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Apra-MN Networker

We at Apra-MN are hoping that this format will provide yet another way of finding additional resources to help our members, those in the field of research and fundraising, and will also provide a place for discussion and member contribution. The blog is open to the public, and only members are able to contribute. Join Apra-MN and join the discussion!

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  • 25 Sep 2017 10:26 PM | Jerica Price (Administrator)

    Ryan Marshall was one of the recipients of the 2017 Apra-MN Professional Grant presented by the Apra-MN board. He is currently the Prospect Development Analyst at Concordia University in Saint Paul. Read his thoughts and reflections on the opportunity he had to further his knowledge made possible through this grant.


    Have you ever found yourself sitting in a conference session that had you so excited that you couldn’t focus on the speaker anymore? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me recently. And that was the impetus for the idea that led me to write my first professional development grant proposal. I would like to share with you the source of my inspiration, what I studied and how it impacted my work. Plus I’ll share some implications it has for the future.

    The theme of that conference session focused on the trend of accumulating data without any plan of what to do with it. The amount of metadata available is overwhelming, but the fear of missing out drives an urgency to constantly acquire even more information. There is a point at which data becomes burdensome and paralyzing. This depends upon the maturation of your organization’s analytics program. The more mature your program is, the better you can derive meaning and value from the data.

    It was important for me know where my company was in the spectrum of “we struggle to handle basic information” to “implementing prescriptive analytics to gain foresight.” My office fell squarely in the middle of that spectrum. We have strong advanced reporting but only one individual who is competent in analytics and its implementation.  We seemed to be at the upper limit of what we could achieve given the limited, but talented, personnel available. This is where my opportunity for growth presented itself.

    All of our data manipulation takes place in programs that utilize Structured Query Language (SQL) for coding. I’m usually involved in the analytic process as a sounding board and source of strategic input. However my lack of knowledge about how our data is stored and retrieved restricted how helpful I actually was in that process. I saw an opportunity to utilize our data more strategically and advance our analytic capabilities simply by bridging my knowledge gap. Taking a hands-on role would help our program mature at a faster pace. I needed to learn basic SQL to expand my knowledge and my overall contribution to my office’s work.  

    I found two different approaches for learning how to code with SQL. One was an online, self-paced experience. The other was an instructor-facilitated, online course over a six week period, complete with learning outcomes and a final exam. The benefit in having the two approaches in learning were vast.

    I started with the online, self-paced experience.

    This approach starts with building tables, inserting information then manipulating that information. It emphasizes understanding the syntax of SQL and gives you specific examples to reinforce a particular concept. The benefit of this approach is the instant feedback you receive on a particular string of code you type out.  Your progression is restricted until you correct any errors that exist. It’s like having the bumpers up for bowling. It really emphasizes the need for attention to detail on projects. This is great because not all coding environments will debug your code for you. Precious time can be lost looking for that missing semicolon or extra parenthesis.

    I then transitioned to the instructor-facilitated, online approach. It was a stark contrast and a welcomed change.  

    With this experience, you spend more time on the theory and nuance of the language. Plus you explore some more advanced functions.  The exercises use a full-blown SQL coding environment. If an error exists in your code, there is no safety net.  Learners have to trouble shoot until the results match the answer key. The instructor does, however, answer any specific questions that arise. Also each section has its own discussion board for current students to share their ideas.

    The best part of the whole experience is how you can immediately apply your new knowledge. I experienced this firsthand.

    I have been working on building an engagement score with a coworker since last December. We built our entire project in a program called Argos which uses SQL for designing data blocks. The first part of my grant started around the same time as the intensive coding work for the engagement score. I was increasingly exposed to more complex SQL code as the project progressed, so my knowledge base grew rapidly.

    The outcome of the whole experience was incredible. When I started, I was merely contributing my thoughts on the scope of what we wanted the engagement score to measure. But at the end of the process, I gained the ability to parse and reconfigure the code that gave life to our final product.  Now we have a functional and fully implemented score that has been a great asset to my work in prospect research.

