From July 30 – August 2nd, we had the pleasure of attending the 27th Annual APRA International Conference in Las Vegas, NV. Nearly 1,000 attendees from multiple aspects of the profession – prospect research, relationship management, prospect management, data analytics, advancement services and fundraising – came together to network and participate in educational workshops. Like the prospect research sponges we are (okay, maybe a little nerdy?) we were eager to gain some knowledge and insights from fellow researchers.
- Proactive vs. Reactive Research. While both types of research are extremely valuable to development, the importance of focusing on proactive research was stressed in numerous conference sessions and keynote addresses. In the past, prospect researchers have been focused on reactive research (research profiles, answering reference-type questions, etc.). While this type of research is still a pivotal part of the prospect research field, there has been a large shift in the last few years towards proactive research, which is instrumental in the laying of a foundation for a successful campaign. What exactly is proactive research? This type of research includes establishing and tracking measurable metrics, generating project-focused new prospects, and effectively managing portfolio sizes. How is this done? Prospect research must identify and strive to forecast the needs of each individual development team member in order to best support them (see point #4 for more information on developing partnerships with fundraisers).
- APRA Canada Meet-up. Members of APRA Canada arranged to have dinner together one night while we were in Vegas, with 16 of us in attendance. We ‘inconspicuously’ (not!) met in the hotel lobby where a Canadian flag was proudly being waved. It was fantastic to compare notes from our sessions, and to swap stories from the prospect research trenches. It was beneficial and fun to share prospect research tactics from north of the border. And we finally didn’t get weird looks for our use of “eh”.
- Network – Use other prospect researchers as a resource! Best practices are generally transferrable from one organization to the other, no matter what country or type of organization you are from. We found that networking with fellow conference attendees, volunteers and speakers was extremely beneficial in taking ideas and concepts back to our organization. Coming from an academic institution ourselves, it was extremely helpful to interact with individuals from development offices of American institutions who have well-established and successful fundraising practices in place (Harvard University, University of California – Berkley, University of Pennsylvania to name a few).
- Strategic partnerships with Major Gift Officers. (a.k.a. Help us help you!) This ties in with proactive research (point #1) but deserves its own point. Prospect Research should understand the fundraisers’ benchmarks and their funding priorities, and on the flip side, the fundraisers should clearly communicate these goals. All too often, workplace silos can get in the way of productive partnerships and meaningful conversations that can result in success (ie GIFTS!). So, how do you develop these partnerships? It is important for the prospect research team to demonstrate to major gift officers that they are strategic partners in the fund development process. Some ways this partnership can be harnessed is through open communication with the fund development team, attending campaign/team meetings, having portfolio review meetings and integrating your prospect research work with their major gift goals (proactive research!).
- Smorgasbord of helpful tips and tricks. Investment advisors, real estate, public disclosure documents! Oh my! Between the conference sessions, keynotes, chatting with vendors, and networking we learned a lot of useful tips and tricks that will undoubtedly aid us on our quest to become prospect research superstars. We won’t go into great (and probably boring) detail about all the new and tweaked research tactics we learned; just know that we were in research and data bliss over the entire course of the conference.
We hope to one day return again to the APRA International Conference, to continue to gain knowledge and strengthen our skills in this field. Until then, we will continue to implement some of the great advice and suggestions to our own portfolios, and strive to practice exceptional research and support to our team.
Written by Shannon Doherty & Sara Glover
Shannon & Sara are both Prospect Researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University.