Friday, August 24, 2012

What Was the Deal With the 2012 Big APRA Conference?

Was it the number of attendees? On the second day of the conference, I ran into outgoing APRA board president Michael Quevli. I cornered him and said “I keep going to these packed conference sessions. Wow. Are random people sneaking in this year or what?” He assured me, the registration desk was on top of things, and the room monitors were as polite, and firm, as ever. They were trained to spot missing lanyards miles away. No bling, no sing. Michael noted that the numbers this year were set to break 1,000 total registrants; it looked like the best APRA conference numbers anyone remembered.

Was it the strong analytics curriculum available in a variety of formats throughout the conference? It’s no secret to those of us who have been in prospect research for a while: analytics is where the excitement and energy is for our field. Our work is to harness analytics curiosity, follow it up by expertise, then implement model findings into front line strategy. Fundraising programs collect a lot of information; it’s time to seriously use it, for ourselves, and for our senior leaders. Analytics drives the prospect research individual or shop to more compelling, less banal work (read: manually updating written profiles). Defining subsets of constituents, identifying unique patterns, and truly gaining insight into donor behavior is where today’s prospect researcher is headed.

Was it realizing many of our vendors are truly committed to advancing our profession? For example, I give you Tony Glowacki. What I like about the WealthEngine chief is that during the analytics symposium’s first day – he gives a workshop talk before lunch, Why We Love Big Data. Now, it was a pleasant overview of our nonprofit industries’ being able to do more than ever technologically, intuitively, with information we already have. But this isn’t why I like Tony. I like that he dismissed us to lunch over in the big ballroom (a delightful multi-course affair paid for by his company), only to pop up again minutes later – as the featured lunch speaker! Tony! Toni! TonĂ©! We weren’t eating sandwiches, we were inside a Tony Glowacki/Wealth Engine three-meat club deluxe. The lunch turned feast when he gave us the world premier of the WealthEngine Institute. It’s gobs of premier industry resources – free. Once back home at my Vanderbilt desk, I had time to more deeply review the institute’s offerings. MUCH relevant, recently researched, and handsomely presented bits of industry content here. Need to share the nature and scope of an analytics project with unconvinced superiors? The 84-page Growing Individual Gifts: An Analytic Approach to Data-Driven Success resource should do the trick. The graphics are especially helpful. Tony and WealthEngine’s passion to connect with their audience, and to help lead the industry in this conversation make a strong impression. 

Was it the ace conference sessions? Here are a few I attended that were particularly inventive. They reminded me of a meta-theme I too often forget: we prospect researchers work (or should!) in a tech field. Using Game Theory in Analytics by Rachel Link and Gregory Duke; Innovative Patient Prospect Identification by Elizabeth Dollhopf-Brown and Alex Oftelie, and Portfolio Support and Tracking Performance by Stephen Hardy. Also excellent was Ethics: Go Fish! by Christy Wineland. Finally, the APRA Roundtable Networking Event was an enlightening occasion to meet attendees in my city, state, and/or region. We are a whole lot different, a whole lot the same.

Was it the fundamental theme of generosity set by the big APRA leadership? Yes, and certainly not just them. The conference planning committee, the presenters, the many chapter presidents and chapter leaders, the tireless volunteers, and of course the spirited, curious attendees – all gave shape to the nature of this professional, original, important, and fun occasion. So, yes. Yes to this and each of the preceding questions. The deal is that there is an energy, enlightenment, and excellence associated with APRA. Next year’s conference is in Baltimore, Maryland, from August 7-10, 2013.  It will be held at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. I plan to be there! I hope you also will make plans to attend.

Geoff Little, President, APRA MidSouth

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Notable Connections from Wikipedia

In 2006, taking over as the full-time prospect researcher at Western Kentucky University, I was charged with finding new ways to discover prospects.   I subscribed to the daily e-mail generated by the Media Relations office which compiled news feeds where “Western Kentucky University” was mentioned.   I compiled various lists from the database based on different parameters (colleges, student activities, sports, locations, etc.) but going through those lists often became a daunting and monotonous task.  One day, after crossing my eyes looking at one more row on a spreadsheet, I realized I had to come up with something that would put a little spice into my research day.

You know what I mean:  it’s like you can only eat so many PBJs for lunch.  Sometimes you need to have the turkey and swiss on rye for a change. (I’ll take mine with spicy brown mustard please!)  So, in a moment of what seemed like pure insanity, I googled “Western Kentucky University” to see what came back.  I had no preconceived notions of what I might get in return, but the reward was more than I could have imagined.

First, I got my very first LinkedIn name.  I have already blogged about how helpful LinkedIn has been to this small shop prospect researcher.  Second, I got WKU’s Wikipedia page.  Hmmm….I hadn’t really used Wikipedia before so I wasn’t sure what I would find.  As I read through the history of our university, my eyes lit up as I saw:

I felt like I had won the lottery!  Give me a cupcake for dessert!  It was just what this new researcher needed to help her get started in the quest for new names.  As I researched the list, I did find that many were fully documented in our database.  For others, Wikipedia provided the jumping off point for discovery (especially those who did not complete their degrees).

From that first hit, I’m happy to report that I discovered someone who had not previously been qualified and cultivated.  The fundraisers took it from there, and now this prospect is fully engaged with the university on a personal and philanthropic level.  And yes, I have found others worth pursuing and passed on the information as well.

I return to WKU’s Wikipedia page several times a year to see if any new names have been added.  I’m usually not disappointed.  It’s always fun to see a new name and it certainly gives that little “extra” treat you need every so often.  When writing this blog, I decided to use my original search terms, I googled “Western Kentucky University” and added the terms “notable alumni.”  A new website appeared:

The page of notables automatically popped up using my terms, but by going directly to the website and typing “Western Kentucky University” in the search box on the list tab, the notables list also generated.  While many of the names were repeats from Wikipedia, a few new ones did appear.  So, in the future I will partake of this new menu addition as well.

Dessert, anyone? (Think it will be chocolate chip cookies for me this time.)

Theresa Clark, WKU Prospect Research Coordinator, APRA MidSouth Director-At-Large

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Maximizing Connections

Maximizing connections is an important part of work in advancement.  Most noticeably, gift officers are trying to gauge and maximize an individual’s connection to the organization.  However, the importance of connections goes far beyond this level.

It is useful to think of our prospects as people who can connect us to more prospects.  If a prospect cares about your cause, perhaps she has like-minded friends.  Or, if not, perhaps she can share that enthusiasm with her friends.  In conducting research, it is important to be thinking:  who does this person know? Questions I like to focus on include:

  • Who are their colleagues at work?
  • Where do they volunteer or sit on a board and with whom?
  • Who are their neighbors?
  • Who else is a member of that club or alumni chapter?

Thinking in these terms and exploring these possibilities can open up exciting new possibilities.  Where do you look for connections in your work?

Caroline Rossini, Treasurer, APRA MidSouth