    My office is still in the “strategic analytics” stage of maturity in my opinion, but we now have a more promising trajectory. My experience of building my skillset through this grant has been an advantage to me, both personally and professionally. I hope to contribute to my office’s growth into the next stage of analytic maturity. Now, I am better equipped to consume external data with the additional perspective of storage and retrieval. Capturing more qualitative data points for our constituency is difficult. This will be the next big challenge on our way to predictive analytics.



  • 19 Jun 2017 9:19 AM | Joseph Gonzales (Administrator)

    Michael Pawlus has presented extensively on fundraising analytics including DRIVE/, overDRIVE/, Data Analytics Symposium and APRA-Canada. He contributed content on predictive modelling for the book Prospect Research in Canada: An Essential Guide for Researchers and Fundraisers. In addition, Michael was interviewed for an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on text analytics. Connect with Michael: @michaelpawlus

    Dispatches from DRIVE/ (and overDRIVE/) (by: Michael Pawlus)

    This year I presented at the DRIVE/ conference and I was also co-faculty for the overDRIVE/ conference. It was a great experience to catch up with some colleagues and meet some people in real life whom I had previously only interacted with on forums like prospect-dmm. There were a lot of really thoughtful presentations and I left with some really practical ideas. However, I want to focus this blog post on two major takeaways that shifted the way that I think about fundraising analytics.

    The imminent arrival of algorithmic prescription as a disruptive force

    DRIVE/ this year was a very forward-looking conference with many presenters positing a vision of our profession in 5-10 years. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and prescriptive models were mentioned as game-changing disruptive innovations and there are now case studies in other industries proving the impact of leveraging these methods which are now materializing from the nebulous buzzwordy ether where they once resided.

    A great example of a possible future was illustrated during a conversation between Chris Sorenson, DRIVE/ conference founder, and Ashutosh Nandeshwar, Assistant Vice President, Relationship Management and Data Sciences at the University of Southern California. Their session took the form of an interview with Chris as the host and Ashutosh as the guest. When asked how artificial intelligence may impact fundraising analytics, Ashutosh provide the following vision:

    Imagine an app that a gift officer can use that serves up the best three prospects. It then recommends all the latest content and upcoming events that match best with this prospect’s interests and if appropriate aligns this prospect with a suitable gift fund and target ask amount. The app would provide all the contact details and the gift officer would be able to reach out directly from the app.

    If this seems at all too far fetched or something that is still a long way off there was a recent article in Harvard Business Review1 documenting how Harley-Davidson used a similar strategy to massively increase revenue:

    “Armed with creative content (headlines and visuals) provided by Harley-Davidson, and key performance targets, Albert [the name that Harley-Davidson gave to its AI program] began by analyzing existing customer data from [the] customer relationship management (CRM) system to isolate defining characteristics and behaviors of high-value past customers: those who either had completed a purchase, added an item to an online cart, viewed website content, or were among the top 25% in terms of time spent on the website.

    Using this information, Albert identified lookalikes who resembled these past customers and created micro segments – small sample groups with whom Albert could run test campaigns before extending its efforts more widely. It used the data gathered through these tests to predict which possible headlines and visual combinations – and thousands of other campaign variables – would most likely convert different audience segments through various digital channels (social media, search, display, and email or SMS). Once it determined what was working and what wasn’t, Albert scaled the campaigns, autonomously allocating resources from channel to channel, making content recommendations, and so on.”

    To translate this back to the world of fundraising we are constantly creating content to share various success stories throughout our organizations. We also plan and host numerous events. Using existing tools, we can measure the impact of all of these efforts. We should be able to define our best prospects through affinity scores, wealth ratings and, for some, modelling. To take this all a step further, my own presentation at DRIVE/ along with at least one other addressed how sentiment and common terms can be extracted from free form unstructured data such as survey responses, gift officer reports, and online giving comments.

    So, we have the data and from a technological perspective all that is missing is for an algorithm to create calculations based on these data to inform strategy which we know exists from the example above and where we can assume that the price point for such a resource will fall within the capacity of some of our budgets in the near future. This is all to say that the data silos that we create and enforce through disparate policies created in multiple departments will quite possibly be the biggest barrier to this type of future being realized.

