Friday, December 20, 2013

APRA MidSouth Board Election Results

APRA MidSouth is happy to announce the results of our recent board elections.  The 2014 APRA MidSouth board will be:

Mitch Roberson – Chapter President
Cheryl Kugler – Vice President
Geoff Little – Secretary/Treasurer
Lorie Hoover – Membership Director
Andrea Swann – Director At-Large

We thank our out-going board members for a successful year of service and look forward to a productive 2014.  Have a safe and happy holiday season.

APRA MidSouth

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review -- Sharpening Customer Service Skills

The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence by Robert Spector and Patrick McCarthy is a helpful book on customer service skills.  Nordstrom’s primary goal each year is to improve its customer service.  The book elaborates on ways the company maintains its high caliber of customer service.  Knowing your product, learning about operations within the company, and seeking out mentors are three concepts relevant to the work of a prospect researcher.

Chapter 3 “Nurture the Nordie” provides insight that is applicable to development and fundraising.  “You can’t develop a relationship with a customer if you don’t know your product.”  This idea translates into the realm of prospect research when working with a development officer and understanding qualities about the donor or prospect.  The ability to learn and know how best to supply information to your assigned development officer strengthens the value of research you provide.

Another helpful point from the book is to learn about operations outside of your group.  “Top Nordstrom salespeople do not confine their product knowledge to their own department.  By learning about the products in other departments, they take advantage of a Nordstrom policy that empowers salespeople to sell anything in any department throughout the store.”  Knowing more about the operations of other areas of your institutions can improve your understanding your department’s role and purpose.  Consider how other groups within your department contribute to the overall goal of fundraising.  Are there processes that are similar to responsibilities of your group?  If so, are there ways you can learn from each other to make your contributions more efficient?

A final point to highlight is the importance of mentoring.  Mentors can be within your department or even outside of your company.  Early in the book, a salesman at Nordstrom sought out a mentor when he first started working at the department store.  He found a mentor in a co-worker that had worked at the company for many years.  He learned the importance of seeking out customers as opposed to waiting for customers to walk into the store.  His mentor would call customers to keep them informed of recent sales and events at Nordstrom.  A similar mindset applies to the realm of prospect research.  More and more development offices try and focus on being proactive rather than being reactive.  In our every day of research, it’s easy to get into patterns of always waiting for research requests.  Coordinating research with the needs of leadership and development officers ahead of time can make a difference.

The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence focuses on the corporate culture of the department store and offers ways to implement customer service skills at your own organization.
Melissa Sridaromont, Secretary, APRA MidSouth

Friday, November 15, 2013

Puzzle Masters

Forgive me if all this is a bit too basic for the uber-researchers among us—but remember that all information is being heard by someone for the first time (after that, it’s all reruns, déjà vu).
Admittedly, it’s rare that I get this question in response to a profile:  “How do you do what you do?”  Usually, gift officers don’t want to know how the sausage was made; they just want to savor the deliciousness of the information fitting into their preconceived notion biscuit sandwich.  So it took me a moment to come up with a response:
“This profile?  Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle, all put together.  Then break all the pieces apart, shake them around, and fling ‘em up into the air.  The results?  A piece here, one under the chair, another in the vent, one in your pocket.  I pinpoint all those pieces, wipe them off if needed, put them together—eureka!  Piece of cake.  Any trained monkey . . . .”
Then they nod, back out of the room and slip away down the hall.  So that’s “what I do”—but how about the “how I do it”?
Begin with the basics of the search engine. I’m sure there are many satisfied Google users out there, but I always gravitated toward the metasearch engines—why just search one engine when you can get results from multiple ones all at once, and often with categorized results?  Prevents you from having to slog through the hits about, say, French hotels when you’re trying to find out about Paris Hilton.  I used Carnegie Mellon’s Vivisimo for years until it was commercialized to an unrecognizable state, then I switched over to DuckDuckGo and continue to be happy with it.  Remember to place phrases and compound names in quotation marks for best results.
What does the person do, and how long have they been doing it?  Career and education information is sometimes best found on LinkedIn, but recognize that results may not have been updated.  Peruse any news results from your search engine to see if the person has taken a new job, retired, gotten married.  There are good proprietary sources for such info, sure—but often you can get superb access to news articles through services paid for by your college or public library (Newsbank, for instance).
For information on stock holdings, and EDGAR are reliable resources.  Real estate?  Sure, there’s Zillow and Trulia, but I’ve either gone through vendors (e.g., Lexis Nexis—and Dataquick has impressed me) or directly to the assessors for timely ownership details and market values (either via the fine compilation at UVa’s Portico site [] or at the links on
Find out if the prospect owns or flies a plane in the databases at  Political donor?  Plenty of sites, including (a plus—often the entries include the donor’s occupation and title).  Information on foundations?  Guidestar or the Foundation Center (free access on both).
To uncover current or past college connections, I frequently consult the compilation of U.S. university and community college web pages at  And there’s always the situation that calls for extraordinary means, such as going to the Wayback Machine ( to resurrect web pages that have passed into cyber history, or to Google Translate for comprehending pages or phrases from another language.  And never overlook what rich data you have in your own files and database.
That’s basically it—the puzzle is as complete as it ever can be.  Pat yourself on the back (somebody has to), decompress, rinse, repeat ad infinitum.
Tim Dempsey, Director-at-Large, APRA MidSouth

