, our International Scholarship recipient, shares her experience attending her first APRA International Conference.
310. 53. Prospect Researchers like numbers, right? In July, thanks to the APRA-Minnesota chapter, I had the chance to join members from around the world for Prospect Development 2015 in New Orleans. More than 1,000 people, including 310 first timers and 53 attendees from countries outside of the United States, descended upon the French Quarter for nearly sixty sessions across seven tracks of prospect research, campaigns, data analytics and more.
This was the first time I had attended the national APRA conference, and it began at the opening reception, where I noshed on Cajun fried turkey with cornbread dressing and cranberry sauce while introducing myself to other attendees from the worlds of higher education, nonprofit museums and social service organizations. As our hotel was conveniently located on the edge of the French Quarter, I decided that evening was a good time for a stroll down Bourbon Street and a quick photo in front of Jackson Square.
Breakfasts in the exhibit hall provided me with ample opportunity to solicit feedback and gather opinions on various research software available such as Wealth Engine, Lexis Nexis and DonorSearch. (Overheard on my first morning: “Biscuits for breakfast? It’s like we’re in the South or something…”) It was also interesting to learn about the breadth of organizations that employ prospect researchers, from the one-person shop at a small nonprofit to the five that I met from the University of Notre Dame.
“Don’t ask if a charity has low overhead. Ask if it has big impact.” That was the key takeaway from the keynote address given by Dan Pallotta. He encouraged nonprofits to push back against “the overhead myth” and invest in the fundraising they need to grow and be successful. He suggested that we ask donors if they want the organization’s epitaph they are supporting to read “we kept overhead low.” (click on the link to see the article)
Sessions throughout the day provided a plethora of information to increase my knowledge in a certain area, bring back best practices to my organization and, at times, provided a forum for commiseration on some of the bizarre requests prospect researchers receive. A couple of my favorites were “Researching Public Filings with Success,” which explained the goldmine of information available in Form 990s and SEC documents, and “The Heart and Soul of Campaigns,” which walked attendees through the steps of a successful capital campaign.
Minnesota was well-represented as two local chapter members were highlighted at Friday’s awards ceremony: Beth Campbell won a free registration to next year’s conference and Josh Birkholz was awarded the APRA Visionary Award. About a dozen residents of the north star state noshed on Cajun sausage banh mi sandwiches and sipped colorfully flavored beverages at the APRA-MN happy hour on Thursday night. I also enjoyed volunteering at the registration desk with Bette, a steel magnolia from the local visitors bureau with a thick Southern drawl, and joined a diverse group of attendees for an unforgettable dinner at Galatoire’s, a century old Bourbon Street institution.As with most conferences, it is refreshing to be around people who are doing the same type of work. I brought back many ideas to help me advocate in my workplace for the importance of research. To carry on the lessons of this opportunity, I will remember a quote from Hillary Clinton that one of the presenters in a session about researching wealthy women shared: “Data not only measures progress, it also inspires it.”
~Sarah Johnson | Hennepin Theatre Trust