    Why Not to Invest in Fundraising Analytics

    I had an equally profound revelation during the overDRIVE/ conference during a section styled as an Oxford debate pitting two teams against one another to answer the question. Should we invest in fundraising analytics?

    We were all at an analytics conference and we are all either regularly incorporating analytics into our work or we had a clear interest in doing just that so from my perspective the setup was risky and I imagined the team arguing in the negative to have nothing to say. This displayed a clear lack of critical thought on my part and a lack of faith in my far wiser contemporary, event chair Stephen Lambert, Advancement Researcher at Susquehanna University.

    The debate was far better contested than I could have ever anticipated. If it were being scored on a fair scale I think there is a good chance that the team in opposition would have won the day. This is not to say that I am now convinced that analytics has no place in fundraising. However, it allowed me to better understand the view of those who are skeptical of analytics.

    A few of the reasons given to not invest in analytics included the following:

    • There are not enough resources to allocate so why wouldn’t an organization just invest in more major gift officers.
    • Gift officers have passed the test of time. Fundraising analytics have not.
    • The data is really bad right now so what is the point of even trying to perform analytics.
    • Fundraising is an art and at its core it is about relationships.
    • Those in analytics do not understand how fundraising is done.
    • There are already cautionary tales in the UK regarding privacy concerns which means that analytics may be a future liability.

    For those of us who firmly believe in the value of analytics this should help us as we advocate for our role within the fundraising ecosystem. There is a clear danger in insulating oneself so deeply in a supportive community which mirrors the hazards of echo chambers in society writ large. Until this debate, the world that I experienced through my network reaffirmed that investing in analytics is one of the most powerful ways that all organizations can improve. As I, device in hand, swiped through the endless scroll of data and evidence supporting my point of view, how could I imagine that anyone could possibly ever think otherwise?

    Conclusion

    These two experiences led me to arrive at the following actionable insight: For those of us in fundraising analytics, we need to advocate for our present place and prepare for disruptive technology to radically change the future. Here is the hope that I bring to this observation: almost all of us had to learn something new as we entered and advanced through prospect development. That is to say that none of us studied this in school and we are not dissimilar to other fields in the truth that even if we could have studied this in school we would still likely have had new concepts and resources to learn throughout our time actually working in the profession.

    DRIVE/ painted a picture of a future that seems like a significant departure from our current experience; one where we are spending less time formatting outputs and more time collecting inputs and tuning the programs that create the outputs. If you are like me, do you find the most enjoyable part of our work is solving puzzles and thinking creatively to craft a narrative that helps drive strategy? Right now, we may find that we are able to perform these two tasks when creating profiles and maybe we still will for quite a while however if this proposed future comes to pass we will still maintain the aspects of this work that we love most.

    My parting thought is that if you are already with me and excited for the future or if I was able to bring you along a little, if even slightly reluctantly, just remember that there will always be those who don’t see the value in analytics so remember to continue to speak with our partners who have not yet bought in and if you are one of them then let’s talk soon.

    https://hbr.org/2017/05/how-harley-davidson-used-predictive-analytics-to-increase-new-york-sales-leads-by-2930 

  • 14 May 2017 6:43 PM | Joseph Gonzales (Administrator)

    Ryan Marshall is a prospect development analyst at Concordia University in St. Paul. Ryan attended the Apra Regional Conference (ARC) this past March and shares his takeaways with us from the conference in Atlanta.

    The Value of Breaking Up Routine (by: Ryan Marshall)

    It can be nice to break up the monotony of your office routine. Not with those spur of the moment emergencies that stop your week in its tracks. I am talking about planned, meaningful, and restorative activities.

    Each year, I am able to attend one major conference. This year I chose the ARC conference in Atlanta, GA.

    Since it was my first ARC conference, I didn’t know what to expect. I went with the hope of gleaning perhaps a few new ideas from the sessions and affirming some of my approaches to research with my peers. I could think of no better way to grow than by spending a few days at a hotel with 100 people who do exactly what I do.

