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The Busy Prospect Researcher – Part 4: Community Participation and Professional Development

Over the last several weeks in my series for the busy prospect researcher, I’ve talked about time management in a prospect research shop where I’m the only person with responsibilities for prospect research, prospect management, and analytics. Thank you for taking time out of your busy workday to join me in this discussion of how to fit all of the variety of tasks into your schedule!

The Busy Prospect Researcher vs. Community Participation and Professional Development

In a Nutshell

In part 1, Dr. Hancks gave an overview of why time management is important, and some ways to create a schedule to balance all the various activities when you’re in a department of one. In part 2, she looked at how to balance the time spent on different types of activities, striking a balance between proactive and reactive research and predictive and summative analytics. In part 3, she looked at how to build in time for quick projects and long-term projects throughout the course of your work schedule. And in this final part 4, she spends some time talking about how to be part of the wider prospect management and prospect research community by participating in committees and associations, and staying on top of professional development opportunities through reading and attending seminars. These are the areas that might easily fall by the wayside when you’ve got a lot on your plate, but it’s important to your success (and happiness!) in the profession to be involved. Besides being a busy prospect researcher herself, Dr. Hancks is the author of several books on prospect research published by CharityChannel Press. We invite you to post your thoughts triggered by this article in the Comment box below.

Committees and Associations—Participation

Every time you turn around, there’s probably someone asking you to be involved in some committee or other, or telling you that you should be involved in a professional association. While we can’t obviously be involved in all of them, it’s definitely worth taking time to be part of some. Over the last few years, I have been involved in Association of Advancement Services Professionals (AASP) and the Illinois chapter of APRA (APRA-IL) most, though I am also a member of APRA International and CASE District V. While serving on the programming committee with APRA-IL, I also spent one year as the Vice President for the Chapter. I have been a member of the AASP Best Practices in Prospect Development committee for six years, and have been chairing that committee for five years. It can be done! I also spend time being involved in committees on the university campus where I work.

The key is to decide what’s important at any given time, and how much time you can fit into your schedule. Maybe you’ve got one or two hours a month you can spend on outside activities; there are many committees that would welcome that amount of volunteer time! If you’ve got more than that, you can be even more involved, or can choose more than one committee or organization to be part of simultaneously.

When I started with the AASP Best Practices committee, we had a monthly conference call where we discussed our progress on the various best practices we were compiling, and then actually worked on them outside of that call. That turned out to be too much of a time commitment for everyone involved, and we switched it up so that our monthly call was actually working together as a group to compile a best practice. Now, instead of having three or four small groups of people working on documents at the same time and reporting on their progress (which was slow), we have all those people help with one, then we all move on to the next. And we’ve gotten so much more done! We figured out a way to take advantage of the time we had available (one hour per month), and got rid of people’s guilt for not having as much time as they wished they did, and we’ve made a ton of progress. It just takes a little strategic thinking and rearranging to make it work.

Maybe one hour a month is even more than you can afford right now; that doesn’t mean you can’t be involved. These associations are always looking for volunteers during the conferences, or for presentations or webinars throughout the year, or for writing an article or series, or even for participating in TwitterTalks and discussions on the list serves. This profession is one where we all excel when we learn from each other, so it’s great when you can find some time to share with others.

Reading and Seminars—Professional Development

About now, you’re probably thinking that I’m giving you way too many things to add to your already-full plate, and now you see the heading about reading and listening to seminars. Well, I’m going to tell you that there’s time for those things too! And just like being involved in committees and associations, it’s really worthwhile to find some time to focus on your own professional development. Lately, the books I’ve been reading focus on predictive modeling and analytics. You’d be amazed how much you can read in twenty-minute chunks! And it’s a nice way to get a change of pace in your day. Rather than taking you away from your job duties, taking a short break to read professionally-relevant materials makes you better able to focus on what you’re doing, and gives your brain a bit of a break when you start to lose focus. I mentioned it before, but it’s worth repeating: you get a rush of adrenaline and energy to tackle new projects when you start accomplishing something. So, I urge you to take a reading break when you start to notice your focus wandering away from a task. Maybe it’s just ten minutes; but you’ll get some energy and creativity by taking a little break.

Likewise, seminars and webinars and conferences are worth the time it takes out of your day. I spend a couple of lunch-hours a month listening to them and fit them in to work days occasionally as well when the content matches my needs. There are a multitude of options available from all of the associations and many of the vendors, so it’s easy to find some that match what you need to learn. The trick, of course, is finding the time to listen or watch them; which is where format becomes important. Several colleagues and I used to try to attend the monthly luncheon of one of our local chapter organizations, but because of where we live, it actually took almost the entire day to drive there, participate in the session, and drive home. Though the content was excellent and relevant, it just wasn’t feasible for us. So we tend to do more online learning most of the time, where we don’t have to factor in travel time. An hour session takes an hour; and if you’re diligent about scheduling all of your activities, you can probably find an hour to fit in one of these sessions as well. Not every week, but often enough.

