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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


  • Fri, November 06, 2015 8:44 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Preeti Gill, A Few Good Women: https://diversitydrivendata.wordpress.com/

    Her poise and sophistication aligns closely with the backdrop of our meeting place on a crisp, sunny Sunday morning in the City of Big Shoulders. She is Christina Pulawski, a prospect research leader, who has kindly offered to tour me through the Art Institute of Chicago’s latest exhibit of Indian art, Gates of the Lord: The Tradition of Krishna Paintings.

    How did we get here? Well, I’ve admired Christina’s career from afar for a while now. Read her impressive biography here as I can’t do her varied accomplishments justice in this restrictive space. She led the prospect research team at Northwestern University – when they earned a “top research shop” distinction – and went on to lead Loyola University-Chicago’s Advancement Services before embarking on a successful consulting career that she continues to juggle, alongside developing a multi-team-led prospect development strategy at the AIC.

    A trained lawyer and highly-rated speaker, Christina is also known for her volunteer leadership of both APRA-Illinois and big APRA. She served as chapter president for two years and earned APRA’s distinguished service award in 2005. She is also a co-founder of AASP.

    Born and raised in Chicago, Christina told me about her early memories visiting the AIC. Her mother would show her a few paintings she liked and share what she knew about them, interspersed with other, more unusual, holdings of the museum, such as its miniature rooms or arms and armor. Their visits were short, yet rich learning experiences, much like the time she and I spent walking through Krishna paintings and textiles, and gawking at the ornate Renaissance pendant jewels of the Alsdorf Collection. (I did most of the gawking, really).

    Later, we climbed an airy staircase over to Modern Art and sat down for a thoughtful discussion about hiring high-performers; learning to lead; and why prospect research continues to fascinate and captivate her. I sent her a few questions in advance so she had a chance to think them through and noticed that she had written down many of her thoughts before meeting me that morning. She took issue (tactfully) with some of my questions.


    What Makes Researchers Great and Great Researchers?

    Christina has hired and developed research teams for a number of organizations, both in-house and in a consulting capacity, so I asked her what traits or characteristics she hires for:

    “It depends on where you are [kind of organization], she said. “At Northwestern, we deliberately hired for no previous experience to help train them for our specific needs. Someone who is curious; who writes well; and is well-spoken. “

    She stressed curiosity, tenacity and “an interest in a lot of different things.”

    “At AIC, we just hired an analyst a few weeks ago who has experience since we cannot spend as much time training and overseeing. When hiring experienced researchers, we look at how they prioritize their work.”

    Since many researchers don’t operate solo shops, I asked her about a winning formula for a dynamic and high-performing team:

    “In my opinion, when everyone knows what the group's goal is and understands her or his role within it. We have shared professional values like accuracy, thoroughness, timeliness, empathy towards others who use our work.”

    Christina plans annual retreats for her staff where often they start with: “What are our values? What's the manifestation of those values? Values conflict sometimes like urgent requests. We work it out through scenarios before having to actually deal with issues.”

    “We all need to know where we're going.”

    Learning to Lead

    We talked extensively about leading and mentoring and how we need mentors throughout the courses of our respective careers.

    “I had a couple of bosses – not in research – who modelled excellent behavior. They were cool, calm, collected - perfectly unflappable. They were empathetic.”

    Christina spoke eloquently about being an effective leader.

    “In times of change, over-communicate and over-prepare. Stick with what you said." She's honest with people on her team. She micro-manages new staff initially until they’re fine on their own.

    "Help grow people in their career. Where do they want to go? Find opportunities for them to grow and publicly given them credit for succeeding at those opportunities. Encourage staff to mentor people at other organizations. Present at conferences. Connect them with other people. Nurture people who want to grow. And then do the same for yourself."

    "It’s my duty to help them [staff] get to where they want to be."

    Christina says that leadership and management require a slew of different skills and abilities, separate and apart from research – i.e. technical – proficiencies. She says, “Intentionally develop both.”

    Not being the same as leadership skills, technical skills manifest differently in every profession.  “For example, most of us have seen brilliant fundraisers who do not transition to being as brilliant in managing other fundraisers.”