    Once it was all over, I came away with much more than I anticipated. I will share with you how one session improved my office’s efficiency, how connections I made at ARC affirmed the status of our research program, and how one concept inspired a clearer direction for my career.

    Sessions

    I expected to encounter sessions that gave me ideas I could out right implement in our office. Interestingly enough, the first actionable insight ended up coming from a completely unrelated session.

    The session was called “Want to be a Better Manager? Be a Better Project Manager!” It had nothing to do with prospect management. But I found myself sitting there because I misread “Project Manager” as “Prospect Management” as I quickly scanned through the session titles. Fortunately, it did spark some ideas that resulted in a better, more efficient process when I returned.

    Historically, portfolio reviews occurred semi-annually. Preparation for these less frequent reviews was time consuming and it meant that portfolios were out of date for a longer period of time. We recently made changes to our review process to take place after each development officer completed a trip. This seemed like a more manageable process. But the challenge with more frequent reviews was trying to schedule a meeting, with several participants, and also allowing sufficient research time to fill out portfolios again.

    The solution I proposed was simple: I asked to join for the first 15 minutes of the post-trip, one-on-one meetings between development officers and the Director of Development. This is a standing meeting and using that time maximizes the debriefing discussions that already take place. We can discuss who from their assigned prospects need to be dropped and which unassigned prospects they want to place under their management.

    Making Connections

    Who likes networking? If the idea doesn’t get you excited, you aren’t alone. Fortunately, ARC featured a segment they called “open space conversations.” This helped facilitate natural networking in a small group setting. We discussed a single concept around a table of 8-10 people for 25 minutes. At the end of each time block we would move tables.

    The second table I joined was discussing predictive modeling. I know very little on the topic, but I found that of everyone at the table, I was the most knowledgeable. We bonded over the fact that we didn’t have that much to discuss. The conversation naturally turned into more generic ‘shop talk’. We enjoyed the conversation and company of the table so much that we formed our dinner group for that night on the spot. We seemed to have a lot in common.

    Dinner was a mix of connecting professionally and personally. I was able to bond with my peers who have a wide range of experience, one to seven years, and a variety of work place environments. We freely conversed about all aspects for work to get feedback on procedures in offices supported by one researcher and those who have multiple researchers for a specific college.

    After two days with this group, I concluded that there is not a generic prescribed formula to a research program at an organization. The needs of an office truly dictate the direction and approach a researcher pursues. The best plan I can have is to embrace the ability to be flexible. Getting information in the hands of the development team when it best supports their success is a great benchmark for me to pursue. I had hoped to find this level of comradery and affirmation.

    Career Aspirations

    Managing portfolios and researching prospects are at the core of what I do. There is a great deal of work left to be done, but I have started to wonder where I can progress in my career. I don’t foresee doing basic research and profiles, even though I do enjoy doing it right now.

    The concept of the analytics maturity was introduced to me at ARC. There are five stages of analytics through which a program can progress – reactive, advanced, strategic, predictive, and prescriptive. Moving through these stages can take years. Our office is currently in the strategic stage. We have reached that point over the course of five years through the contribution of one staff member in our office and the support of one staff member in I.T.

    Reflecting on my notes from the conference, it became clear that I can help contribute to the maturity of our office into the predictive analytic realm and advance my career simultaneously. I have set out to learn the coding language we use to interact with our data. I want to reduce communication barriers with my coworker to allow for higher-level critical thinking about the ways we can use our data to inform strategy. The conversation can naturally progress toward predictive analytics at a faster pace and I continue to grow into the field of prospect research.


  • 21 Apr 2017 10:08 AM | Jerica Price (Administrator)

    Barb Hutson is currently the Prospect Development and Campaign Manager at Luther Seminary.  In 2016, she was selected to receive the Apra-MN scholarship to attend the Apra International Conference.  Read her reflections below and consider applying for the scholarship this year!

    Reflections on 2016 Apra International Prospect Development Conference

    By Barb Hutson

    Thank you for the opportunity to attend the international conference for Apra in July 2016, in Nashville, TN! It was an amazing opportunity, and I took advantage of every opportunity.

