Archive | March 2014

Some of my Best Friends are Overhead

What a week it’s been! After almost a month of in office work and a local conference, I packed up my 3-1-1 compliant bag and hopped on a plane to Boston. I coordinated a client visit in Wuh-stah (curiously spelled Worcester) with the NEDRA conference in Boston for a delightful three day excursion in New England. Before I get to my key observations on this week’s topic, I have some thoughts about the Wuh-stah/Bah-ston region as a Midwesterner:

  1. There are a TON of schools! Not just in Boston. There are 12 higher ed institutions in Worcester! My hotel was five miles from my client site, and I passed one higher ed institution on the way to my client (also higher ed). Amazing! I wonder if New Englanders are surprised when they go to towns where there are more McDonalds than colleges.
  2. Mile markers and exit numbers are totally unrelated in Massachusetts. You’ll be at mile 63 and you need to get off at exit 22. In my world, that means you have 41 miles to go (unless you’re changing highways or crossing into a new state). Yet Siri tells you you’re four miles from the exit. WHAT CRAZY MATH IS THIS?! Oh, it’s not math. There is no correlation between these two items. I have mentioned before that my dad is a transportation planner (hi, dad!), so I take highway logic very seriously. Can someone explain what is happening? Does this exist elsewhere in the US?

Observations aside, both cities were picturesque and I had a wonderful time. I stayed in a fancy hotel in Boston for the conference:


At the end of the week, I relocated to Boston for the New England Development Research Association’s annual conference, Strategies for Success. NEDRA is a super-charged APRA chapter that includes all of the states in New England.

NEDRA was able to recruit Dan Pallotta as the keynote speaker. Dan was instrumental in creating the AIDS Rides, Breast Cancer Walks, and the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walks in the 1990s. His most recent work has been to establish the Charity Defense Council. This is an organization that was created to “change the way people think about changing the world.” Dan explained that nonprofits are constrained by outdated rules in their efforts to create meaningful social change, rules that don’t apply to businesses. The primary challenge that Charity Defense Council is combating is dreaded Overhead Factor, or the idea that nonprofits must demonstrate that more than 75% or sometimes even 90% of what they spend goes towards direct service costs rather than administrative ones such as salaries or office equipment. Dan said this is dangerous for three reasons:

1. It makes us think overhead is not part of the cause. I don’t know about you, but when I worked as a development associate at a housing facility for homeless teens, I needed a computer to do my job. The Overhead Factor declares that the electricity required to run my computer should be labeled separately from the electricity required to run the computers in the homes of the teens the organziation housed.

2. It forces charities to forgo what they need to grow. Low overhead is fine if your organization plans on raising the same amount year after year. Is that a goal that any of us have? If we want to achieve loftier goals, we need to raise more money, and to do that, we need to invest in capacity building opportunities.

3. It gives donors bad information. I went shopping today and tried on two pairs of pants: one for $4.88 and one for $40. They had a lot in common: same brand, same size, same color. When I tried them on, the $4.88 pair felt and looked horrible. If I were making my decision on price alone, I would have been disappointed. Judging nonprofits based on their overhead expenditures alone does the same.

Dan’s speech, and the mission of Charity Defense Council, gave me a lot to think about. It made me proud to work in (and now for) the nonprofit sector. I loved the idea that we are reclaiming our missions by declaring that we owe it to society to put as much effort into preventing homelessness as Dairy Queen puts into selling ice cream. The most striking part of Dan’s message was when he revealed Charity Defense Council’s ad campaign:


Be on the look out for ads like this in print, online, and on TV soon. If you agree with the mission, consider becoming a member. What do you think? Are you overhead?


Bucket List: Faculty

We’ve all got the list somewhere- in our brain, on a sheet of paper, saved on a floppy disc sitting in a box in the back of our closet. Maybe there’s an app for it. I’m referring to the evolving list of what we wanted to be when we grew up. Here’s how mine went:

  • 5 years old: veterinarian
  • 12 years old: archaeologist
  • 15 years old: anthropologist
  • 18 years old: sociologist
  • 20: sociology professor
  • 22: “something to do with nonprofits”
  • 25: prospect researcher

The rest, as they say, is history. Since the age of 15, my ambitions have been geared towards understanding people and/or helping them. For awhile there, I thought it could be great to teach college students theories behind observing and understanding people. To be honest, that ambition has never fully gone away. In the back of my mind, I’ve always thought it would be great to pursue a second career in teaching later in life (much later).

This week, I got to realize a bit of that dream. I served as faculty for the CASE Development Researchers Conference in Baltimore, MD. This was an amazing experience. Don’t get me wrong, it was exhausting. All the prep work leading up to the conference was hard work. Being “on” for three days straight was mentally challenging. Post-conference catch up on everything I couldn’t get to earlier in the week was rough. But it was all immensely worth it.

