team’s research on Giving Tuesday and other giving days; one fascinating result from the study was that donations made on Giving Tuesday did not reduce a donor’s other gifts to the organization that year: if they made a gift on Giving Tuesday, they would likely also make their usual year-end gift, and at a similar amount as previous years.
    • Putting Research Into Practice: As I said at the beginning of this post, the field of philanthropic studies is largely academic and includes very few practitioners. A major focus of both conferences was how to bridge that gap between theory and practice. I think prospect research is uniquely positioned to be one of those possible bridges, given our love of knowledge and love of sharing it with others. 

    Other highlights:

    • They mentioned prospect research!
    • Beth Breeze from the University of Kent is conducting research on the social characteristics of fundraisers. What makes a good fundraiser? One interesting tidbit from her presentation: of the UK gift officers surveyed, she found that 10% of them sing in a choir, compared to 1% of the general population!
    • Elizabeth Dale at Seattle University is conducting some fascinating research on the philanthropic practices of LGBT individuals and households. (She is also a former Chicagoan—she was director of development at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center before pursuing her PhD in Philanthropic Studies).
    • Russell James from Texas Tech University is working on motivations for planned giving (you can look at the slides from his presentation for the Lilly Family Symposium here). Unlike many of the other studies on donor motivation I encountered, Dr. James is coming at it from a different direction: he’s putting people in fMRI machines, asking them questions about death and bequests, and seeing what parts of the brain light up. I really encourage you to take a look at the paper for this research if you can:

    James, R. N., III & O’Boyle, M. W. (2014). Charitable estate planning as visualized autobiography: An fMRI study of its neural correlates. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 43(2), 355- 373. (A previous version of the paper can be found on the Social Science Research Network here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2000345)

    • Recaps of the sessions at the Lilly Family Symposium can be found here. You can also see video of the keynote here (featuring Hasbro chairman Alan Hassenfeld) and the luncheon address on “Breaking 2%” by Schwab Charitable executive director Kim Laughton here.

    If you want to hear more or want to nerd out about philanthropic studies, find me on Twitter or send me an e-mail!

     Kelley, fMRI One

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