For the last section of this series on time management, I’m going to talk just a little bit about distractions. You’ve got to find time for those too!

Allotted Distractions

This one might be one of my favourites, because there is so much information at our disposal, and you never know when you might find something totally unique and valuable because you got distracted while looking for something else!

Recently, I received an email from someone in our foundation accounting office who had just loaded a gift on a new donor. It was a seemingly random gift of $500, which is rather large to be completely random, so I was asked to try to see if I could find this donor in the database—maybe under a prior name or lost address. Through the course of searching to find any sort of connection between this donor and our organization, we found the names of several family members in an obituary, and I began searching in the database to see if any of those family members were in our system. A niece had a unique last name, and I found a record of a male in our database with the same last name for whom we didn’t have a spouse name. It looked promising! Maybe we had found a link! Alas, it turned out the man -an alum- in our database was not her spouse. However, this man had excellent prospect and donor ratings and we’d had him coded as lost but now was found! So while it didn’t answer the question we were trying to answer, by allowing a bit of time for a “distraction” search, we found some great information about one of our alums, and can suggest that a development officer do some more discovery. Incidentally, the sister of the donor who started the search turns out to be a donor and we’re pretty sure that is how she got connected.

The reason it’s beneficial to allot some time to distractions is that you never know when something that seems like a really quick or easy question can turn into a really long process that may or may not have a discoverable answer. But in the attempt to discover, you might learn some other really important things. You have to set limits, though. Depending on what you’re finding, the limits can change, but trust your gut to know when to stop with the distracting activity. If you can’t trust your gut on it, set a timer for 30 minute intervals to check in and see whether you’re still on a path worth following. If you are, then set it for another 30 minutes; and if you’re not, then just stop and go back to your regular work.

We’ve reached the end of what I have to say about time management for now. I don’t really tend to think a lot about how I manage my time, but I get a lot done. And I frequently get comments from people when I tell them about what I’m working on and accomplishing. Several friends have told me to write books about time management. So I figured it was worth it to examine it here. As my dad always says, “if you want something done, ask a busy person!” With a little bit of strategizing, and a big picture outlook, it is possible to accomplish your varied duties regarding prospect research, prospect management, analytics, and professional development even if you’re department is one person and you wear all the hats.

Meredith Hancks

About the Contributor: Meredith Hancks

Meredith Hancks, EdD is the director of Prospect Research and Management for Western Illinois University in Macomb, where she’s been employed since 2007. Prior to her research career, she worked in annual giving at private liberal arts colleges in Minneapolis and Chicago. The part of this profession she enjoys most is the search for information and the subsequent ability to help frontline fundraisers be more successful in their work.
As a member of CharityChannel, she has contributed several book reviews as a We Review panelist, authored the following books for the In The Trenches series:
Have you recently joined a new organization or found yourself with a new set of duties that include prospect research? Do you believe in the power of data to make informed decisions to help your organization raise more money? Do you want to participate as a valuable member of the fundraising team? In Getting Started in Prospect Research: What You Need to Know to Find Who You Need to Find, Meredith shows you how to:

Set up your own research shop.
Conduct capacity and interest research.
Uncover hidden gems in your database.
Identify great new prospects.
Create a list of your favorite sources for various types of data.
Build relationships with fundraisers.
Determine when to go it alone and when to bring in the experts.

Fundraising Research Made Easy: A Practical Guide for Fundraisers for those who do frontline fundraising but do not have dedicated researchers or other support staff to find information they need about prospective donors. Most often, the entire development staff is composed of just a handful of people or sometimes even one person who wears all the hats. Meredith, who coauthored this book with Cara Rosson, helps you find a way to make research a routine part of your fundraising process. You will experience greater success in your fundraising when you learn more about your prospects and how to be strategic in building relationships with them.
Prospect Research is a Verb: Fundraising is the Subject is a prospect research manual that’s down-to-earth, easy-to-follow, and even fun to read. Meredith and coauthor Cara Rosson divide the manual into four Parts, each dealing with a specific aspect of project research. They make innovative use of the old-fashioned gift pyramid to provide a surprisingly helpful visual aid for examining the levels of research required for different types of prospects. Throughout, the authors offer helpful and interesting sidebars, and take the time to give you specifics.
She has a fourth book coming soon, also to be published by CharityChannel Press: Diving Into Research: Populating Your Prospect Pool.
Meredith currently serves as chair of the Best Practices in Prospect Development Subcommittee for the Association of Advancement Services Professionals. This team of professionals is committed to identifying and articulating best practices in all areas of prospect research and prospect management, using many of the principles included in this book. Meredith recently completed her term as Vice President of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA)-Illinois Chapter.
Outside of work, Meredith just completed her EdD in higher education administration at the University of Minnesota. She and her husband have twin sons who keep them endlessly entertained and provide a wellspring of joy. They are expecting their third child this spring. Her favorite quote comes from Henry David Thoreau:

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. —Henry David Thoreau

Thus far, Meredith has experienced that to be true.

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