Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Inside Scoop on APRA MidSouth's Upcoming Conference

Greetings; this is the first blog post I’ve done for APRA MidSouth; may be my last (in the business of fundraising, the only constant is uncertainty). But my topic is quite clear—rather than bloviate about some inspired trick of the trade like the old geezer I am, I’d like to talk about an entire bagful of inspired tricks that the chapter is about to pull off for its 2013 conference on April 19.
“Developing Your Data: Strategies for Success in 21st Century Fundraising” is an effort to make available to research professionals in the chapter’s states of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee (as well as any other interested folks from farther afield) information on how to make their jobs more focused on the data that, in our industry, swells as exponentially as kudzu. Rather than be overwhelmed by the flood, it’s hoped that attendees to the conference will discover help in harnessing their data and using it for good. It’s a given that in most cases, information that is most relevant to undergirding fundraising strategy can be found in an institution’s own database—it’s just a matter of knowing what to look for and how to interpret it.
At Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Lora Cowan is part of an innovation in the field. Tech's division of University Development and Advancement Services conceived a new way to provide valuable prospect information by working collaboratively to improve its prospect management and research process. They developed an entirely new rating system and deployment of prospect information to deliver such data both as an in-office application as well as mobile access via iPad and iPhone. Lora will join us to detail the ups and downs of that process.

Susan Black, CFRE, is the founder of Allene Professional Fundraising in Columbus, Ohio. She has considerable experience in fundraising, public relations and volunteer management, having worked at Marietta College, Easter Seals of Central Ohio, the Epilepsy Foundation of Central Ohio, and St. Vincent Family Centers in Columbus. She will present to the conference about her work in the wider non-profit community, helping struggling non-profits identify strategies to allow them to reach their potential.

In our area, we use the services of numerous skilled vendors and would want to appear objective, but given that DonorSearch is our presenting sponsor, we are especially fond of them. Their tagline is, “We start with proven philanthropy.” Bill Tedesco has crafted a company with enough horsepower and reputation in the field that Forbes magazine called upon DonorSearch for support in putting together its 2012 list of the 400 Richest Americans—a clearly data-intensive process. Presenting for DonorSearch at our conference will be Ryan Woroniecki, who helmed a session on the top five indicators of philanthropy and wowed the field at APRA-Maryland’s conference last fall.

Our keynote speaker, Mark DeFilippis, is the Director of Advancement Research for The Nature Conservancy. Mark joined TNC in 2007 and led the prospect research support of TNC's recently completed $1.6 billion "Campaign for a Sustainable Planet." In that role, he has provided integral support for DeepGreen, the proprietary home-grown Content Management System housing TNC’s Sphere of Influence (SOI) analysis and connections-related prospect research. He is a founding member of AASP, former president of APRA-Georgia, served two terms on the APRA Board of Directors, and has been the moderator of PRSPCT-L since 2003.
So there’s the tease—are you in? Join us Friday, April 19, 2013, in Nashville, Tennessee, between 9:00 and 4:00—we’ll try to be both hospitable and informative and will make it worth your while. Whether you’re part of a large development enterprise, a one-person shop, or somewhere in between, all levels of expertise are welcome. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” For more detailed information on the conference and how to register, please consult the APRA MidSouth events page.

Tim Dempsey, Director-at-Large, APRA MidSouth

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

APRA MidSouth Conference: Developing Your Data

Is your prospect research team just starting to dip its toes in data analytics, looking for innovative approaches to utilizing data, or somewhere in between?  APRA MidSouth is sponsoring Developing Your Data:  Strategies for Success in 21st Century Fundraising in Nashville on Friday, April 19, 2013 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Our speakers are Mark DeFilippis (The Nature Conservancy), Susan Black (Allene Professional Fundraising, Lora Cowan (Tennessee Technological University), and Ryan Woroniecki (DonorSearch).  Please check out our events page to find out more.  We hope to see you in Nashville!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring Reading Inspiration

Blogs are one of the best resources out there for learning about prospect research.  I asked some colleagues to send me a few they follow and listed them here (along with a couple that aren’t blogs).  This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a smattering of some great ones.  Please respond in a comment with your favorite prospect management blogs.   Enjoy!

Blogs (in no particular order):

Aspire Research Group:
The Intelligent Edge by Helen Brown:  
New APRA International blog:  
Research Buzz:
Passionate Giving:
DonorScape Blog:              
Guidestar Blog:                 

Not blogs but websites with great information:

Mitch Roberson, Communications Director, APRA MidSouth

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

MidSouth Conference Announcement & List of Conferences Across the Country!

We at APRA MidSouth are pleased – giddy even – to present our upcoming Spring Conference! 
Developing Your Data: 
Strategies for Success in 21st Century Fundraising
Friday, April 19, 2013 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. I Nashville, Tennessee

This event will explore the fascinating intersection between fundraising data and fundraising strategy.  Attendees will gain insight into the nature of philanthropy as it relates to data on-hand, and otherwise.  Whether part of a large development enterprise, a one-person shop, or somewhere in between, all levels of expertise are welcome.  A better use of information is our theme – and attendees and speakers should anticipate a compelling, dynamic day together.  
Mark DeFilippis, The Nature Conservancy
Susan Black, Allene Professional Fundraising
Lora Cowan, Tennessee Tech University

For more information, please see the APRA MidSouth Events Page or feel free to contact any of the APRA MidSouth board members (emails on sidebar).
While we would love to host you, we know the trip is not possible for everyone.  So, be sure to check out some of the great learning opportunities in your own corner of the country.  This spring, great conferences  and good times abound!