Friday, October 11, 2013

Prospect Research, Management and Effort

As a follow-up to APRA MidSouth’s recent web interview with WKU’s Director of Prospect Research, Cheryl Kugler, who attended the APRA International Conference in August 2013, I wanted to stay on the hot topic of prospect management.
As Cheryl noted in the interview, some large shops, like Northwestern, have people whose whole job encompasses prospect management.  The rest of us are learning to make it a percentage of our job.  There are days in our small shop at WKU when it certainly seems that’s all we do.
But we’re finding that prospect research AND management go together like coffee and cream. (Yes, I need another cup as I write this!)
We have always been good at identifying prospects worth visiting and then pushing them to the development officers.  But we see that we also need to be able to show how we manage those prospects once they are identified.  As this process is taking shape, we have discovered something else: we also need to show the EFFORT it takes to find and manage those prospects.
Having a good database helps and you have to know how to use it (we are learning to do that in Advance Web).  That’s where we find ourselves these days at WKU - learning how and where to put the information so we can track the effort put forth to identify those good (and not so good) prospects and then how we present them in various ways to the development officers.  We have established codes that tell us certain things: when they come to our attention in research (and whether it’s for a future or current assessment); validation as a potential prospect (or not); recommendation for a visit in regards to a certain project or trip; and a prospect’s Total Philanthropic Capacity (TPC) rating (an estimate of a prospect’s giving potential to all charities over the next five years).
This is not an all-inclusive list of the ways and codes we track our efforts as prospect researchers and managers, because it is a work in progress.  So, if anyone has something great that they do on this front and want to share, my ears are definitely open!
As prospect research worked on this challenge, we made another discovery:  it is equally important to track the work of the development officers as the prospect cultivation cycle begins and progresses – no matter the outcome of their efforts. Sure, we all hope for a gift.  (And, if we’re asking – a BIG gift, please!) But we all know that it doesn’t always work out that way.  However, that doesn’t mean a development officer hasn’t invested time and EFFORT into trying to get that gift.
So, in addition to the tracking codes and reports we are creating to quantify the work of prospect research, we are also creating reports that show the efforts of the development officers.  We are currently creating reports that pull information from all areas in our database – entity level, prospect level and proposal process level - to show what has been done to identify and cultivate prospects.  Again, if anyone is up to sharing, please do!
While the idea of more robust prospect management was the impetus, and we still don’t know the full outcome (as stated before, it’s a work in progress), we can already identify some good things that have come from this project.
First, it has been a joint effort between prospect research and the development officers.  Second, the project has enhanced the communication between the fundraisers and the prospect research office (and proven once again how vital communication is!)  Third, it has highlighted once again that it is a real team effort to identify and cultivate prospects and ultimately book a gift.  We all know that, but getting the information from the database on paper is a real validation of ALL team members’ work and effort.
While working with my colleagues on this project, another team member came across and shared this blog by Sarah Von Bargen: called Work Happiness Secret: Track Your Efforts, Not Your Accomplishments.  While it isn’t exactly related to prospect research and management, I think there is a lot of wisdom to what she says.  If we’re all working toward the ultimate goal of identifying and cultivating those prospects who could make gifts that will make a difference for our organizations, then it’s worth keeping track of the effort it takes to find them and work with them.
It may take a bit more thought and time to do it this way - as we’re finding at WKU as we develop our system - but I have no doubt the effort will be worth it in the end.
Theresa Clark, Vice President, APRA MidSouth

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On the Cutting Edge - An APRA Conference Recap