    “We love to research 'cuz it's cool!” she said with a large grin. “But sometimes leading means doing less of what you love to do.”

    So, how to develop soft skills, I recall asking her?

    “Reading a lot, coaching, in-house management training that offers good common-sense advice like how to run a meeting and working with other people,” she listed.

    Research is Cool. Consulting? Even Cooler

    “With research, you get to be an expert in a little bit of everything. I know what it feels like to be a venture capitalist because I've researched 17,000 of them,” she said with a smile.

    “Consulting is awesome. Taking fundamental principles and applying them in different permutations in different places to get the same result, meeting financial goals.

    “Consulting is more about structure and resourcing. Should you hire a full-time researcher? [As a consultant], your focus is on different types of giving and fundraising. What's your goal? Staff experience and size, campaign focus and timing, all need to be taken into account and affect research.

    “It’s not about re-creating what you've already done,” stressed Christina.

    To wrap up, I also asked her a few cheeky questions for which she had smart responses:

    Every prospect researcher should bookmark this site: ­­­­______


    She took this question literally and calls her answer “snarky.”

    “Dreaming of sending the link in answer to some questions researchers get, check out lmgtfy.com.

    It's a stress release! And kitten/puppy video sources.” 

    Given her native Chicagoan status, I also asked Christina: If I have just one day in this great city, what is an absolute must-see that they don’t share in tourism guides?

    “The guide books are pretty great for general info. For things that everybody might like. I'd have to know what someone's into to guide them to things that the guide books don't.”

    (Classic researcher response = evaluating the information tool!)

    “Get into the neighbourhoods. Use a Divvy bike [to get around]. It's the best $10 you'll spend in 24 hours” she said.

    Do you want to learn more about what Christina Pulawski had to say about women leaders and the way data analytics is changing the way we view donors? Check out the second part of my interview with this prospect research leader at A Few Great Women here


  • Fri, August 28, 2015 4:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jennifer Filla, President of Aspire Research Group LLC and CEO of Prospect Research Institute

    Preeti Gill and I are excited about visiting Chicago to speak about wealthy and philanthropic women. A topic dear to our hearts and to our gender, I thought I’d do a little digging around to find some perspective on Chicago and Illinois.

    Instead of writing about it, I thought I'd show you in this short video. I hope you enjoy it!

    And sign up for the conference, why don’t you? Click to register!

    http://sproutvideo.com/videos/e89bdcb11c18e5c960

  • Tue, August 18, 2015 3:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

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

    Several months ago, I was trying to figure out how to structure prospect management with our Corporate and Foundation Relations (CFR) team. There was not a whole lot of literature out there so I reached out to two local institutions to find out how they handle CFR. It turned out that both institutions handled their CFR research and prospect management in completely different ways.

    Then I decided to broaden my sample pool and conduct a survey of organizations across the US so I could gain a better picture of C&F teams nationally. My new survey contained a 10 question survey about research and prospect management in regards to C&F activity. I posted it on Prospect_L, a great resource for researchers and prospect managers, and got about 92 responses. It’s not a scientific survey but I think it gave me a little bit more insight into the topic. Most questions had several answers marked “Other” where the responses didn’t fit the question. They were excluded at this time. Click the links to see charts of the data.

    1.       Do you have gift officers who manage only corporations and other officers who manage foundations only? Or do they manage both corporations and foundations together?

    Over 65% of organizations have their gift officers manage both corporations and foundations together. Almost 30% have separate teams to handle corporations and another to handle foundations. 

    q1.GIF

    2.       Do gift officers manage organizations and individuals at your organization?

    Over 45% respondents reported that their gift officers manage both individual and organization prospects. About 42% reported that some gift officers managed individuals and others supported individuals only. 

    Q2.GIF

    3.   What is the average portfolio size for CFR officers?

    About 33% of respondents reported that the average portfolio size was between 50 to 100. About 27% said they had between 25 and 49 prospects. Over 15% reported that their gift officers had over 100 prospects while over 5% reported less than 25. Over 15% had more complicated situations such as gift officers who see both organizations and individuals or no dedicated gift officers.

