Jennica Date is the Database Manager at Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. She was the recipient of the Apra-MN scholarship to attend the 2016 Apra Regional Conference (ARC) in Chicago.
In order to adequately share what I learned and implemented since attending ARC-Chicago, it would be beneficial to provide prospective. Before I was hired, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFM) did not have a full-time data management/gift entry staff member. As of March 2016, our front-line fundraisers consisted of three Foundation executives and one full-time gift officer. We added an advancement professional a month later, which was two months before I attended ARC. As of the end of February we will have two new full-time gift officers. Naturally, all of these events led to an exciting year in our department, one that experienced encouraging growth and many robust learnings.
My knowledge about not just prospect research, not just development, but about philanthropy in general has grown at a vast rate since entering the field itself two years ago. That said, one can imagine that being able to attend a conference so rich with valuable information on prospect-research best practices was an incredible boon to not only my professional growth, but to WFM as a whole.
I learned about Apra-MN through the metro-based Raiser’s Edge User’s Group. After joining Apra-MN in March 2016, I realized the wealth of resources that were available to me and thereby WFM. Our development department was growing and with that I saw an opportunity to learn more about prospect research, as we had no formalized processes in place. I attended the Apra-MN Spring Conference in St. Paul and was fascinated by what peers in the field were doing within their respective development departments. In terms of size, WFM was small compared to many of the institutions represented. However, I appreciated how the breakout sessions were structured – even a small department could find something valuable to implement within their own office. It was at this conference that I learned that Apra-MN provided scholarships to attend nationwide Apra conferences, and they were looking for applicants for the ARC-Chicago conference in June. WFM provides valuable professional development opportunities for all our staff, but we do not possess the budget for all staff to attend national conferences. Shortly thereafter I learned that I had been awarded the scholarship to ARC-Chicago. I was honored to attend and so grateful to be given such an opportunity – especially considering there was no way I could attend without the scholarship.
ARC-Chicago provided a wealth of valuable information to a burgeoning prospect researcher – but I could also see that due to the different learning tracks offered, more experienced prospect researchers were well-supplied with learning opportunities. While there, I immersed myself in the sessions and left with resources and knowledge presented by experienced peers in the field, spanning the realm of small philanthropies to large educational institutions with hundreds of front-line fundraisers. Two of the courses I attended at ARC-Chicago ranged from how to create a prospect research department from scratch, to conducting “Frugal Research”. Both courses, besides being valuable for their stated content, were also great primers on standard language in the prospect research realm. The third course I attended discussed relationship management with front-line fundraisers, exploring how researchers can be more proactive and what tools can be used for researchers and fundraisers to create clear lines of communication. Finally, the last course I chose offered guidelines on how different research teams utilized Apra's Ethics Toolkit as it related to prospect research within the realm of social media.
These sessions were structured in such a way that as someone new to the field, I felt emboldened with the information I acquired, rather than foolish for not knowing it already. I left ARC-Chicago with tangible tools that would allow me to, among other things: develop a prospect research request form, provide tips and tricks for contact reports, develop and hone a daily practice of reviewing online resources outside of utilizing a prospect research software, how to cultivate fruitful relationships and clear lines of communication with our front-line fundraisers regarding their prospect research needs, and finally how to create a prospect research department from nothing. I was and continue to be grateful for the opportunity to learn from experts in the field, including being made to feel welcomed and respected.
As noted above, our development department has experienced such incredible growth over the last year. Our team has worked together to develop robust processes in all facets of development, including prospect research. The tools, tips, and best practices I learned at ARC-Chicago were invaluable as we talked about what would best serve our department. As we continue to grow, I’m excited to continue to implement even more of what I learned within our development department. My growth as a development professional this past year was made greater by being awarded the ARC-Chicago scholarship. Many thanks to Apra-MN for this opportunity. ARC-Chicago was an environment rich with valuable info on best practices, not only in terms of prospect research, but on a well-run development office.
Stay tuned for 2017 opportunities for scholarships!