While we may be a relatively new chapter, we at APRA MidSouth like to think we are “on the cutting edge.” I know in my work life as a Prospect Researcher I hope we can utilize new, exciting and up-to-date technologies and services.
With that thought in mind, at our August meeting, the APRA MidSouth board was discussing our fall member event.  We knew that we wanted Cheryl Kugler, WKU’s Director of Prospect Research, to speak about the sessions and her impressions of ”Prospect Development 2013” the 26th Annual APRA International Conference held in Baltimore, MD in August.  But the big question was, “With the busy fall season that we all seem to have, how can we make it convenient for all members to attend?”
Following much discussion, we finally hit on an innovative idea: how about a video conference?
In our new Augenstein Alumni Center, WKU has recently installed some impressive video and conferencing technologies to help board members who cannot travel to a meeting still be able to attend and participate.  So, why not use this wonderful new technology for the APRA MidSouth Fall Event?
Why not, indeed.
Cheryl would talk and answer questions in WKU’s board room where the equipment is housed.  Questions would come from an off-site host, namely Geoff Little, APRA MidSouth Past President.
Geoff got all things in order from his Vanderbilt University office (including a smart new webcam) and we were ready for a trial run.
With any new venture, it’s good to have a run through, which we were glad we did.  While most of us have attended a webinar, actually running it or being a host brings a whole new perspective to things.  My hat is off to those who do these kinds of webinars and conferences regularly!  It takes a lot of coordination, effort and all things working together “just so.”
And that brings us to our actual “APRA MidSouth Fall Event.”  We held the video conference on Thursday, September 11, 2013.  While not all things were perfect, it was a wonderful way to accomplish our goal: to hear a report from Cheryl about the outstanding 2013 APRA International Conference.
So, if you would like to view the recording of the event, just click on the following link (which will work for both PCs and Macs):
Just a couple of notes on things you will notice/observe about the Video Conference:
1.   Geoff Little is APRA MidSouth Past President (Senior Research Specialist, Research and Prospect Development at Vanderbilt University) and host of the video conference.
2.   The frame marked “Tamela Smith” is the broadcast from WKU where the recording was made. The ladies who appear in the frame (l-r) are: Theresa Clark (APRA MidSouth Vice President and Senior Research Analyst at WKU) who was monitoring questions and comments, and Cheryl Kugler (WKU Prospect Research Director who attended the APRA International Conference).
3.   The frames to the right of the video screens show attendees and questions.
4.   This was a new venture for WKU and APRA MidSouth, so we had a few technical glitches, which include low volume on Cheryl’s end at the beginning of the video conference.  Volume issues were resolved as the conference progressed.  So you need to turn up your speakers in the beginning.  Yes, Geoff will be a bit loud, but in order to hear Cheryl until the technical difficulties are resolved, this is how you can hear every detail.
Thanks for joining us on our adventure to be an APRA chapter that tries new ways to reach its members and provide them avenues to stay on top of the most current information.  And we’re happy to use state of the art, cutting edge tools and technology if we can!
And in case you wondered….yes, we had a whole lot of fun!
Theresa Clark, Senior Research Analyst, Western Kentucky University
Vice President, APRA MidSouth

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Here’s another acronym for you:  Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Research is both an art and a science.  At its best, it can draw inferences from disparate facts.  But it can’t create facts out of thin air (despite how much a zealously optimistic client may want you to).

The day a dozen years ago was overhung by glorious blue skies over the eastern half of the country.  I got an email from a colleague: “Isn’t it crazy about that plane in New York?”  I summoned my usual go-to news website, USA Today; the story was just breaking, with minimal detail.  The Wall Street Journal posted a brief advisory that a plane had crashed into a skyscraper in lower Manhattan, warning that trading on the NYSE might be affected.

As the saga unfolded, it became clear that the day—indeed, the week—would be like none other.  As everyone in the office tried to press on with their routines, I got a tasking from administration: Account for any alums who worked either in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon.  This ad hoc request was reliant on a database where employment information routinely played second fiddle to home info.  I know; shocker.  The process took a long time, but it needed to—to be right.  It was not meant to be, however.  Out of the thousands of graduates, I found only two with employment addresses at the Pentagon, both evidently long out of date.  And tragically enough, two of our graduates perished at the World Trade Center—neither one with business info current in the system.

There are so many bigger things to consider in this context than whether an institution has up-to-date workplace data on its constituents.  But this, for me, typified the helplessness a research professional may encounter relying on a feckless system that purports to capture useful information.  Much of the problem is, as with the blind men and the elephant, differing perspectives and incongruent agendas with respect to constituent data.

How to fix it?  Know specifically what your data needs might be, first off.  If you foresee ever needing work info, email addresses, cell numbers—don’t wait around passively for the Data Fairy to drop that down your chimney.