    Q3.GIF

    4.  Does your institution use ratings for its Foundations and Corporations?

    This was the most surprising of them all. The vast majority (over 70%) do not have ratings. We use ratings at Loyola so i was not expecting this result!

    q4.GIF 

    5. Of the 20 who responded yes, we asked: If you have ratings, how do you determine a rating?  

    People explained that they used market value, past gift amounts, and had a formula. Other organizations look at the linkage, ability, and interest. Others use one rating for maximum grant and some rely on gift officer rating. Others use past gifts or a four point ranking system.

    6.  Are there stages for organizations? Common terms for stages are: suspect, cultivation, stewardship.

    This question also surprised me especially after the rating question. Over 80% reported that they had stages for their corporations. Only about 15% did not! 

    q6.GIF

    7.  Does your CFR office have a dedicated researcher?

    Almost 60% of respondents reported that they did not while over 30% said that they did. 

    Q7.GIF

    8. How many researchers exist at your organization?

    Almost 60% have only 0-2 researchers while about 30% have only 2-5 researchers. Less than 5% had over 10.

    q8.GIF

    9  How many gift officers exist at your organization? 

    Over 50% reported that they had 3 to 10 gift officers while over 20% reported 31 to 50!

    q9.GIF

    10.    What type of organization are you?

    Almost 70% of participants came from higher education. The next largest group at about 8% came from Health- Focused organizations. It would be interesting to see how the information would differ if we excluded higher education!

    q10.GIF

    I’m hoping that this serves to instigate more discussion about prospect management and research for Corporate and Foundations teams. This survey is a start. Please share your ideas! Share your techniques! I think there’s a lot of room for discussion. I can’t wait to hear from you all.


  • Tue, August 11, 2015 2:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

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

    What an APRA International for the record books! Over four days, researchers, prospect managers, analysts came from all over the US and the world to New Orleans to learn, converse, and network. APRA IL Chapter had a particularly strong showing. We had fifteen members present at the conference this year from topics including dynamic portfolios, international research, corporate and foundation research and prospect management, and much more!

    Below are a few of my takeaways from this year’s conference.

    The regular conference started off with a Keynote Speech from the incredible Dan Pollatta. His talk focused on the problematic ways society thinks about philanthropy. He talked about the problem with compensation for nonprofits. We are okay with CEOs of for-profits getting paid a lot of money, but there are investigative reporters going undercover to reveal the salaries of nonprofit CEOs. US society is just not comfortable with paying a lot of money in salary for nonprofits. However, if you want to attract the best and brightest and retain them, this perception is hurting nonprofits and their work.

    There’s a similar discomfort with marketing and advertising. Corporations can spend millions of dollars but charities that spend a lot of money talking about their cause are perceived as wasteful. Overall, the obsession with overhead costs only hurts charities and their causes. Instead of looking at how much a charity spends on operating costs, organizations and people should look at what the charity is doing and how many people it is helping.  That’s just a small part of his speech. Check out his TED talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong?language=en

    I attended “All the Right Prospects: Dynamic Portfolio Reviews” given by David B. Nacol, Executive Director, Schools and Programs, and Rebekah D. O’Brien, Assistant Director, at Northwestern University. What an incredible talk! The room was bursting with people! The speakers talked about the case of Northwestern’s portfolio review process, a part of their larger Prospect Management system. At Northwestern, they have mostly transitioned to smaller portfolios, generally 25 to 35 prospects in solicitation or cultivation. Typically, gift officers only manage prospects that they have personally qualified. When gift officers join Northwestern’s central fundraising teams, they start with zero people in their portfolio and gradually add people as they get to know prospects. That’s just a tiny nugget of information from their talk.

    I also attended “Corporate and Foundation Relations: Creating Impact” given by Michelle Heyn, University of Minnesota Foundation. Her talk focused on Corporate and Foundation Principal Prospects, rather than Corporations and Foundations as a whole. She talked about the various products that they create to help advance those relationships. One thing that blew my mind was that they use the Risk Factors section in a company’s 10k and orient their strategy to help the company meet those challenges. What a brilliant idea.