For those of you who aren’t in development (hi Mom and Dad!), CASE is an organization devoted to advancing excellence in higher education institutions, mainly through conferences, webinars, studies, articles, etc. They do a lot of work in the areas of marketing/communications and development (fundraising). This is their annual conference devoted to prospect research, prospect management, and analytics professionals. Since almost all attendees are from higher education institutions, the topics covered can be a bit more targeted (no need to discuss HIPAA laws or prospecting for donors for the dinosaur exhibit). It is purposefully a smaller audience (75 attendees), and is set up so the same four people talk the whole time, with the exception of a guest co-presenter and a couple high-profile keynote speakers.

In a normal conference, you might have 15-20 sessions in a three day span put on by 15-30 people; in our conference, there were 15-20 sessions put on by seven people. There are some benefits to doing it this way- the conference planning is easier since you don’t have to coordinate with 15+people, and the conference has a more cohesive theme to it since you’re listening to the same people throughout. If you are in the industry and you’ve never attended, I’d encourage you to consider this conference next year. It was my first conference as a new researcher back in 2006 and I still remember it. Here’s proof that I was there (I just unearthed this from a box this morning!):


To quote prospect researcher extraordinaire Catherine Cefalu (follow her blog here), I genuinely nerded out over many things at this conference. Here are the highlights (get ready for lots of hyperlinks!):

Faculty: this group was top notch. I’m honored to be considered in the same sentence as them. Roslyn Clarke is assistant director of research at Harvard. I’ve known some great financial industry researchers in my day, and Roslyn is absolutely in that category. The woman will go to the business library at Harvard and read the footnotes in hedge fund compensation books, taking crazy notes because you aren’t even allowed to photocopy some of this stuff! On top of that, she can talk about it to a crowd of people in terms that make us all understand. Considering a lot of us in prospect research are soft-science folks, that’s quite an accomplishment!

Bernardo Villasenor is director of prospect management at Emory University. Bernardo’s brain is three steps ahead of the rest of us. This is a common trait for big data/analytics people, and Bernardo is among the most skilled I’ve ever worked with. I can see his brain working towards a solution before the rest of us have even realized there’s a problem. For example, He would probably look at a unit dashboard report and think through ways to efficiently deploy their development officers in a different area of the country before I’ve even figured out what the X and Y axis of the dashboard are reporting on. Bernardo and I co-presented a session on relationship mapping where he worked in the terms “homophily” and “heuristics”; meanwhile I showed attendees how to google someone’s Bacon number.

Chris Pipkins is AVP of advancement information services at James Madison University. Chris was responsible for pulling all of us together for this conference and was the ultimate cool guy conference chair. Nothing phased him (except maybe completing his PowerPoints). Chris has managed the research team at JMU for a long time, and has done an amazing job integrating the work of his various teams. What’s great about having someone in a leadership role that understands data at the helm of a conference like this is that he realizes that the content needs to focus on the interpersonal dynamics of the work place, not just the nuts and bolts. Chris used a great slide about mistakes:

car slide

The point is that you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Sometimes leaving a major data point out sparks conversation, and those conversations are what actually moves business forward. Perfection is the Achilles heel of many a researcher, so this was a valuable lesson.

Keynotes: David Lawson (NewSci) and Rob Scott (MIT) were each on hand for a keynote address, and they participated in a Q&A session with the rest of the faculty. What a range of expertise and advice both of these guys have! David talked about how we need to make big data our friend, and Rob spoke about research’s role in a campaign. It was wonderful getting to know them both, and I think they added a ton of value for the conference attendees.

Attendees: what a great group! We had people from small schools, large schools, secondary schools, and even someone from a museum (I had to dust off my dinosaur exhibit prospecting tips, after all). There were even attendees from Hawaii and South Africa! In talking with attendees, it was great to hear what everyone is doing. There are some things we are all struggling with (prospecting for interdisciplinary initiatives, devoting more time to proactive research), and other things that some universities are doing really well (relationship mapping, partnering with our frontline counterparts). If you’re reading this and you attended the conference, please feel free to comment about what you valued the most at the conference. Follow me on twitter (@lammeyb) and connect with me via LinkedIn and we can keep the conversation going. Don’t be a stranger!

Food: on Sunday night, we had a core faculty dinner at Fleet Street Kitchen, a farm to table restaurant in Baltimore. It was incredible. Here’s a picture of my dinner:

FSK dinner

I’m not sure what the cube in the upper left hand corner was, but otherwise the meal was amazing. If you’re in Baltimore and you’re feeling fancy, go there!

On Tuesday night, we had an expanded faculty dinner at Nick’s Fish House. We hit crabs with mallets and I ate with a napkin tucked into my shirt. Here are our victims:


I am generally anti working this hard for food, but there is something soothing about pulling a hammer out of a bucket and attacking an already seasoned shellfish. And nothing is more enjoyable than wearing a bib-napkin in front of professional colleagues.