APRA Illinois Spring Webinar Day
April 5, 2013 I Chicago, IL 
April 12, 2013 I Jacksonville, IL
For more information, visit the APRA Illinois website or contact Erin Miller.

APRA MOKAN Chapter Conference
April 11-12, 2013 I St. Louis, MO
For more information, visit the APRA MOKAN website.
APRA Wisconsin Spring 2013 Conference
April 26, 2013 I Ripon, WI
For more information, visit the APRA Wisconsin website.

2013 NEDRA Conference:  Broadening Perspectives
April 29-30, 2013 I Cambridge, MA
For more information, visit the NEDRA website or contact Conference Co-Chairs Melissa Bank Stepno ( or Suzy Campos (

APRA Georgia Conference
May 1, 2013 I Atlanta, GA
For more information, visit the APRA Georgia website.

OPRN Spring Conference:  Bringing on the Future
May 2-3, 2013 I Columbus, OH
For more information, visit the Ohio Prospect Research Network website.

APRA Minnesota Spring Conference
May 7, 2013 I St. Paul, MN
For more information, visit the APRA Minnesota website. Registration opens four weeks prior to conference.

APRA Metro DC Retreat
May 16, 2013 I Washington, DC
For more information, visit the APRA Metro DC website.  

APRA Florida: Building Bridges
May 24, 2013 I St. Petersburg, FL
For more information, visit the APRA Florida website.    

Friday, March 8, 2013

Is Your Research Shop a Game-Changer?

Almost a full year ago, something amazing happened:  I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into this giant world of ours.  And, a very quick 9 months before that, I found out it was going to happen.  This, of course, was followed by sheer excitement and a brief honeymoon period before realizing we had a lot to do – and buy – before we were ready to bring home our sweet bundle.  Insert onset of panic.

Then, the most amazing thing happened:  We started receiving coupons.  Lots of them.  For things we needed!  Things like baby furniture and travel gear and diapers.  And, it hit me.  They knew.  I hadn’t registered or started wearing maternity clothes or even told my Facebook friends.  Yet, somehow our fine friends at Target were already sending their well wishes (via coupons and ads, of course!).  Shortly after, I read this NYT article, and my suspicions were confirmed. 

Fast-forward more than a year later, and I find myself thinking about these things again from a professional perspective.  If someone I’ve never met at Target knows I’m going to be a new mama and what I will need, why don’t we know that someone is going to be a library donor?  Or, a cancer research donor?  Or, a land conservancy donor?  And, what it will take to get them there and, more importantly, keep them there.

Now, let me back-peddle lest I offend.  The nonprofit world has come a long way with the use of business intelligence techniques to predict donor patterns and streamline the philanthropic process as well as standards of efficiency.  Yet often, when we look to improve – or even start – our analytic programs, we turn to other nonprofits because, well, they do what we do.  But, what if we took a cue from some of these for-profit companies?  They aren’t doing exactly what we’re doing, but they’re doing something very similar, and frankly, they’re doing it really well. 
With this in mind, I’ve been doing a little digging into the mindset of companies where market and behavioral research departments are the norm.  You know, just to see if there are any commonalities.  Perhaps, not shockingly, I’ve found a few key trends. 

1)      They do things differently.  We all know about “failing forward.”  We get it.  We read that book.  But, how many of us actually do it on a daily basis?  Or, weekly, monthly, yearly, for that matter?  In a Research Insider article, Facebook’s market research principal Sheila Normile says, “It’s funny because you often don’t think of research and risk in the same mindset or in the same breath, but we really embrace that idea.”  She goes on to say, “We’re not interested in doing research in the same way that it’s been done for the past 100 years.  If we try something and it doesn’t work, then we’ve learned something and we move on.”  Yet, how many research shops do you know that churn out the same few products for request after request?  How many of you have an arsenal of resources that you continually turn to or a few key reports that you bring to every meeting?  What is that Einstein quote again about doing something over and over and expecting different results…? Quite simply, if we want different results, we must be willing to try new things. 

2)      They value data, like, REALLY value it.  Just yesterday, ProPublica published a slightly scary but illuminating article on the various things the consumer data industry tracks.  (It was summarized  in The Atlantic here.) While most nonprofits aren’t likely going into this much detail, we very often do collect data from our donors.  A lot of it.  It is through this collection that patterns emerge.   Yet, how often does something not get into the database because it just didn’t seem that important at the time?  If data matters (hint: it does.), then protecting its integrity and understanding how to use it (ethically, of course) matters even more.       
3)      They use research to influence strategy.  This sounds like a no-brainer.  By its very nature, research should be used to inform decisions; however, I’ve been in more than a few conversations lately where it seems quite the opposite is happening.  A solicitation has been made and then someone requests research or a wealth screening is conducted as an afterthought instead of a jumping off point.  Facebook’s Sheila Normile says, “If we are doing research to justify a decision that we’ve already made and the research isn’t going to have any impact on that decision, then we are better off having spent our time and resources elsewhere.”  Preach, sister.    
The point of bringing this up is simply to think about the culture of our research shops.  How do we proactively create an environment where research can be a game-changer for our institutions?  Are we appropriately harnessing our skills and resources to add the best value to the collective intelligence of our fundraising shops?  And, most importantly, what innovative techniques are we using to build up the donor experience and, hopefully, encourage transformational gifts for our organizations and the causes we so deeply believe in?  Hmmm.  So, those are the questions I’ve been asking a lot lately.   Well, that and what I should get my daughter for her first birthday.  Any thoughts?  Maybe I’ll look at Target.  I have a coupon.  

Angie Stapleton, President, APRA MidSouth