No prophet is accepted in his own country.  Administrators too often believe that their own researchers are fallible, while vendors?  They are wizards.  Some are, to be fair, but c’mon—how many times has an administrator said to you, “Can you buy a list of X for me—cell numbers, email addresses, employment data?”  Nothing against vendors (some are my best friends), but again—c’mon!  What’s the best approach to making sure that the info in your database is current?  Build it directly from the source.

That’s never as easy as it sounds.  But first—you have to make sure you have a place at the table when any outreach to constituents is discussed—if not direct involvement, make sure you have a proxy there to speak for you.  If a questionnaire is going to be distributed—to alums, to parents, to the community—what questions do you need to be asked?  Be a part of that planning.

And how do you obtain “buy in” from the constituent, to get them to freely (and accurately) provide their valued information?  It goes without saying that you never do anything to betray that trust.  But you may first have to provide some sort of quid pro quo.

For instance, one of my past employers encouraged its alums to enter a giveaway for an iPod –in exchange for their email addresses.  About thirty percent of the sample responded, which was a big improvement on what we had.  Value was added on both sides.

LinkedIn pages provide incredible self-reported info, but be wary—there’s no requirement for those pages to be kept current, and I’ve seen forgetful business moguls (or those Unclear on the Concept) create as many as three separate LinkedIn pages, all with divergent data.

Also, vendors such as LexisNexis who bundle information can be of paramount help in locating people (including cell, email, and employment info), but be aware of how to interpret a lapse in a person’s most recent address, which may indicate any of the following: 1) it is a duplicate record—search again to find the one most current, 2) the person is living out of the country, 3) they are in a residential medical facility, 4) they’re incarcerated, 5) they’re serving in the armed forces, or even 6) they’re taking the challenge seriously to “live off the grid.”  Also check any available spouse’s record (or that of any other cohabitant) for possibly more up-to-date info.

The best research operation is one supported by a database with the utmost integrity, both for the blue-sky days and for those when things go cataclysmically sideways.

Tim Dempsey, Director-at-Large, APRA MidSouth

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Prospect Research Job Posting - Tennessee State University

Tennessee State University
Job Title:  Prospect Researcher
Department: Institutional Advancement/ TSU Foundation

Location:  Nashville, TN
Job Type:  Full Time
Number of Hours Per Week:  37.5  
Days to be Worked:  Monday – Friday

Job Description

Independently and proactively identifies/qualifies prospective individual, corporate, and foundation major donors consistent with the University's priorities and insures that fundraising initiatives have a continuous supply of major donor prospects to support and meet ongoing fundraising goals. Responsible for facilitating all aspects of prospect management including maintaining accurate information on prospects in Banner database, strategizing with top-level advancement staff and collaborating on prospect assignments and classifications, monitoring the cultivation cycle of major gift prospects, and designing and preparing standard reports for development staff.  

Minimum Qualification/Experience

At least three years of experience in prospect research, development, library research or related field preferably in an academic environment.
Bachelor's degree or an equivalent combination of education and experience.
Banner database experience.
Demonstrated ability to conceptualize and develop proactive prospecting methodologies to support organization goals; identify prospects (through constituent list segmentation, push technology, electronic database screening, and peer/constituency screening and rating); and understand wealth indicators, including income (estimated or public) and assets.
Exceptional writing and oral communication skills. Demonstrated skill in writing and editing logical, detailed, and analytical reports that support planning and decision making.
Demonstrated ability to work independently, prioritize work and independently manage multiple, diverse and competing priorities while meeting deadlines; plan and develop meaningful objectives; and integrate the work of prospect research into overall advancement office goals.  

Job Open Date:  August 28, 2013
Job Close Date:  September  28, 2013

To Apply, go to

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Start Spreadin' the News -- Finer Points of NYC Real Estate

As a former New Yorker (is one ever a “former” New Yorker?), I had to take a crash course in NYC real estate when I arrived there a few years back.  It’s a whole world unto itself.  Since New York City is such a popular destination for development officers and home to so many prospects, I wanted to offer a couple of tidbits and some information that might help you put a more accurate value on NYC real estate holdings.

First, the tidbits.  If you see an apartment number like 16PH, the “PH” means penthouse.  For apartment numbers like 3BC, the “BC” means apartments 3B and 3C have been combined into one.  The owners have to pay the fees for both apartments.  There are even special numbers for apartments that take up half of a floor (or more), but those escape me.

If you think NYC real estate is expensive, there are a few things that make it even more expensive than it appears.  For renters, apartment brokers often charge a 15% fee – that’s 15% of an entire year’s rent.  If the rent is $3,000 per month, the fee would be $5,400 and it is due when you move in, along with first and last month’s rent.  So just to walk in the door, you need $11,400 in cash.  Craigslist has changed the rental market quite a bit, but brokerages are still around, especially for high-end apartments.