    A lot has happened since I applied for the Apra International conference scholarship.  But it is never too late to say thank you to the members of Apra-MN and make sure you all know that scholarships are an important membership benefit of this great organization!

    To start, here is the description of the Nashville Gaylord Opryland Hotel:

    A 14-minute walk from the Grand Ole Opry, this lavish resort is set under fully enclosed and temperature controlled glass atriums. There are 17 restaurants. Other amenities include 9 acres of indoor gardens with waterfalls, 1 indoor and 2 outdoor pools, an exercise room and a spa, along with an 18-hole golf course, an arcade, and boat tours through the indoor garden. The convention center has 152 meeting spaces, including 6 ballrooms.

    Needless to say, we all did a great deal of walking through this huge conference center and resort hotel. During the conference we sat all day long, but everyone logged at least 15,000 steps daily on phone apps and Fitbits. Many people’s rooms were a ¼ mile walk from the conference center!  The indoor gardens were amazing and the size of the resort was unbelievable!

    I arrived the day before the conference officially started and got a room back by the conference center – at least a ½ mile walk through the resort, but closer to the conference rooms. I spent my time that evening scoping out where the conference rooms were, bathrooms, restaurants, my room assignments, etc.  I thought I had shin splints from all of the walking, just on the first day.

    During the conference, I concentrated on the Prospect Management Track, and planned each day concentrating on that track. This year there was a great phone app available for your schedule, links to the slides, locations, speaker bios, etc. I could not decide on sessions, so before I left, I printed the slides from every session I was interested in attending. I like to take my notes on paper. Other people had their I-pads and laptops and took notes online. Before each day began, I figured out where rooms were, and planned my routes to get to each place quickly. Navigating the conference center was a challenge because it was so big, and session rooms were spread across a large area. Thankfully, workshops in each track were grouped together.

    The keynote speech by Risa Mish was Art of the Sale: Persuasion and Influence Tips for Development Professionals (and Everyone Else) was great. She talked about non-verbal cues, how to project confidence in our work, and influencing through the knowledge of our own personal core values. We ended with learning to build rapport with the customers who receive and use our information, and we practiced our confident Super-Woman pose!

    This year the TED talks presentation, Friday morning, were given by our own Mark Egge of the Greater Twin Cities United Way, Michael Quevli of Target Analytics and Tracy Church of Tracy Church and Associates.  These talks focused on how to network, get involved and volunteer, and use your social networks and social media to build relationships.

    During the conference, I also took advantage of networking opportunities with each vendor, with the Minnesota chapter, and volunteered as greeter and human sign for several shifts. This is a great way to meet people, to discuss new ideas, and to have some fun!

    Lastly, because I was in Nashville, I got tickets for the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium Bluegrass night! I joined in with a Minnesota colleague to get downtown to the Ryman Theater, and tagged along with Blackbaud folks to the Grand Ole Opry.

    Since I came home from the conference I have changed jobs and am at a new organization with a new title and responsibilities. By taking advantage of all that Apra-MN has to offer over four+ years, I have been able to advance my career, improve my salary, and I have received excellent received training in Prospect Management and Development.

    Please take the time to explore opportunities and conferences and webinars offered through Apra-MN.  Also, please apply for the scholarship for the Apra International Conference in Anaheim, CA. I will see you there! 


  • 16 Feb 2017 12:13 PM | Jerica Price (Administrator)

    Jennica Date is the Database Manager at Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.  She was the recipient of the Apra-MN scholarship to attend the 2016 Apra Regional Conference (ARC) in Chicago.

    In order to adequately share what I learned and implemented since attending ARC-Chicago, it would be beneficial to provide prospective. Before I was hired, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFM) did not have a full-time data management/gift entry staff member. As of March 2016, our front-line fundraisers consisted of three Foundation executives and one full-time gift officer. We added an advancement professional a month later, which was two months before I attended ARC. As of the end of February we will have two new full-time gift officers. Naturally, all of these events led to an exciting year in our department, one that experienced encouraging growth and many robust learnings.