    At the CASE Conference for Corporate and Foundation Gift Officers that I attended in June, a representative of a tech company advised that universities and colleges should understand what problems a corporation is trying to solve when they approach them. This will help deepen the relationship. When asked how to find this information, the representative suggested talking to C-level individuals. This new idea of looking at “Risk Factors” is another way of tackling it. While not all companies have this information available, namely private companies, it’s an important resource if we have it.

    There was another round of APRA Talks, styled like TED talks. Presenters had about 5 minutes for their talk. The first was Greg Lambousy of the Louisiana State Museum talking about Hurricane Katrina. He explained that it took two years after the Hurricane to rehabilitate the buildings and collections damaged in the storm. They were fortunate since they already had a year’s worth of operating budget in the bank; not all nonprofits did and many had to shut down. Nonprofits with connections with federal government or branches in other cities fared better than those that did not.

    Jennifer McCormack, Associate Director of Advancement Analytics at University of Washington, talked about innovation and analytics. She explained that the greatest challenge to change was experience. Moreover, people make the mistake of forgetting that change is emotional. Will this hurt or help me? She explained that communication was key. Speaking their language is a must to get people onboard. She also explained that better storytelling of successes will help to get other onboard and eager to participate.

    The final speaker was David Robertson, Director of Operations Research at Syracuse University, who sang us two songs! Here is “Prospect Gold” for your viewing pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=5urx104-PkA&app=desktop

    He talked about how we have to be creative experts and look beyond our industry. He suggested looking at how the for-profit sector is doing in terms of forecasting, etc. Great advice!

    We had a lovely time at the APRA IL breakfast at the Ruby Slipper. Grits, hash, and gravy were had by all! That’s just a taste of APRA International 2015. I can’t wait for APRA International 2016 in Nashville!

    Photo by K. Ingrao 

    Photo by K. Ingrao

  • Tue, July 14, 2015 8:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

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

    The Annual International APRA Conference is coming up. We here at APRA IL are pleased to see so many of our members presenting at the conference. Below are some members’ descriptions of their sessions. We hope to see you there!

    Guarding the High-Capacity Galaxy:  Prospect Research & Prospect Management as Protectors of Institutional Capacity

     Thursday, July 23 at 1:15 to 2:45

     Through best practices and successful working partnerships, Prospect Research and Prospect Management can serve as the guardians of an organization’s highest capacity prospects, ensuring that these prospects are identified, appropriately placed in fundraiser portfolios, and effectively moved through the fundraising cycle.  While this of course includes typical prospect research and management processes, it also incorporates a sense of prospect ownership and oversight, a partnership with management and fundraisers to make sure that these best prospects aren’t inadvertently underdeveloped.  The institutional – and professional – rewards can be galactic! Erin Doyle Liss (DePaul University) and Robin Schneider( DePaul University) will present.

    All the Right Prospects: Dynamic Portfolio Reviews

    Thursday, July 23rd at 1:15  to 2:45

    At Northwestern University, fruitful relationship management relies upon the partnership between front-line officers and Prospect Management. David B. Nacol, Executive Director, Schools and Programs, and Rebekah D. O’Brien, Assistant Director, Prospect Management at Northwestern University, will provide a front-line officer and prospect management perspective on relationship management – keeping the right prospects in focus. Their talk will unpack fundamental relationship management objectives, outline Northwestern’s approach to relationship management, explore its portfolio review evolution and materials, and provide insight into how Northwestern processes may be adapted for other development operations

    Opening Doors in International Research

    Friday, July 24th at 1:15 to 2:45

    John Connelly (Northwestern University) and Amelia Aldred (University of Chicago) will present our tips and tricks for collecting data in international markets, with a focus and on Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany, Chile, India, and Brazil.   The talk will focus on strategy and technique rather than specific sites—but all attendees will receive the Great 2015 Northwestern/UChicago International Bookmarks Spreadsheet of Awesome as well.

    Integrating Corporate and Foundation Relationship into Prospect Management and Research

    Friday, July 24th at 1:15 to 2:45

    Elisa Shoenberger (Loyola University Chicago) will discuss how Loyola integrated prospect management and research with corporate and foundation relations. She’ll also present her findings on a short survey about prospect management and research shops and corporate and foundation work. She’ll also review research techniques, including a review of 990 forms, and other tools to enhance both research and prospect management skills.

