Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Unique Perspective

As one of APRA MidSouth's newest board members, I'll start by introducing myself. My name is Amanda Madonia and I am the Development Officer and Data & Research Manager at Martha O'Bryan Center, a non-profit serving individuals, youth and families living in poverty in Nashville, Tennessee.
One aspect that makes my experience different from most of the prospect researchers I've met through APRA MidSouth is that I serve as the primary prospect researcher as well as a fundraiser for my organization. This gives me some unique perspective when it comes to donor research. For those of us working for a small non-profit, we often times find ourselves wearing multiple hats. On any given day you may find me touring a donor, soliciting sponsorships, reviewing inventory of in-kind donations for the week, making updates in our donor database and among many other things, doing prospect research. Part of what I love about my job (and what can sometimes be the most challenging) is the variety of projects that I manage from day to day. In my role, I am not only responsible for finding new funding sources but I am also tasked with cultivating those relationships to gain further support for our organization.
As most of us know, donor retention can be particularly problematic for non-profits. In an environment where over 50% of donors leave after making their first gift, many organizations can struggle to maintain a reliable donor base. As a fundraiser, it is my responsibility to steward those donors and build a lasting relationship with our organization. As a researcher, it is my responsibility to gather the data and increase our prospect list. When I am researching a particular prospect, I'm also thinking about how the data I am finding will help me in my next step of cultivation. While it can sometimes be difficult to find a balance between my research and fundraising roles, I continue to learn and develop in each of these areas and would love to hear your thoughts on managing these two functions.  
How many other non-profit professionals have had similar experiences juggling these roles? And what advice can those of you not working in a non-profit environment provide to us?
I look forward to continuing to share our experiences and grow from each other’s own unique perspective. Lastly, as the new Membership Director for APRA MidSouth, I'd like to take this opportunity to invite anyone who is reading our blog and is not a member to join (click here). Thanks and happy prospecting!
Amanda Madonia, Membership Director, APRA MidSouth

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I’m not on Twitter, and I don’t frequent the message boards, so when I came across this acronym, I had to research its meaning:  TLDR.  Too Long; Didn’t Read.  The snarkiness all but oozes off the page.  Oh, you can apply it to War and Peace, or any impassioned response to someone’s offhand social comment—but where it becomes relevant to research is in respect to your audience: that fundraising administrator, your fellow researcher, that gift officer for whom you’re synthesizing data on a prospective donor and composing it into a profile, often with a recommended strategy.  You rise to the challenge du jour, finding obscure nuggets and including even a photo of their kitchen sink off Instagram—only to encounter a yawn and a blazing “TLDR.”  If a researcher fails in the forest, does anyone hear the sound—of frustration? 

It’s easy to blame the recipient.  But when a researcher does, how different is it from the chef who armors up into defensive mode when Gordon Ramsey tells him his foie gras is salty, or the poor tone-deaf souls (bless their hearts) who can’t understand why they can’t hope to compete as the next Peoria Idol?  You’ve got to consider your audience—and each one is different.  You have to research them first, in a sense—use your instincts, ask their colleagues and subordinates, or simply ask them:  What do you want?

Some gift officers wear it like a badge of honor:  “I don’t need research.  I suss out the deets myself and then tell YOU what I’ve found.  I ain’t afraid o’ no ghosts, or cold calling billionaires.  Have I told you about the seven-figure gift I got from Montgomery Burns?  I’m a tightrope walker, and for my part, researchers are little more than archivists, or stenographers.”  For these characters, the most they might ever need is basic contact information and whether or not there’s a dragon in the moat.

At the other end of the spectrum:  Needy Nellie.  “I simply MUST know everything!  Dogs or cats?  Bagels or biscuits?  Where do they vacation?  Are they on Twitter?  Heelllp meee!”  It’s easy to scoff at this kind of approach—except when there’s a method to what appears random madness.  One of my former development colleagues kept a calendar listing all his prospects’ birthdays, and sent a hand-written card to every one, every year.  That was a strategy, as well as just being a Decent Human Being.  If you have a Needy Nelson who asks for shoe sizes and blood types, it’s incumbent upon you to find out if that type of trivia is being put to good use or merely being used as a crutch.  Information control is an art, and a researcher should not be treated as a vending machine or a jukebox.

So it’s a no-brainer that you may have to customize your profiles for each of your constituencies—but does that mean you should similarly adjust your research logic for each:  cursory glances for the tightrope walkers, encyclopedic thoroughness for the completists?  Not necessarily.  The old cliché is right: Knowledge IS power.  You were hired to be the research professional, so don’t let an end-user get all up in your grill and mess with your routine.  Find out what they want, and give just that to them.  They don’t really want to know how sausage is made; they just want it on their plates.  It’s up to you to know if your regular customer wants links, patties, or boudin.