    My knowledge about not just prospect research, not just development, but about philanthropy in general has grown at a vast rate since entering the field itself two years ago. That said, one can imagine that being able to attend a conference so rich with valuable information on prospect-research best practices was an incredible boon to not only my professional growth, but to WFM as a whole.

    I learned about Apra-MN through the metro-based Raiser’s Edge User’s Group. After joining Apra-MN in March 2016, I realized the wealth of resources that were available to me and thereby WFM. Our development department was growing and with that I saw an opportunity to learn more about prospect research, as we had no formalized processes in place. I attended the Apra-MN Spring Conference in St. Paul and was fascinated by what peers in the field were doing within their respective development departments. In terms of size, WFM was small compared to many of the institutions represented. However, I appreciated how the breakout sessions were structured – even a small department could find something valuable to implement within their own office. It was at this conference that I learned that Apra-MN provided scholarships to attend nationwide Apra conferences, and they were looking for applicants for the ARC-Chicago conference in June. WFM provides valuable professional development opportunities for all our staff, but we do not possess the budget for all staff to attend national conferences. Shortly thereafter I learned that I had been awarded the scholarship to ARC-Chicago. I was honored to attend and so grateful to be given such an opportunity – especially considering there was no way I could attend without the scholarship.

    ARC-Chicago provided a wealth of valuable information to a burgeoning prospect researcher – but I could also see that due to the different learning tracks offered, more experienced prospect researchers were well-supplied with learning opportunities. While there, I immersed myself in the sessions and left with resources and knowledge presented by experienced peers in the field, spanning the realm of small philanthropies to large educational institutions with hundreds of front-line fundraisers. Two of the courses I attended at ARC-Chicago ranged from how to create a prospect research department from scratch, to conducting “Frugal Research”. Both courses, besides being valuable for their stated content, were also great primers on standard language in the prospect research realm. The third course I attended discussed relationship management with front-line fundraisers, exploring how researchers can be more proactive and what tools can be used for researchers and fundraisers to create clear lines of communication. Finally, the last course I chose offered guidelines on how different research teams utilized Apra's Ethics Toolkit as it related to prospect research within the realm of social media.

    These sessions were structured in such a way that as someone new to the field, I felt emboldened with the information I acquired, rather than foolish for not knowing it already. I left ARC-Chicago with tangible tools that would allow me to, among other things: develop a prospect research request form, provide tips and tricks for contact reports, develop and hone a daily practice of reviewing online resources outside of utilizing a prospect research software, how to cultivate fruitful relationships and clear lines of communication with our front-line fundraisers regarding their prospect research needs, and finally how to create a prospect research department from nothing. I was and continue to be grateful for the opportunity to learn from experts in the field, including being made to feel welcomed and respected.

    As noted above, our development department has experienced such incredible growth over the last year. Our team has worked together to develop robust processes in all facets of development, including prospect research. The tools, tips, and best practices I learned at ARC-Chicago were invaluable as we talked about what would best serve our department. As we continue to grow, I’m excited to continue to implement even more of what I learned within our development department. My growth as a development professional this past year was made greater by being awarded the ARC-Chicago scholarship. Many thanks to Apra-MN for this opportunity. ARC-Chicago was an environment rich with valuable info on best practices, not only in terms of prospect research, but on a well-run development office.

    -Jennica


    Stay tuned for 2017 opportunities for scholarships!
  • 21 Sep 2016 6:51 PM | Jerica Price (Administrator)

    Rebecca Covington, Investment Campaign Associate at Northside Achievement Zone, is the recipient of the APRA-MN Fall Conference Scholarship to be held in on October 10 in Minneapolis.  Rebecca is new to the development and prospect research field and NAZ is putting her to work as their primary prospect researcher for their first investment campaign.  

    "Participating in this conference would give me valuable connections in the field, as well as tools that would support my work in helping my organization reach its fundraising goal," Rebecca mentioned in her scholarship application.

    Ten APRA-MN members applied for the full scholarship for this conference, from which a winner was chosen at random.  Such scholarship opportunities are available for the chapter's Spring and Fall Conferences, as well as a more robust scholarship opportunity for the APRA-International conference each summer.