    Tracking Prospect Identification

    Saturday, July 25 at 8:30 to 10:00

    Viviana Ramirez (Rush University Medical Center) and Katherine Ingrao (Rush University Medical Center) are first time presenters at APRA International. We are presenting on the work we have done over the last couple of years to develop efficient prospect management policies and procedures when identifying prospects in a grateful patient fundraising office. The ultimate goal being, we build a process that will effectively supply and support our portfolios for our next upcoming campaign.

    And many more! 

    APRA IL will also have a chapter breakfast on 7:30 at July 23rd at APRA International. 

    We hope to see you there!

     

     


  • Tue, June 30, 2015 2:24 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jessica Szadziewicz, Prospect Information Analyst, Northwestern University

    Our second salon of the year is around the corner. We had a great discussion at our first salon, and hope to do the same again in Evanston on Wednesday, August 26th.

    The topic of our second salon will focus on interactions between prospect researchers and gift officers, specifically reactions to research not found and misleading or incorrect information. Jen Filla has mentioned these topics in her blog, so we will be discussing two of her 2012 blog posts to get the discussion going. Both posts are accessible through the salon event description on the APRA-IL website. The first post from May 8, 2012, “Are You Making These 5 Donor Research Mistakes?” addresses finding accurate information about donors and five pitfalls researchers need to be aware of. The second post from May 29, 2012, “How Safe Are You at Your Donor Prospect Meetings?” discusses further research pitfalls, and communication with frontline fundraisers and gift officers. This post specifically focuses on on-line research and interactions with both the donor and the gift officer. It also mentions some great advice on exploring the motive for the gift officer’s visit and research request.

    Again, these posts are simply to act as starting points for a larger discussion. Some additional questions to consider for the salon may concern your individual interactions with gift officers and their reactions to your research. Have you ever done extensive research on a prospect, only to realize the gift officer really wanted something completely different? Has a gift officer ever insisted on finding private information, such as an exact salary? Have you found seemingly reliable information on a prospect, only to later realize it was not completely accurate? What steps did you take to remedy the situation? How do you avoid making these mistakes in the future? The possible questions and scenarios are endless!

    We will be discussing these questions and more at our next salon. Again, please feel free to bring any additional reading materials or questions.

    We hope to see you at 6:00pm on Wednesday, August 26th at Panera at 1700 Sherman in Evanston, Illinois. 

    Photo: Henrique Pinto

  • Tue, June 09, 2015 11:20 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Melissa Collins, Associate Director of Advancement at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater

    Prospect Research. Wait. What?

    For the past 13 years, I have worked in the development offices of two impressive regional theaters in Chicago. Despite a devastating recession, the theater community has sustained a hugely devoted pool of patrons, donors and board members many of them are involved at other cultural institutions all over the city. And the pool grows every year. As the theaters’ development departments grow to meet the need of the growing patron pool our solicitation processes need to grow and evolve.

    We face a few challenges in prospect research in theaters. Like many smaller shops, we simply cannot hire a dedicated researcher and must rely on our volunteers, theater leadership, gift officers and support staff to do the leg work. Can you feel the burn out? To make matters more challenging, many important and interesting tid-bits about prospects tend to live in one person’s head. We are forced to be an army of one in research and everyone is in it for themselves.  

    Lucky for me, Chicago Shakespeare Theater has an incredibly talented advancement team. We are surrounded by supportive leadership who encourage ingenuity and collaboration amongst staff, peers and our networks. We are also fortunate to be on the Tessitura CRM database with a relatively new development function called “Plans” which has proved helpful for prospect management. As our theater watches the number of donors and prospects grow at high volume in a short amount of time, we had to take a pause to dig deeper and make sure we were finding the right information about the right people.

    Hey there, APRA-IL BSW.