CASE staff: you may not know Jennifer Lichty, but you should. She is amazing. She put us all at ease. She made sure we had everything we needed at the conference. I know she loves her social media crowd, but I’m trying to show her that researchers are a fun group too, and I think she might believe me after this conference. I’d like to grant her “honorary researcher” status. Anyone else second my nomination, or should we make her prepare a sample profile first?

This post could now be a chapter in a book, so I should end here. I have so much more to say and so many more things to nerd out about. If you attended the conference and you have favorite moments or food pictures, please put comments here! If you want to talk more with about the conference, drop me a direct message on twitter or email me.

The Easy Button

Happy March, friends! I’m sitting in a hotel room in Baltimore as I write this, listening to the local news anchors talk about the snowstorm outside. I suppose wishing you all a happy spring might be a bit premature…

It’s been awhile since I posted. I have made updates to the Vital Stats portion of my blog and am less than 4,000 miles away from surpassing 50,000 miles flown. Since I have a trip to Hong Kong in the near future, I’m confident I’ll have a celebratory mileage post soon. Also, I’d like to welcome a special new reader to my blog – my mom! She caught up on all my posts during the snowy days of February (she must have been really bored…) and was excited to read more.

I had a very busy February – I spent a full week in Seattle (including a very exciting Valentine’s Day), then turned around and went back to Oklahoma City to see not one but two clients. All of these were return visits to see clients I’ve already worked with, which means we were rolling up our sleeves and getting into the meat of these projects. Any of you who have been working on a project for several months can identify with this. You start asking all of the messy, tough to answer questions:

  • What do we do with prospects who give to multiple areas of the organization?
  • How do we use our predictive modeling results to identify prospects for a new initiative?
  • How do we leverage the connections between our individual prospects and their employer organizations, which are also prospects?

I wrestled with some of these questions during the full week with my Seattle client. It was only fitting that I saw this when I sat down at the temporary cubicle that would be my workstation for the week:

easy button

I pressed it, and guess what happened? NOTHING! How’s that for a metaphor? This stuff isn’t easy, friends! It takes hard work. Even with the best of project plans, something unexpected will come up and we’ll have to figure out how to continue on in spite of the newest curveball. Your development office’s budget might be cut by 5% for the fiscal year. Your VP might suddenly resign. Key members of your team might take a new job or get assigned to a new project.

So what do you do? I mean, what do you do after you’ve had your pity party and crawled under the blankets, crying? Hopefully I’m not the only one who does that… Allow me to suggest that you prepare for projects the same way that game show contestants prepare. In fact, the easy button looks a bit like a contestant’s buzzer.

3 Tips for Project Planning like a Game Show Contestant

  • Pre-project: Study. No one goes on a game show without doing some preparation first. Okay, some people do, like on The Price is Right, but if you’re going on Jeopardy, I can guarantee that you spent some quality Saturday evenings with a deck of flashcards. Do we prepare like that for big projects? I have a client who wrote out a script prior to a portfolio review meeting with a gift officer. Working on that script was tough. We had “if, then” statements all over it. But at the end of the day, the review went smoothly, we were prepared for all possible outcomes, and we had a working script to use for all future portfolio reviews. Our hard work paid off.


  • During project: Phone a Friend. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire offers contestants the option of using lifelines if they don’t know the answer to a question. They can choose to eliminate some of the false answers, poll the audience for the answer they think is correct, or call a friend that they trust to ask what answer they’d go with. Why wouldn’t their friend just be on the show instead? I digress. In the phone a friend example, their friend knows a lot about the subject and generally has helpful advice. The same is true for development. There are very few totally new ideas in fundraising. Chances are, if you’re working on a big project, some other organization has done something very similar, and has executed it well. Why reinvent the wheel? Do you have connections who can help walk you through it? Call them up. Or post to a message board like PRSPCT-L – the development community is very friendly and you can usually get some great ideas from message boards.


  • During project: Play to Win. Unlike awards show nominees, no one goes on a game show and says that it’s an honor just to be chosen to play. No way! If you make it onto Wheel of Fortune, you play to win. That explains why contestants choose to spin the wheel one more time when they should just solve the puzzle. They always end up landing on bankruptcy or losing a turn. Sometimes you have to take big risks to win big. In fundraising, we can be happy for our colleagues that landed that $100 million gift, but that doesn’t change the fact that we want to see our organization land some large, impactful gifts too. That might mean we need to take a risk and put a crazy idea in front of a major donor. It might mean we need to reorganize the way our shop is set up. It might mean we nominate someone for the board who isn’t connected to any of our other board members. One strategy might land us on the “Lose a Turn” space, but our strategy on our next turn could result in a major gift.


What do you think, friends? Have I taken the metaphor too far? What do you do to prepare for the unexpected?

All game show images are from Wikipedia, which contains an impressive amount of information on game show history, rules, and formats.

Until next time, friends. Conference season is kicking off this week as I am on faculty of the CASE Annual Conference for Development Researchers. I’m looking forward to meeting all of the attendees and am excited to write about it afterwards.