    If you are attending this year's Fall Conference, say hello to Rebecca!

  • 10 May 2016 10:07 AM | Kristen Barlow (Administrator)
    APRA International Conference volunteer committee is looking for some helpful individuals to volunteer.

    The following positions are needed:

    Hospitality desk volunteers - sign up for shifts that fit your
    schedule!  You are not expected to be a Nashville expert or local!  You'll
    have all of the resources you need at your fingertips at the hospitality
    desk.
    APRA Talks - both set up volunteers and volunteers to live tweet the
    experience.
    Hall guides - during breaks, provide a friendly face to help your
    colleagues navigate the conference area!

    If you're interested in helping out with any of these opportunities, please sign up here:  http://www.aprahome.org/volunteer2016
  • 10 Aug 2015 10:13 AM | Kristen Barlow (Administrator)
    Sarah Johnson, our International Scholarship recipient, shares her experience attending her first APRA International Conference.

    310. 53. Prospect Researchers like numbers, right? In July, thanks to the APRA-Minnesota chapter, I had the chance to join members from around the world for Prospect Development 2015 in New Orleans. More than 1,000 people, including 310 first timers and 53 attendees from countries outside of the United States, descended upon the French Quarter for nearly sixty sessions across seven tracks of prospect research, campaigns, data analytics and more. 

    This was the first time I had attended the national APRA conference, and it began at the opening reception, where I noshed on Cajun fried turkey with cornbread dressing and cranberry sauce while introducing myself to other attendees from the worlds of higher education, nonprofit museums and social service organizations. As our hotel was conveniently located on the edge of the French Quarter, I decided that evening was a good time for a stroll down Bourbon Street and a quick photo in front of Jackson Square. 

    Breakfasts in the exhibit hall provided me with ample opportunity to solicit feedback and gather opinions on various research software available such as Wealth Engine, Lexis Nexis and DonorSearch. (Overheard on my first morning: “Biscuits for breakfast? It’s like we’re in the South or something…”) It was also interesting to learn about the breadth of organizations that employ prospect researchers, from the one-person shop at a small nonprofit to the five that I met from the University of Notre Dame.

    “Don’t ask if a charity has low overhead. Ask if it has big impact.” That was the key takeaway from the keynote address given by Dan Pallotta. He encouraged nonprofits to push back against “the overhead myth” and invest in the fundraising they need to grow and be successful. He suggested that we ask donors if they want the organization’s epitaph they are supporting to read “we kept overhead low.”  (click on the link to see the article)

    Sessions throughout the day provided a plethora of information to increase my knowledge in a certain area, bring back best practices to my organization and, at times, provided a forum for commiseration on some of the bizarre requests prospect researchers receive. A couple of my favorites were “Researching Public Filings with Success,” which explained the goldmine of information available in Form 990s and SEC documents, and “The Heart and Soul of Campaigns,” which walked attendees through the steps of a successful capital campaign.

    Minnesota was well-represented as two local chapter members were highlighted at Friday’s awards ceremony: Beth Campbell won a free registration to next year’s conference and Josh Birkholz was awarded the APRA Visionary Award. About a dozen residents of the north star state noshed on Cajun sausage banh mi sandwiches and sipped colorfully flavored beverages at the APRA-MN happy hour on Thursday night. I also enjoyed volunteering at the registration desk with Bette, a steel magnolia from the local visitors bureau with a thick Southern drawl, and joined a diverse group of attendees for an unforgettable dinner at Galatoire’s, a century old Bourbon Street institution.

    As with most conferences, it is refreshing to be around people who are doing the same type of work. I brought back many ideas to help me advocate in my workplace for the importance of research. To carry on the lessons of this opportunity, I will remember a quote from Hillary Clinton that one of the presenters in a session about researching wealthy women shared: “Data not only measures progress, it also inspires it.”