    So, I took stock of our human resources. Our solicitation team simply did not have the time to do meaningful prospect research and analytics. That meant I needed to take on a bigger role in research, managing their prospects and the overall analytics. After a recommendation from Campbell & Company, I attended the annual APRA-IL conference which is where I learned more about the organization as a whole and, as if the skies had opened up above me, all the resources which were available to me came pouring down! If it weren’t for APRA-IL, now lead by Kate Ingrao, who by the way recruited me to volunteer for the programming committee (thank you, Kate) I would never have learned about the Basic Skills Workshop (BSW).                      

    Last month at the BSW, Lindsey Humphrey and Karla Davis successfully guided 30-ish new and not-so-new researchers through the basics in profile searches and how to build our own event brief using the workbook written by Jennifer Filla, “Introduction to Prospect Profiles.” We walked away with invaluable lessons and techniques from Humphrey and Davis such as streamlining profile templates. Chicago Shakespeare Theater now has three templates we all use: Solicitation Profiles, Event Briefs and Briefings/Call Sheets all of which I eagerly implemented the Monday following the BSW.     

    I have with a whole new library of resources and tips and strategies for the “deep research,” too. By the way, have you signed up for PRSPCT_L listserve yet?  No? Do it. Now. While not everything pertains to the work I am doing in the moment, the questions are almost as helpful as the answers.

    Part of the BSW revolved around ethics with the help of panelist discussions from Heather Ruggio, Kirstin Leiby and Grace Vigilante. I am only beginning to understand the complexity and sensitivity of ethics surrounding prospect research. Currently, the Advancement team at Chicago Shakespeare Theater takes great care in who is seeing our event profiles and how we disseminate the information to our volunteers and leadership.      

    Prospect Research, Theater…and Hockey.

    Given the timing here in Chicago as the Blackhawks play for the Stanley Cup, it only seemed appropriate to look at the future of prospect research in the theater community through a hockey lens. A quote from Wayne Gretzy sums it up pretty succinctly, “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” As one of the leading cultural institutions in the city of Chicago, it is in our best interest to take into consideration the value and need for prospect research and for that matter, the management of prospects and data analytics. We are growing at a rapid rate. Being thoughtful about who we approach, when, and how will only grow and enhance our institution in a strategic way. I’m excited to continue to implement all that I learned at the BSW into the daily routine at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and I look forward to learning more at the October APRA-IL Fall conference. 

    From Brian https://flic.kr/p/sUwE2

    Photo credit: Brian 

  • Thu, May 14, 2015 9:58 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Sabine Schuller, Sr. Research Specialist, The Rotary Foundation @s_schuller

                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

    “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
    ― Arthur Conan Doyle, from the Sherlock Holmes story
    A Scandal in Bohemia (1891)

    Even though this quote is from more than 100 years ago, I think the attendees of the recent Do Good Data conference  would have been proud to put it on a T-shirt.  The conference’s aim is to help learn how data can and is changing nonprofit work.  You might have heard stories about big box retailers and credit card companies using customer information to sell more products. Walmart shipping pop-tarts to Florida just as a hurricane hits comes to mind.  However, there are some who see a different purpose for using data analytics.  Instead of selling more iPhones, they want to pinpoint which rural South African farmers would benefit from having cell phones to track the weather.  Rather than target which demographic will click on a banner ad, they want to identify which youth are at most risk for dropping out of school. 

    Here are the highlights of conference presentations that caught my attention most.

    Peer to Peer Fundraising

    Traditional fundraising is usually seen as a one-on-one relationship between the NGO (non-governmental organization) and the donor.  The NGO gratefully receives the donor’s contribution supporting their work; the donor feels satisfied their resources are now being used for the greater good.  A peer to peer scenario is different. Some examples are the “fun runs” raising money for a cause from the athlete’s friends and family.  Girl Scout cookies  and the ALS Ice bucket challenge are other examples.  In those cases, the support depends more on the relationship between the participant and their donor, rather than the NGO or its cause.  In this fundraising paradigm, you would focus on the connectors to leverage their network rather than one large donor.

