Hello, friends! It has been way too long since I posted an update, so I promise this one will be a good one!
First off, I’m excited to say that I cleared the 100,000 miles flown mark some time over the summer. By the end of September, I should be past 120,000, so I’m averaging about 10,000 miles a month. Whoa! Of course, Hong Kong skews that a bit- when I remove that trip from the calculations, I’m still at a respectable 8,500 miles per month.
I’m sure many of you attended the APRA conference in July/August. I read many of your excellent blog posts on the conference and felt motivated to post my own. Then August and most of September happened, and I lost my chance…or so I thought! But then last week, I attended the Association of Donor Relations Professionals Conference in Seattle, and my opportunity to reflect on both conferences presented itself.
After countless APRA conferences, this was quite an experience. I felt like an APRA spy. I was warmly welcomed, although this group clearly could tell I wasn’t one of them. They spoke kindly of the researchers in their shops and the experiences of colleagues they knew who attended APRA.
In case you don’t know anything about ADRP, allow me to explain with a comparison statement (you probably haven’t seen one of these since you took the SATs):
Prospect development professionals are to pre-solicitation what donor relations professionals are to post-contribution.
Otherwise, I’ll leave it to the experts to explain more. You can learn all about the pillars of donor relations and all sorts of other fun facts here.
Now that I’ve got the basics covered, I can tell you about what I learned in my role as an APRA Spy. I presented with my colleague and ADRP board member, Eliza McNulty. Our session was called Prospect Research and Donor Relations: Two Sides of the Same Coin. ADRP and APRA are co-sponsoring a replay via webinar in October if you want to join in the conversation.
Our session covered some examples that Eliza and I have experienced of our respective teams/functions working together. As I sat in on conference sessions, I realized that there are some fundamental similarities between our two groups and the work that we do.
1. We both play essential roles in transforming our institutions through philanthropy. As such, we are increasingly being invited to participate in meetings with senior leadership and development officers. If we aren’t invited, we’re feeling more comfortable inviting ourselves. The topic of having a seat at the leadership table was a key theme at APRA, and ADRP was no different. We have great ideas to move donors towards making their next gift and making them feel invested and involved in mission of our institutions, and these ideas should be heard.
2. We both organize our work and work products by segments. Prospect research and portfolio management are much different for prospects at the annual giving level compared to major gifts. Similarly, the acknowledgement, recognition, and reporting process varies for donors who make gifts at these levels. We both factor in total giving over one-time gifts. Some of us don’t quite have this figured out yet and certainly exceptions apply (usually involving senior leadership), but we are all interested in making sure we devote more time strategizing and producing materials on/for prospects and donors at the top of the pyramid.
3. We both care about data. Finally, researchers can be data nerds with someone else in the office! Donor relations professionals are equally passionate about uncovering philanthropic interests and relationships among our top donors and prospects. The mantra “if it isn’t in the database, it didn’t happen” was used frequently at the ADRP conference. They stressed out about information being uploaded as PDFs and being stored in text-heavy contact reports. While I didn’t hear anyone (but me) use the term “codify individual data points,” I could tell they were all thinking it.
By now, you’re thinking, “Bond, this is great! My donor relations office colleagues and I are going to run off together to a deserted island, where we will live happily ever after.” WAIT! Yes, we have a lot in common, and the ADRP folk are lovely people, but there are some differences between prospect development and donor relations professionals that you should consider before running off into the sunset.
1. Objective versus emotive. I was in one session where a donor relations professional said she considered her work a success if she “made the donor cry,” Please don’t misunderstand me- they aren’t trying to manipulate or scare donors into making an impact; it’s that they are emotionally invested in the storytelling process. This is dramatically different from prospect research. When I train researchers, I tell them that our role is to be Switzerland. We may care about the donors, but when we report on them, our role is to present the information in a neutral voice. Think of it like news reporting. But, when your audience is the donor, you have the ability to invoke emotion and impact. The role of donor relations professionals in presenting information to the donor is to strengthen the relationship between the institution and the individual.
2. We have different technological tools and skills. The APRA community has been talking about data visualization for dashboards, metrics, and productivity analyses since the early days of prospect management. Tools like Tableau, Advizor, or plain, old-fashioned excel are an everyday part of our routine. Research shops track requests fulfilled, new prospects added to the pipeline, and conversion rates from capacity rating to solicitation amount. From my experience at this conference, metrics is an emerging topic for donor relations professionals. There was one topic devoted to it over the entire conference. In contrast, the ADRP crew is fully engaged in multi-platform, multi-channel engagement of donors. They are constantly thinking about engaging them via videos, social media, web content, and mail, and they pay attention to which channel is the appropriate one for each donor. There were a ton of amazing sessions dedicated to web content, interactive media, and ways to seamlessly integrate marketing with the same look across all communication channels.
3. We live on different sides of the cycle. Prospect development professionals spend a lot of time figuring out how to identify the right prospects for the right projects and getting them into portfolios of the right development officers. Everything that vexes us happens before the ask. What happens if we find a great prospect but we don’t have a development officer who can travel to Montana to meet her? What do we do to make sure that Jim Gift Officer visits Joe Prospect? If he doesn’t visit Joe within 6 months, should we reassign him? In contrast, donor relations professionals spend a lot of time thinking about all the steps involved in thanking the donor. While they certainly understand their role in queuing the donor up for a future gift, they are primarily concerned about thanking the donors for the intrinsic purpose of thanking them. They want to know the donor’s passions, their motivation for making the gift, and the components of giving that are most meaningful for the donor so they can steward the gift appropriately. This is the group of people who send you a thank you card after attending your housewarming party and they brought you a present! They’re just that thoughtful.
At the end of the conference, I floated my blog post idea to a few attendees, who mentioned one more potential observation: donor relations professionals are very extroverted people, while prospect development professionals are introverts. I must agree that there were some patterns at the ADRP conference that you don’t typically see at APRA (people lined up to ask questions at the mic for keynote speakers and attendees walked right up to vendors at their tables and chatted about their products). However, I know full well from my years at APRA that there are extroverts in the prospect development world, and an increasing number of people from both professions are crossing into the frontline fundraising field (and frontline people end up in our areas). Also, there are some shops where the researcher is also the acknowledgement writer, event planner, and the person who fields calls from donors and board members. As development professionals, I’d like to challenge us to counter the stereotypes of extroverts and introverts. If you feel like you fall on one side of the spectrum, go outside of your comfort zone. Participate in meetings. Get to know how your colleagues do their work. Sit in on educational opportunities for other areas of development.
ADRP friends, consider this your invitation to attend APRA in New Orleans. We’re accepting session submissions until Friday, October 3. I’ve infiltrated your world; come infiltrate mine!