And there are times when you have to include information, at the risk of a TLDR, more or less in self-defense.  I once had a time-sensitive request for simple information about our commencement speaker, a columnist for a newspaper in New York (they didn’t want to ask him; how gauche!):  What synagogue in NYC did he attend?  I found out that not only did he not attend a Big Apple congregation, he didn’t live there either (they have trains and planes between there and DC; imagine that!).  I could have merely announced the name of his DC synagogue and left it at that; that was, in truth, all I’d been asked for.  But I made a point to include links to two recent articles citing his membership in that congregation.  Turned out that the college chaplain was the one who had suggested the New York residency; I had no idea I was in a cage match with a man of the cloth!  So—sorry, padre—but here’s the facts, and I was glad to have supported them by going just a bit beyond where common sense might have suggested stopping.  Know your audience and compose accordingly, but if you err, do so on the side of excess, and TLDRs be damned.

Tim Dempsey, Director-at-Large, APRA MidSouth

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

APRA Carolinas Conference

“Show me the $$$!”  That’s the tagline for “The Prospecting Gamble,” an upcoming conference hosted by our friends at APRA Carolinas (Full disclosure: I’m one of the scheduled speakers!).  The event will be held on June 6 and 7, 2013, at Wingate University in Wingate, North Carolina (just outside Charlotte).  The sponsors are LexisNexis, DonorSearch, Blackbaud, and Wealth Engine.  I’m looking forward to presentations by Helen Brown (The Helen Brown Group), David Lawson (Working Philanthropy), David Julian (Foundation for the Carolinas), and many others.  The hosts are keeping up the gambling theme with a casino night.  (If I were a gambling man (and I am), I’d bet you can find me at the blackjack table.)  I’ll give a rundown on the highlights of the conference when I return.  If you’re in the area or want to make your way there, this looks to be a fun and informative event.  Hope to see you there.
Mitch Roberson, Communications Director, APRA MidSouth

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Spring Cleaning

In and outside of the world of education, the pace of most businesses seems to slow down a bit as the days lengthen and the school year draws to a close. Certainly, there are pushes to close the fiscal year well, for those who wrap up in June, or solicitations surrounding special events like graduation. But overall, it seems to me, we have a little more bandwidth to be strategic and do some spring cleaning. Plus, there is something in the air this time of year that makes me want to clean up and get organized!
Whether you’re about to start a new fiscal year or you’re halfway through one, set aside some time to take inventory, assess progress, celebrate successes, and identify areas for improvement.
Some of those areas for reflection might be:
  • Products and services – Have we received feedback from our gift officers about the services we provide? Do they think we are providing relevant information in a useful format? Is there an area where further training or focus would be beneficial? Without slowing down to think strategically about implementing changes, these things can go overlooked for a long time. Also, reflect back over the last several months and think if you’ve identified an area for improvement. Now is a great time to plot out a strategy to make your idea a reality.
  • Prospect management – Have we reviewed our gift officers’ portfolios recently? Is there some basic data clean-up we can do to more accurately reflect where donors are in the pipeline? Now is a great time to talk to our gift officers about how we can be most helpful in moving their prospects forward. Do they need help with prospect identification, capacity estimation, or something else?
  • Hopes and dreams – A year (or two! or five!) from now, is there something you hope your shop will be able to accomplish? Maybe you’d like to be proficient with a new resource, upgrade a database, or expand your team. Hopes and dreams will remain exactly that until we have a roadmap that will get us there and the audacity to set out and follow it. What plans do you need to make now to get your shop or institution to where you want it to be in a year?

I hope you can carve out some time in the coming days or weeks to give these ideas some thought. What other questions would you ask yourself or your team as you reflect this spring?

Caroline Rossini, Treasurer, APRA MidSouth

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What Makes a Good Prospect?

Researchers are tasked with preparing information on donors and potential supporters to the organization.  Most importantly our responsibilities include finding future major donors.  Criteria for identifying major gift prospects include gathering real estate holdings, business information, and giving to other organizations.  Taking the time to understand what your organization’s mission, values, and connections are can enhance your prospecting efforts.  This exercise helps identify who likely has an affinity for your organization and provides a way to make introductions.

If you are prospecting for a university, then take a look at the mission.  Come up with an overview of qualities you would look for in your alumni base or for a specific area of the university.  If you are prospecting for a nonprofit organization, then read through the mission and values.  Use these ideals to identify key volunteers and supporters who could likely make an impact for the organization.  Look for possible connections among volunteers and board members.  The more time you spend analyzing how your major gift prospect connects to the organization and what interests them, the stronger your case is for getting a development officer to qualify them.

Melissa Sridaromont, Secretary, APRA MidSouth