When it comes to apartment ownership, there are two main types:  condos and co-ops, with co-ops being more prevalent.  Without going too far into the weeds, it’s safe to say that co-ops tend to be less expensive than condos, but they have a more stringent approval process (tax returns, bank statements, pay stubs, personal references, business references, dog references, etc.) and more rules about things like sub-rentals and remodeling.  Co-ops also require a down payment of at least 20 percent and sometimes up to 50 percent (with some exclusive buildings not accepting any financing).  Condos have minimal financing requirements, no board approval, and low down payments.  There are more permutations, such as cond-ops and sponsor units, but that’s for another time.

The thing to know for research purposes is that if a prospect owns a co-op apartment, he or she had to pay 20-50 percent as a down payment and had to have enough liquid assets in the bank to cover mortgage and maintenance for at least one year (sometimes multiple years).

Speaking of maintenance,  apartment owners have to pay a monthly fee to cover the upkeep of the building and amenities such as doormen, exercise facilities, pools, roof decks, etc.  I saw a listing recently for a $1,000,000 apartment with a $2,200 monthly maintenance fee (half of which is tax-deductible).  That $2,200 fee is in addition to the monthly mortgage payment and can’t be financed.  With 20 percent down, the owner would have a mortgage payment of $3,819 per month for 30 years at 4%.  Add maintenance and the total monthly payment is $6,019.  And he or she would have to have $72,228 liquid in the bank (a year's worth of mortgage and maintenance).  If you were to treat the maintenance fee as if it were part of the mortgage, your prospect in that $1,000,000 apartment would actually be paying for an apartment worth $1,450,000. (For super-high-end apartments ($25,000,000+), buildings often require the owner to have 300 percent of the sale price liquid in the bank.)  Maintenance fees vary, but it is safe to add 25 percent to the property value just to have a better idea of what the apartment costs.  To sum up, knowing what a prospect can afford and having an idea of the minimum he or she is required to have in the bank are telling when it comes to wealth capacity.

New Yorkers (current or former), please share your insights into the NYC real estate scene!

Mitch Roberson, Communications Director, APRA MidSouth

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Summertime Reading

I love to read. I don't always have enough time to read as much as I'd like, but I've found that in the summertime, I have been able to spend a little more time devoted to a good book. In fact, I have a running list at all times of at least 10 books I want to read in the near future. By the time I check a few books off my list, I find myself discovering new covers that I am adding on. And so, the cycle continues
Usually, I shoot for easy-read fiction stories--especially when I'm on a beach vacation, but lately I have been more interested in reading professional development books focused on fundraising to help me improve my skills as a development officer.
Most recently, I have been reading How to Write Fundraising Materials that Raise More Money by Tom Ahern. It has given me some great insight and ideas to think of as I appeal to our donors year-round. As I said in my last blog post,  fundraising is a large focus in my role at the non-profit organization for which I work. Although I am responsible for raising money to support our annual operating budget, I also serve as the Research and Data Manager. Many times, I find myself limited in the time I can spend on research. I find myself focusing more on fundraising and less on prospecting but I would love it if I could find a good book, focused on prospecting and donor research that would help me hone my skills and tactics. Most of the books I have been finding are geared toward fundraising specifically, but surely, there has to be some great information out there about prospect research as well. If so, where can I find it?
How many of you have read a great prospect/research book (or even helpful articles) that you can recommend?
I look forward to hearing any feedback that you have that can help me better myself not only as a fundraiser, but as a prospect researcher as well.
As I gear up for the last holiday weekend of the summer, I am looking forward to spending time with my family grilling, playing outside, possibly heading to the pool for one last dip, and hopefully relaxing with a good book. I hope you can do the same.
Have a great holiday weekend everyone!

Amanda Madonia, Membership Director, APRA MidSouth

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Useful Google Searching Tip

Every researcher I know is always on the lookout for ways to make our work more efficient and accurate. Here’s a little tip that will help with both of those goals!
Did you know in Google Search you can search an entire website for a specific word or phrase? It’s true! This is especially useful when a website does not have an integrated search feature. Just type “site:” and the domain (no space), then a space, then your search terms.
For example, this search (in Google) produces a list of every time my name appears on our chapter’s blog: rossini
Using quotation marks, you can also search for phrases. Like this: "shakespeare in the park"
There are many applications for this trick! You can quickly find every mention of a person’s (or institution’s) name on another website. It is also useful when you want to limit your results to just those found on a particular domain.
Happy searching!

Caroline Rossini, Treasurer, APRA MidSouth