Archive | December 2013

Week Twelve: Acceptable Risk

Happy holidays, readers! Wherever you are as you read this, I hope have been able to relax for awhile and enjoy the company of family and friends.

In my last entry, I wrote about home and included a poll for the first time in my blog. Thanks to everyone who voted in my unscientific poll – looks like the majority of those who answered felt that their current city of residence wins the title of home. I’ll work on changing my mindset. Maybe by this time next year…

I begun this week in my former city, Chicago, for the CASE V Conference. It was nice to be home! The conference was great. I especially appreciated that you could attend the entire conference paper-free if you wanted. Conference organizers put the entire schedule, attendees and all into an app called Guidebook. I had never used it before but it was pretty cool- you could pick sessions to add to your calendar and even contact other attendees. I hope more conferences go this route in the future.

Earlier this week, I got an email from LinkedIn:


While good intentioned, LinkedIn is showing me jobs across the spectrum of organization type, job responsibilities, and region of the country that are connected to one or two common threads from my LinkedIn profile. Were LinkedIn a person, I’d think s/he hasn’t really done his or her homework before shooting this email off to me.

This got me thinking about big data. Adapted from the for profit world, our industry is embracing the big data trend, and prospect development shops of all sizes and types are integrating analytics to improve prospect identification and portfolio rebalancing efforts. Prospect researchers (who live in the qualitative world) are often tasked with verification efforts following predictive modeling or wealth screening projects. This becomes daunting, and researchers are faced with a dilemma: when to “call it.” Every researcher has the nightmare of delivering a meticulously prepared profile on a prospect, only to have someone in senior leadership inform them that they missed a critical detail in the report.

As researchers, we understand the need to get it right when completing a full profile, but how much uncertainty is acceptable when completing a “first pass” research assessment? Are we comfortable handing over partially verified information? If so, how do we communicate to our partners in fundraising the extent to which this information has been confirmed? And what do we do to safeguard against inaccurate or misleading information in an efficient manner?

Don’t lose hope- there’s an answer to all of these questions and more: Prospect Identification! Separating out a portion of your prospect research department (or your role if you’re a one-person team) into prospect identification work will allow you to establish, refine, and communicate guidelines around what goes into initial verification work. Make sure you communicate where this function lives in the development cycle (pre-qualification), and be clear about the type of information that you will verify or include (examples: one asset only, demographic data, basic biographic data). Finally, work with senior leadership and frontline fundraisers to make sure the delivery method is something they can use (via a data visualization tool rather than a spreadsheet).

I realize this isn’t a new idea, so I welcome feedback from any of you regarding your prospect identification efforts. What has worked? What hasn’t?


Week Eleven: Home

Last week I started in Ohio finishing up my mega-trip (my seat belts revelation week). I got to spend a day and a half at home before heading out again to Lexington, Kentucky to speak at the CASE Kentucky Conference. Lexington was fun! I went with some new colleagues to a place called Parlay Social, which featured an excellent live performance of two dudes playing classic rock tunes. I did some research to discover that the guitar player was Ben Lacy, guitar virtuoso. Try to watch this guy without being impressed:

The conference was great- I learned a lot about the various colleges in Kentucky. Did you that Morehead State University has one of the best aerospace programs in the country? Me neither, but they do! Look at this place! I also sat in on a philanthropy panel moderated by my colleague, Jennifer McDonough. It was really fascinating to hear donors talk about their motivations to give and their experiences being stewarded. They also developed a nice banter together, which was fun to watch. Here’s a picture of the session:

phil panel

As I left Kentucky, the airport shuttle driver asked me where I was from. This has become a complicated question for me to answer given my recent move. Since we had time, I gave him the full answer to the question, with all three options (my hometown of Normal, IL; Chicago, where I spent most of my adult life; and my new home, Chantilly, VA). Since I was headed from Lexington to option one, Normal, IL, to visit family, this question stuck with me, so I figured I’d try out a fancy new feature of this blog and ask my readers.

Week Ten: Seat Belts


What a week! To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, oh the places I’ve gone! I started the week out flying to San Francisco to visit a client about an hours drive away. Once that trip wrapped, I flew north for a two day visit with my Seattle client. A cousin of mine who lives in the area was celebrating her birthday, so I stuck around through the weekend to spend some time with my family. I even got to see Seattle during the day!


The rental car company gave me a Ford Explorer to drive through the mountains of Northern California. I’m only 5’2″, and I normally drive a Prius, so this SUV was a behemoth to me! I am also from Illinois, so hills and curves are still pretty terrifying. This got me thinking. How did they decide on the modern seat belt design? There certainly must be more elaborate methods to ensure driver safety. For example, did they consider wrapping drivers in bubble wrap? Didn’t we all choose this method to keep our eggs from breaking in our middle school science experiments?