    What if:  You were a disease fighting charity that used “fun runs” and individual volunteer fundraising pages as your main way to build support?  One runner, Mr. W.E. Coyote, secured one large $200 donation from The Acme Corporation.  Another participant Ms. Roadrunner, had 20 of her friends donate US$20.  In this scenario, cultivating a relationship with Ms. Roadrunner might bear more fruit.  That’s because her larger network could potentially grow exponentially in support of your charity, compared to Mr. Coyote’s one connection.  But in order to do that, which tools would you need to identify your “best” prospects and what information would you need?  Would knowing Ms. Roadrunner’s personal financial situation be less important than understanding the strength of her network?

    One Well Presented Graph is Worth a 1,000 Word Report

    There’s only so much data the human eyes and brain can absorb without exploding.  Pictorial representations of data, like graphs, are one way to tell a compelling story still based on facts.  One presenter at the Do Good Data Conference used her program evaluation, data analytics, and graphic design skills to explain how to best present hard earned findings in ways non-expert decisions makers could easily digest.

    What if:  You presented a donor’s giving history in a pie chart instead of a table?  It would probably make it easier for someone to understand their primary philanthropic interests. 

    What if: You organized donor information using hierarchical text for a front line fundraiser:

    1.   Philanthropist Sells Kansas Farm: Donates US$7.5 Million

    2.     Money will save the lions, tigers, and bears in Oz.

    3.       Her favorite color is Ruby Red.

    Rise of the Machine

    If you’ve ever watched Netflix make their niche entertainment recommendations, you’ve seen an example of machine learning.  How do they do that?  The short answer is that clever data analysts create a mathematical formula by putting individual words associated with a movie into buckets.  By analyzing how many words go in each bucket (aka category), it predicts a result.  Let’s say you streamed Spiderman, Superman, and The Hulk all in a row.  It should come as no surprise Netflix recommends the newest Avengers movie.  The algorithm has picked up on keywords in the movie’s description or reviews like “super hero”, “villain”, “darkest hour” and predicted you’d like something similar.  In another example, this YouTube video shows an algorithm that “learned” the words “sweet” and “pleasant” are predictors of a “good” review.  

    What if:  You could use machine learning to identify fundraising developments by analyzing Twitter, social, or traditional media?  If there’s a steady, growing mention of “#FabulousNewFundraisingTrend” maybe that’s a technique you should invest in.

    If this piqued your interest, look ahead to the next Do Good Data Conference next year April 27-29, 2016.  I would like to thank my sponsors, the Strategy, Research, and Enterprise area at Rotary which paid my conference registration even though I work in a different department.  That’s how important they think building data knowledge is!  May many follow their example.

  • Mon, May 04, 2015 9:57 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Katherine Ingrao, Assistant Director of Prospect Management and Research at Rush University Medical Center

    What a beautiful day at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier! We had  35 attendees who joined us as we broke down the basics of a profile. Our workshop this year was organized around a new format and we thought it went really well. The workshop utilized materials from the Prospect Research Institute.

    The first half of the day consisted of a lecture by our Co-Director of Programming Lindsey Humphrey and our APRA-IL Secretary Karla Davis. They focused their discussion to the “Building Blocks of a Profile” section in the workshop workbook.  They broke down each section with clarity and efficiency, finding the right balance for the beginner and advanced audience member. Lindsey and Karla provided a considerable amount of tips and tricks during each section. I know I took away a few new websites to add to my research resource tab! One especially good find came from Karla regarding salary information for careers that are more on the creative side, such as blogger. The site Roberthalf.com provides a list of these less traditional career salaries annually with pretty unique names like Moolah Palooza. Definitely worth checking out!


    Following the morning lecture, our presenters broke everyone up into small groups of four to work on creating an event brief from the information provided during the lecture. This was a great activity in that it allowed for the dialogue among the attendees about the materials and research in general. The results were shared with the larger group at the end of the day.

    After lunch we welcomed Grace Vigilante (JDRF), Kirstin Leiby (NorthShore HealthSystem Foundation), and Heather Ruggio (Northwestern University) as our ethics panelists. All panelists came from  different types of organization; social services, healthcare, and higher education but could still relate on similar challenges. We had a very engaging discussion regarding researchers’ role in data security, privacy, and advocacy.