    ~Sarah Johnson | Hennepin Theatre Trust


  • 31 Jul 2015 10:27 AM | Kristen Barlow (Administrator)

    Throughout the entire 2015 APRA International conference, I felt so fortunate to be there and to be a part of it all as the APRA-MN Fellow. Despite waking up sick as a dog the morning we left for New Orleans, the experience was fantastic!
    There are far too many tales to tell and, for the most part, my words wouldn’t do the city or the experience justice, but here are a few highlights:

    • Keynote speaker, Dan Pallota, started the conference off on a perfect note. It was just what was needed to get everyone in the room inspired and ready to learn. His focus was on the limits that are placed on nonprofits, particularly around fundraising- beliefs about salary, overhead, and what it means to work nonprofit that limit us from dreaming big, taking risks, making significant changes, and (gasp!) spending money to raise money. In sum, he encouraged us to dare to go back to our roots and what got us excited about the work we do in the first place, take risks, and to recruit (and pay for) the best possible talent to make innovative changes that will really make a difference. Truly inspiring.
    • The next day at the Awards Luncheon, our own Josh Birkholz was announced as the 2015 Visionary Award winner. He was clearly honored and gave a very touching speech- it was a proud moment for APRA-MN members in the audience… especially when he proclaimed, “APRA-MN is the best chapter on the planet.”
    • For me, personally, another exciting moment happened during that luncheon when my name was announced as the APRA Volunteer drawing winner and had won free registration for APRA 2016 in Nashville!  Once again, feeling so fortunate.
    • Later that night was the APRA-MN Chapter’s Happy Hour. It was a great turnout and it was fun to chat with so many members- some that I hadn’t seen in a while and some that I had never met before. Krista made it even more fun with Mardi Gras beads and masks!
    • Out of all of the presentations I attended, my favorite was on the last day. The session was “Focusing on the Top Prospects in the Chaos of a Campaign” by Susan Hayes-McQueen and Lee Heck of the University of Washington. As speakers, they were very entertaining (expecially for 8:30AM in the final hours of the conference) and knowledgeable. In sum, they talked about this “Great Wall” activity that they had created during their campaign that was a visual representation using multi-colored post-its to display solicitations for each unit on a timeline. It was an activity that engaged chief development officers in an open and accountable way to accurately determine their unit’s upcoming asks and expected gifts. The activity itself and the reporting thereafter sparked ideas for a few take-a-ways for my work.

    All in all, I was sick with a cold the entire time, but the city, weather, and people at APRA 2015 managed to warm my heart!

    ~Beth Campbell


  • 09 Jul 2015 9:08 AM | Kristen Barlow (Administrator)

    We hope you’re planning to attend the 28th annual APRA International Conference in New Orleans July 22-25! If you are, you won’t have to look hard to find Minnesotans!

        Presentations by Minnesotans:

    Pre-conference workshop by Juli Geske-Peer, Communication as a tool for change - Wednesday, July 22

             Thursday, July 23

    Juli Geske-Peer and Deborah Mueller will present Amplify Prospect Management Amidst Complexity
    Josh Forsyth will discuss Creating Presidential Briefings and Process

             Friday, July 24

    Michelle Heyn will present Corporation and Foundation Giving: Creating Impact
    Deborah Mueller will co-present Building an Integrated, Effective and Efficient Prospect Identification and Management System

              Saturday, July 25

    Krista Gallagher Colt will co-present Say What? Communicating for Results
    Mark Egge discusses Developing and Using Power and Influence Within Your Organization

     

    Thursday, July 23--APRA-MN chapter gathering at Beachbum Berry's- Latitude 29. We’ll gather at 4:45 in the hotel lobby and head to the restaurant together. Come discuss what you’ve learned with your local colleagues. Dinner and drinks are on your own.

    There are plenty of other opportunities to spend time with your colleagues - the opening reception on Wednesday evening, APRA awards lunch Thursday, and the APRA Talks networking roundtable discussions Friday morning. Don’t forget to complete your schedule with some volunteering. The conference is always in need of round table volunteers, tweeters and hospitality desk attendants, room monitors. Log on to the http://www.aprahome.org/volunteer2015 to find out more.

    If you’re not able to join us in New Orleans, we’ll be hosting a post-conference gathering where attendees can share what they learned at the conference. Stay tuned for details.

    We’re excited to see you at the International conference or at a local event soon!

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