If bubble wrap, cotton swabs, or any other innovations from Mr. Basolo’s seventh grade science class can keep us safer while we drive, why don’t we just wrap ourselves up before getting into the car? Because that’s just ridiculous! In the real world, where cost-benefit analysis is a real thing, it is neither practical nor economical to adopt this level of safety when driving. For one, it would take a really long time to suit up into an acceptable level of bubble wrap. Imagine how many reams of it you’d go through each year! For another thing, it would limit our mobility. Would you be able to look behind you before backing up, or would the bubble wrap prevent full range of motion?

While there may be safer methods to protect drivers, seat belts are the least obtrusive and most flexible way to ensure driver safety, which means a better chance of compliance.

This gets me to my actual point (thank you for waiting so patiently!). The same is true of data entry. Data-oriented people (which I’m assuming many of you are) can never have enough data. We might explore every nook of our database to see what field we can map to what attribute, triumphant in the complexity of reports we can offer. As data people, we should be excited about these options. However, we encounter problems when we try to explain these options to our front line partners. That’s because we’re basically asking them to put on their bubble-wrapped suit every time they go on a prospect visit. Consider the following questions:

  • How many fields do your development officers have to complete before submitting a contact report? More than five?
  • Can your database auto-populate the ID of the user who is signed in as the author of contact reports, proposals, and solicitations?
  • How many screens do development officers have to navigate through to update a prospect stage or enter an upcoming task on a prospect record?

I agree that we’re asking them to enter valuable information, but I also see how much bubble wrap we’ve asked them to wear in the process:


Some of us are constrained by databases that don’t have an intuitive design (believe me, I’ve seen fascinating setups at some of your shops!). The point of my long and overly complicated analogy is that we have to figure out how our front line partners can enter relevant information in a way that doesn’t lead to hours of confusing data entry, otherwise it simply won’t get done. Here are some ideas:

  • Can we focus on two to three data points that will get us what we need for projections and strategy meetings?
  • Can we integrate a dictation software into our shop that will allow our front line partners to speak their meeting notes while en route to the airport?
  • Can we partner with leadership and our colleagues who design system reports to lessen the amount of click-throughs needed for key moves management updates?

I’m certain that some of you reading this have faced this challenge before, so I’d welcome your feedback. What has worked at your shops?

Week Nine: Noah’s Ark

Happy December, readers! I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving. Mine was delightful! My cousin (also my roommate) and his friend roasted a turducken and cooked a turkey. The turducken looked like this at the end:


Amazing. Anyway, I enjoyed several rare days in a row at home. I thought I would be home all week, but a last minute client trip came through that sent me back to… Oklahoma City!!! What is it with this job? Minneapolis twice, Seattle twice, now Oklahoma City twice (and with a different client this time). Maybe you don’t find this weird, but considering I’m not that many engagements in (if this job were a baby, I’d still be three weeks out from telling friends or family), it seems wild to be repeating cities so much.

This trip had me traveling on the Monday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving, and I transferred flights both ways. If you’re keeping count (which reminds me, I’ve updated my Vital Stats section with travel from Weeks Eight and Nine), that’s four flights and four airports for a two day engagement. Since my last couple of entries have been focused on the work aspects of my job, I’ll focus this entry on the travel part. I’d like to title this section “You Know You’re a Road Warrior* When.” You see where this is going. To be more specific, I could add “Lady” to that (You Know You’re a Lady Road Warrior When), but the qualifier is only necessary for a couple items on the list, and I think you are smart enough to figure out which items need it and which ones don’t. Okay, here we go!

You Know You’re a Road Warrior When:

-You’ve sprinted through the Atlanta airport in heels with less than 10 minutes in between flights at separate terminals.

-You refer to cities by their airport codes rather than their names.

-Every meeting you schedule has the time and relevant time zone listed in the location line.

-You know the waitstaff at your favorite restaurant in the Miami airport by name (this one was contributed by my buddy Flavio).

-You steal copies of Hemispheres because you want to show a client or a coworker an article you read.

-You covet luggage accessories and devices to charge your laptop/phone/Bluetooth headset more than you do clothes or fancy gadgets.

-You know what flights your coworkers or friends are taking based on their airline and departure/arrival airports.

-You have, and actively use, an eyebra (thanks, Trisha!).

-You have two of everything; one set that never leaves your suitcase.

-You think about flying to Chicago for a friend’s New Years Eve party because it’s only a two hour flight.

-You’re more likely to know what date it is than what day it is.

-Some of your best work gets done above 10,000 feet.

*I get that my references are primarily focused on air travel, but Air Warrior sounded weird. Is that a thing? If not, am I cool enough to create a new phrase? Time for a hashtag!