Ryan Marshall is a prospect development analyst at Concordia University in St. Paul. Ryan attended the Apra Regional Conference (ARC) this past March and shares his takeaways with us from the conference in Atlanta.
The Value of Breaking Up Routine (by: Ryan Marshall)
It can be nice to break up the monotony of your office routine. Not with those spur of the moment emergencies that stop your week in its tracks. I am talking about planned, meaningful, and restorative activities.
Each year, I am able to attend one major conference. This year I chose the ARC conference in Atlanta, GA.
Since it was my first ARC conference, I didn’t know what to expect. I went with the hope of gleaning perhaps a few new ideas from the sessions and affirming some of my approaches to research with my peers. I could think of no better way to grow than by spending a few days at a hotel with 100 people who do exactly what I do.
Once it was all over, I came away with much more than I anticipated. I will share with you how one session improved my office’s efficiency, how connections I made at ARC affirmed the status of our research program, and how one concept inspired a clearer direction for my career.
I expected to encounter sessions that gave me ideas I could out right implement in our office. Interestingly enough, the first actionable insight ended up coming from a completely unrelated session.
The session was called “Want to be a Better Manager? Be a Better Project Manager!” It had nothing to do with prospect management. But I found myself sitting there because I misread “Project Manager” as “Prospect Management” as I quickly scanned through the session titles. Fortunately, it did spark some ideas that resulted in a better, more efficient process when I returned.
Historically, portfolio reviews occurred semi-annually. Preparation for these less frequent reviews was time consuming and it meant that portfolios were out of date for a longer period of time. We recently made changes to our review process to take place after each development officer completed a trip. This seemed like a more manageable process. But the challenge with more frequent reviews was trying to schedule a meeting, with several participants, and also allowing sufficient research time to fill out portfolios again.
The solution I proposed was simple: I asked to join for the first 15 minutes of the post-trip, one-on-one meetings between development officers and the Director of Development. This is a standing meeting and using that time maximizes the debriefing discussions that already take place. We can discuss who from their assigned prospects need to be dropped and which unassigned prospects they want to place under their management.
Who likes networking? If the idea doesn’t get you excited, you aren’t alone. Fortunately, ARC featured a segment they called “open space conversations.” This helped facilitate natural networking in a small group setting. We discussed a single concept around a table of 8-10 people for 25 minutes. At the end of each time block we would move tables.
The second table I joined was discussing predictive modeling. I know very little on the topic, but I found that of everyone at the table, I was the most knowledgeable. We bonded over the fact that we didn’t have that much to discuss. The conversation naturally turned into more generic ‘shop talk’. We enjoyed the conversation and company of the table so much that we formed our dinner group for that night on the spot. We seemed to have a lot in common.
Dinner was a mix of connecting professionally and personally. I was able to bond with my peers who have a wide range of experience, one to seven years, and a variety of work place environments. We freely conversed about all aspects for work to get feedback on procedures in offices supported by one researcher and those who have multiple researchers for a specific college.
After two days with this group, I concluded that there is not a generic prescribed formula to a research program at an organization. The needs of an office truly dictate the direction and approach a researcher pursues. The best plan I can have is to embrace the ability to be flexible. Getting information in the hands of the development team when it best supports their success is a great benchmark for me to pursue. I had hoped to find this level of comradery and affirmation.
Managing portfolios and researching prospects are at the core of what I do. There is a great deal of work left to be done, but I have started to wonder where I can progress in my career. I don’t foresee doing basic research and profiles, even though I do enjoy doing it right now.
The concept of the analytics maturity was introduced to me at ARC. There are five stages of analytics through which a program can progress – reactive, advanced, strategic, predictive, and prescriptive. Moving through these stages can take years. Our office is currently in the strategic stage. We have reached that point over the course of five years through the contribution of one staff member in our office and the support of one staff member in I.T.
Reflecting on my notes from the conference, it became clear that I can help contribute to the maturity of our office into the predictive analytic realm and advance my career simultaneously. I have set out to learn the coding language we use to interact with our data. I want to reduce communication barriers with my coworker to allow for higher-level critical thinking about the ways we can use our data to inform strategy. The conversation can naturally progress toward predictive analytics at a faster pace and I continue to grow into the field of prospect research.