    It was a very successful and informative day. APRA-IL greatly enjoyed being in a new venue and trying out a new format for our spring workshop. We are looking forward to hosting Jen Filla the author of the materials from the Prospect Research Institute along with Preeti Gill of the Vancouver Foundation at our fall conference. 


  • Mon, April 06, 2015 11:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


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

    Recently, I had an individual reach out to me for an informational interview about prospect research. We were asked about what we do, what we love and dislike, etc. We thought it was a great idea for the APRA-IL blog post.


    1) What do you like most about working in prospect research?

    What I love best about prospect research is how you are constantly learning. Every day, you could end up in an unusual space for a prospect. One day I was trying to determine the average sale price for a cemetery while the next I was looking at a company that sells light fixtures.  No two prospects are the same. Moreover, there is that moment when you find an amazing lead that really brightens your day. Plus I’m a huge fan of corporate and foundation research. I love reading 990 forms (Foundation tax forms).


    2) What do you like least about working in prospect research?

    I’m not fond of politics but you’ll find them no matter where you work—in or out of the nonprofit world. Another challenge is that we have to explain what we do a lot to people within our organization. We are a niche field and not a lot of people know about it. We also spend time trying to define what we do and do not do.  We are often seen as gatekeepers to data even though we are not its stewards. It can be an awkward place.


    3) What is your average day like?

    I usually start off with a queue that has requested research from our gift officers and other departments. I first determine what the most important projects are in the queue for the day. Then I begin working on those pressing projects. Throughout the day, gift officers and other staff will ask me questions via email, phone and in person. Occasionally, I’ll have questions myself for the gift officers about projects.  Sometimes I get a priority project that makes me shift gears into another direction. When I’m not working on essential tasks, I’ll work on proactive research, prospect management, and other projects.


    4) Can you describe the balance of individual and team work in your position?

    In our shop, we were built as a team. We may work individually on projects but we help each other out. We have a client based model, so I am the point person for specific gift officers while my team members work with others. If I have a priority project that I’m working on and I cannot get to another project, I’ll ask for help from a team member. We often collaborate on how to approach projects and people.  There is also a thriving community outside of the office. We belong to APRA-IL of course, which is a great resource for us. There’s also Prospect_L, a list host, where you can ask questions and people do respond.

    5) How does data analytics play a role in your job?

    It’s the big trend in the field. We have a lot of people, and it’s hard to know where to start to find new prospects. Modeling projects can really help Prospect Management and Research and the gift officers know how to prioritize. For instance, a common modeling idea is: “This major gift prospect looks like this. Who looks like this person in our database but not currently a major gift prospect?” While analytics cannot guarantee that everyone who models well is a winner, it helps to narrow it down. Data visualizations are also key for Prospect Research and fundraising. Dashboards are amazing to understanding your data and realistically your constituency. Seeing data in a new way can really help drive strategy.

    6) Are there any specific skills that are particularly important for a position in prospect research?

    You need to be detail oriented. There’s a lot of data out there, but it’s not all good data. If you are looking at a prospect, you have to be careful not to confuse that person with someone else. You also have to be alert to possible trends. You have to be curious in this job. You have to be willing to go down the rabbit hole. Sometimes a research project is not cut and dry and you have to dig deeper.


    Project management is also key. Budgeting time and segmenting tasks is essential. You’ll get some complicated projects that you’ll have to figure out how to do. Also, research can fill up all the time you have so you have to know when to stop. Sometimes it’s not worth that extra 5 hours to confirm a tiny detail.


    7) What advice would you give someone looking to break into prospect research?

    I’d read some of the books out there on the field. I started with Cecilia Hogan’s Prospect Research. For analytics, check out Josh Birkholz’s Fundraising Analytics, Peter Wylie’s Data Mining for Fund Raisers, and Kevin MacDonell and Peter Wyle’s Score! There’s also a lot of great blogs out there too like Helen Brown Group’s blog.


    Moreover, I’d talk to people who work in the field. Informational interviews are great. Ask them more questions about what they do. Make sure it’s what you want to do. Also, it really helps to know what you are talking about when you go to interviews!


    Finally, go to APRA IL events, like the Basic Skills Workshop on May 1st! 


    Photo credit: Janneke Staaks


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